Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tell me Twice

A friend and I were chatting this morning and she asked what the sex of my daughter's expected twins is. After telling her, she said, "you probably told me before but I forget. Anyway, doesn't matter. I get to enjoy the news all over again."

I have never thought about that aspect of this short term memory haywire thing that happens to me. It's so true. I get to relive a great deal of what I hear.

Sometimes this may not be so good; when a friend shares sad news, for instance, that I had forgotten about. But I do get an opportunity for a "do-over", hearing it the second time, to share some empathy with her and perhaps help her feel a little better.

But happy news heard a second time must be good for my soul. I can only imagine that it's good for the giant checklist of experiences in my mind. Feel good moment; check. Belly laugh with friend; check.

Here's to enjoying old news!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lessons Learned from Paddywax

The success of new items in the shop, including a new line of fragrance diffusers and candles, started me thinking about successes I've had and lessons I've learned. This 'Library' series is proving to be a hit with customers but I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to having brought in a few less than popular products at times.

Popular wisdom tells us that we learn a great deal from our mistakes. I do believe this and can readily tell you which mistakes I've made and what I've learned from them.

As time marches on with this business of mine, I am serving a greater number of people in a greater number of ways. After four years, I am certainly a bedding specialist, having encountered a surprising number of unique beds and customer choices.

I know I've made two mistakes in bedskirts - when we make assumptions, we're often wrong. Assumptions with these two customers proved that their box springs were not standard height and the skirts were short. I now ask everyone to confirm box spring height. Lesson learned.

The thing is; I am learning a great deal more from my successes.

I've sold a great many skirts that were exactly right; even different than a customer may have thought of. The comments these customers make when they return to the shop tell me much more about what goes right. These "successes" encourage me to make like suggestions to other customers, who report back that they are pleased, and so on.

Every bit of feedback a customer shares with me is a lesson. I've been remarkably blessed with the positive remarks I hear. Each one inspires me and teaches me I'm on the right path.

Lessons come in many ways. A new line of products which sits on the shelf instead of going home in customer bags is a lesson learned.

But a new line of products that flies out the door teaches me so much more. This lesson teaches me about quantities to buy; varieties to introduce; prices to set; display to complement; and customer service to explain.

The lesson of products unsold tells me I missed the mark with that item. End of lesson. The lesson of successful buying also tells me I'm on the right track with what I like for my customers; encouraging me to trust my instincts and keep going with new and bigger ideas, which brings additional sales. Which encourages me to trust my instincts and keep going ...

Each and every Paddywax product sold teaches me that my judgment is fine. Popular wisdom may be right about learning from our mistakes but I believe I am far more successful because of the positive reinforcement I've received than I would be focusing on the errors I've made.

Not all that different from training my puppy!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What I did on my Summer Vacation

I spent a spectacular week in St. John’s, Newfoundland, discovering the oldest history in Canada; visiting museums, archeological sites, going underground into an iron ore mine, exploring the incredible scenery and having wonderful laughs with family.

With a big grin still on my face, remembering our visit, I came into the shop the day after returning, opened my computer case and discovered my USB drive was gone.

For those unfamiliar with USB drives, these are tiny little sticks that fit into your computer and hold a great deal of information. Mine had been with me since before opening the shop. Every file I’ve created is on it. My entire accounting system is on it. My history and my dreams for the future are on it.

So, you may be able to relate when I say that my stomach went “galump”. I didn’t panic (I’m actually quite proud of how I reacted; very maturely, I thought). I immediately searched for St. John’s airport phone number and called their Security department. No USB drive had been found in the airport. Then I called the hotel we had stayed in. No USB drive had been found at the hotel. Then I e-mailed my sister; whose family immediately jumped up and searched their entire home. No USB drive was found there!

I wasn’t worried about the accounting program because I routinely backed it up on my laptop and the last backup was a mere two weeks before the trip. I was, though, concerned about when I had last backed up my other files and couldn’t wait until the end of the day to find out. I closed the shop for a few minutes and went home to get my backup discs. I opened my backup disc folder and discovered a backup two months earlier. Not great - but pretty good. So I lost a newsletter and some incidental files. At least I hadn’t begun the great American novel and lost all.

The “galump” began to “giddy up” again just a little.

I then opened my accounting program, directing it to the backup folder and … nothing! It didn’t recognize the file. Giddy Up changed to outright panic. I was facing re-entering every receipt, every transaction, everything for the entire year. After a few sleepless nights, I called someone who knew someone who 'takes care of computers'. Two hours after placing the call, I was back in business with my recent backup.

Now I can remember my summer vacation for the great experiences I had instead of the foolish mistake I made. I'm so glad.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Memory is a Mysterious Thing

Some nights, as I put my head on my pillow, I feel that I've forgotten more in my day than remembered. With many demands on my time and mind, I seem unequal to the task of remembering everything and everyone.

I use the usual tools; notebooks and calendars primarily. But I know that, when my commitments become too many, a certain amount of information tends to go 'whoosh'; straight over my head instead of into my brain where it belongs.

As things come up that require my attention and I schedule them or do some preliminary action required, I check off the virtual to do list. Then I no longer think of the matter. Sales reps often show up in the shop with appointments I've made and then promptly forgotten about (because I've forgotten to look at my calendar that day).

I also seem to remember fewer of the small details people share with me. It's true, they usually return quickly once a discussion is continued but I often feel remiss in not being the one who brings up a previous point of importance to them.

Lately, I've begun to wish that my brain was more like a computer; able to store away and then pull up entire files of information at the push of a key. How convenient to be able to parcel out the minutes of our day, confident in the knowledge that what we need to remember will be there as and when we need it. No scrambling for the proper paperwork. No arriving after guests. No falling asleep with last minute thoughts of what didn't get done rambling about in our brains.

Of course I do realize that what has to get done always does. I have always believed that what doesn't get done was not as important or it would have had higher priority on the list and not been neglected. But I wonder - is the capacity of my mental 'list' shrinking over time?

Perhaps it's time that I develop some new and clearer habits for remembering than what has been working for me in the past. String on my finger is no longer doing the trick.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Look me in the Eye

I can't help but think that we are doing our kids a disservice by outfitting them with cell phones; blackberries and the "i" of the week. I say this because I recognize the many ways other people touch my life once simple eye contact has been made.

Looking someone in the eyes with a greeting of "Good morning" has led to new friendships; new customers (in my case); interesting stories; and a feeling of rightness in my community. The many people I pass on my morning walk, for instance, help me to feel connected. Whether we share a quick greeting or take the time to stop and chat, these people add context to my life.

I was raised in a large city and knew by instinct that I shouldn't make eye contact in elevators or at bus stops. It took a few years into adulthood, and living in a few small towns, to change that practice and I've never looked back. The people I meet and have random chats with add so much to my life, whether I see them daily, or once and never again.

I remember one day in the spring passing a group of young people waiting for their school bus. They were 14-17 years old and stood individually around the corner, each with their eyes on their electronics. Their postures said volumes but their silence said much more. If our teenagers aren't even connecting casually with each other, what will they miss in life? They seem to find a one-liner text from a friend more compelling than a live body standing beside them.

When I pass a young person on the street, I now greet them. Some are comfortable responding in kind; others shrink into themselves. Perhaps they'll share stories about the crazy lady who speaks to them. Maybe they'll pass on the greeting to the next person they meet.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Early Bird gets the Worm

Strange and interesting thing happened during my walk to the lake this morning.

We (those of us in Southern Ontario) are in the grip of an intense heat wave at the moment. We're into Day 3, I think, although the heat has made my mind lazy and it's a little foggy. Getting to and from the lake in this heat, even at 7:00 in the morning, is sketchy. But, once I'm there, I do enjoy the slightly cooler temps and the shade of the large trees. Standing at the lake each morning is 'my' time. It's the quiet, undisturbed part of my day when I can think of all I'm grateful for and seek direction for my day and my life.

This morning, as I looked out on the lake, I had a very clear vision for a new store; name; decor; product .... a complete vision; much like the one that came to me for The Linen Cupboard.

Now, in today's business atmosphere, beginning a new venture makes little sense. After all, even those that have been around for some time are having difficulty. Even so, throughout the walk back from the lake, my steps were lighter and my mind charging ahead with this idea. It's likely one of those dreams that don't make it to fruition, but I had fun with the thoughts.

It was during this walk back that the strange/interesting thing happened. I passed a beautiful, robust looking robin with a worm in it's mouth. Not unusual, I know, but don't forget we've had at least three days of parched lawns. This bird was no where near where a lawn may have had early morning sprinklers providing worms for the taking. I thought "way to go, you resourceful bird" and carried on my way. Interesting - but not strange. It was on the last leg of my walk that I thought "okay, that's strange." I passed another robin with a fat worm in it's mouth. Again, in a field, no where near sprinklers.

At this point, having the mind that I do, I began to wonder what the robins were telling me. Were they saying - take the chance; the reward will be there even though the atmosphere may seem unwelcome at the moment? Wouldn't life be easier if I could just tap into that insight that creatures seem to have?

The problem is there are no easy answers when we're looking at major decisions. All we can do is weigh the facts as we know them and make a, hopefully, educated choice. I'm reminded of the ethics course I took in university and how decision-making is often a right vs right option. By doing one right thing, I may be leaving other rights things undone.

This new store will likely never come to be but I thank the robins for generating some great reflections - helping me to see that we shouldn't always act based on the known wisdom of the day. After all, it's the risk takers who get the worm.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It's a Dog's Life

Molly, our Airedale puppy, is the newest addition to the shop. She's a delightful pet; alternating between puppy rambunctiousness and frequent collapses on the floor for naps. Makes me wish I could just flop when I get pooped.

I knew Molly was a hit with customers but today confirmed it. A woman came into the shop for the sole purpose of seeing Molly. She had seen me sitting on the steps with her one day as she drove by and came back when she had time to see her.

Of course, she's a puppy, and every day is not perfect. Molly's fussy time is in the afternoon, round about the time that the shop is beginning to get busy. One day, as four women were coming in, I quickly put Molly into her crate to stay out of the way. I was glad I did since the women all seemed to need my attention very quickly.

Now, the shop generally has a soothing effect on women. The scents; colours; decor and quiet classical music create an atmosphere that women seek out. Picture the scene on this day; four women looking at different things in different areas of the shop; each with questions.

Challenging on its own but made even more so with the sound of Molly's short, sharp barks filling the air. As I tried to help each of the women, another woman entered and then another. Molly was making the most of the caffuffle, innately recognizing she had a role to play.

Soon the shop had more of a feeling of chaos than peace. At that moment, my parents arrived. They have begun to visit most afternoons to take Molly for a much needed walk through the park. I grabbed the leash without a word; handed it to my mother and thankfully watched them leave the shop.

Luckily, Molly and I haven't had another day like that one since but I now have my parent's number on speed dial just in case. Of course, as I write this, Molly has collapsed on the floor. They're beautiful when they're sleeping, aren't they?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stolen Moments on the Porch Swing

The store is filled with images of summer; from the display bed to the colourful Needham Lane pj's and matching slippers. The colours of summer are not all that I love; I also love the slower pace.

Enjoyed our first dinner outside recently. Al fresco; picnic; or dinner on the deck - however we refer to it, moving our lives outside is such a treat when we have it for a few short months only.

I could easily spend hours on my porch swing during the day; reading, writing and watching the world go by. I wonder if this is what retirement will look like. I highly doubt it but will certainly grab any stolen moments I can over the summer.

There is something about nature that brings the creative out in me. I am blessed to live close enough to Lake Ontario to manage a walk down to it most days. During a recent walk, I was inspired to wander through the ancient cemetary instead of passing by it as usual. I took my time (that's the other thing about summer; I slow down and enjoy more). Reading the old tombstones started my mind wandering, too, to those families of old; their trials, challenges and joyous times. I can't help but think that, with the amount of work required by pioneers each day, times of peaceful rest would have been rare. But maybe, at day's end, they could steal a few moments at dusk to sit on a swing on their porch.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

In Support of our Quaint Communities

A large Toronto newspaper had an article recently about a group of consumers who promise to spend their dollars at businesses that do environmental upgrades. The retailer they had targeted for this article had been planning on making changes but didn’t have the cash flow to do so. One day of shopping by this group gave him more sales than he’d had any day previously and some much needed dollars to go forward with the changes.

This seems ironic to me because if those same people shopped at that store on a regular basis, the owner likely would have had the cash flow needed to continuously improve. A steady cash flow is needed by every independent business to stay afloat, improve and grow, which ultimately benefits everyone in the community.

As a 'shop girl' myself now, I have an intimate knowledge of retail in action. I love being part of my own community; responding to the needs and wants of my customers. But this past year has taken a toll on everyone and, in my area of the world at least, it seems we are just now seeing the fallout from the recession. It's difficult to watch so many independent businesses closing.

I found a great idea in an American magazine before last Christmas. This magazine was encouraging readers to spend $50 of their monthly budget at any local business (or combination of businesses) in their own community. Conservatively estimating 5,000 households in my own village; $50 each translates to a total $250,000 in buying power. If split between 50 businesses, this could mean as much as $5,000 each per month in cash flow. It's easy to see the collective benefit of a smallish investment by each household.

Here are some reasons why small shops and businesses need your support.

Independent retailers face a great challenge to get the attention of consumers. Large chain retailers have substantial dollars to spend on advertising. Independents are lucky to afford an ad in the local paper or flyer.

Large chain retailers are able to cut back staff hours and employee expenses to cushion slow times. Independents are usually it – there is no one else to cut back. When things are slow, we bring in less product; support fewer fundraisers in the community and cut back on any excessive expenses.

Large chain retailers have head offices in far away places with surplus dollars to cushion a slow period. Independent businesses rarely have more than enough to last a few months in slow times.

Large chain retailers don’t add to the character in a community. A simple trip across the country will show just how alike they make every city they're in. Independent businesses embody the flavour of their own communities, organizing and supporting the local activities and events.

Make a promise to yourself this month to spend that $50 and be a part of the success of your own community.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is this My Purpose?

How do we know when we're following our true purpose? At one point in my life, I would have said my purpose was to raise three kind, loving children to adulthood. But the kids grew up, making my purpose redundant.

This little shop of mine brings me such joy and fulfillment that I have often felt it is my purpose. Especially when I add up all of the jobs, education, experiences and talents I've picked up through my life - they all seem to add up to this. And I spend my days surrounded by beauty and meeting wonderful women who share their stories. I learn more about linens, business, retail, myself each week. What could be more perfect?

But is it my purpose? I really couldn't say but I am grateful that the universe presented me with what I needed to pursue a dream. I suspect my purpose is multi-dimensional and not tied to any one pursuit. Maybe we never truly know our purpose.

As long as I am making room in my life for opportunity; paying attention to my intuitive side; and (most difficult of all) minimizing my ego in situations, I think my purpose may just occur naturally.

I think I'll recognize it when it arrives. Or maybe not.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cinderella Lives

A woman was in the store recently who was searching for a new look for her bed. While women are often in the store for new bedding, there was something about this woman that seemed different.

As so often happens when a woman visits the shop, we began to chat about our lives. She shared with me that she and her husband of 31 years had recently divorced, after he had retired and they realized they no longer had anything in common. This wasn’t an acrimonious parting; they are still friends and involved in their childrens' lives. Her attitude was neither one of sadness or joy; she was accepting of it. But I also saw glimpses of excitement as she thought about the possibilities. This was what seemed different about her. She was, after all, on a quest to fill her new nest to suit herself.

I was struck by how fragile relationships are. Over the years, my friends and I have shared our relationship joys and woes. We all have them – the woes. It would be impossible for any long term relationship to exist without the low times. And who would want their lives to be filled with constant joy? Joy would lose its meaning, becoming dry and old very quickly, I think.

I accept that my marriage comes with its share of woe. These moments in time help us to grow together; communicate clearly, compromise and, ultimately, accept. Yes, there is a place in my life for disagreement with my husband. But, oh, let those times be few!

I will admit that, even as a woman of a certain age, I hope to still have a fairy tale or two in my life yet to be lived. I may not be as young and fresh as Cinderella or Snow White but my husband can still be Prince Charming; able to weaken my knees with a glance or praise, thoughtful gesture or a shared memory.

I wish this woman well in her new adventure and hope there will be a fairy tale in store for her.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I can’t let April come and go without passing along a few ideas to use when spring cleaning and re-organizing your linen cupboard:

· Before returning your linens to the cupboard after cleaning, line the shelves with scented drawer liners or tuck in a sachet.

· Label shelves in your linen cupboard to identify what goes where; such as “queen bed”; “twin beds”; “main bath towels”; “guest towels”.

· Alternatively, try to keep linens in or close to the room they are used in. Keep towels in the vanities of the bathroom they belong to. Dedicate a kitchen cupboard for placemats and napkins. Keep the sheets for each bed in a flat container under the bed.

Now, let's enjoy reading a few “spring cleaning” rules that our grandmothers might have followed (excerpted from Beeton’s Philosophy of Housekeeping). I just pulled the highlights to remind us of how our lives have changed from those of our grandmothers.

“In olden days, all fires save the kitchen were left off on the twenty-fifth of March, and the house-cleaning began as soon after as possible. Now, in these degenerate days, it is not until May that many among us began to turn the house out of windows. The first fine week after May 1st is a good rule, but a fine hot April will sometimes tempt us to begin before the sun gains much power. At the end of March all the blankets that can be spared should be washed and hung out in the brisk wind to dry, then thoroughly aired by a good fire for twelve hours, and stored in a dry place.

To "begin with the top floor and go down" is not a bad rule. Before the sweeps arrival all carpets must come up, and go away or out to be beaten ; all ornaments must be removed, pictures taken down, and looking-glasses covered. All furniture should be covered with sheets or with dusting-sheets.

Those articles which are French-polished should be washed with weak vinegar and water, and the following polish used to them:-- 3 oz. of common beeswax, 1 oz. of white wax, 1 oz. of curd soap, 1 pint of turpentine, 1 pint of boiled  soft water ; mix these, adding the water when cold, shake well, and keep for 48 hours. Apply with the flannel, and polish first with a duster, and then with a silk handkerchief.

The bedrooms require a few words. The bedding should be taken out of doors, if possible, and well beaten and brushed, the bedstead taken to pieces, whether of wood or of iron, and well washed with hot water and soap. When quite dry the bedding should be replaced.”

Aren't you glad for the 21st century!

Friday, March 12, 2010


I love this word. It has power. Hearing it makes my thoughts slow down as though by command. After all, this is one of those words that bring an image of resting to mind. How odd that the word can be a verb; a word of action.

I like the oppositeness of this: to pause is to take action to stop.

Few of us take advice well. Suggesting that someone pause before they do or say something is a gentle way to offer advice. My favourite is to hear from a dear friend that “maybe you should sleep on that”. I have learned to recognize this means I may not be heading in the right direction. Pausing, then, can save me from making a decision I would regret. Sometimes, though, pausing helps me to become more firm in my decision. Either way, I know that I am better for that moment of hesitation.

As women, our lives are often filled with running. The many errands we accomplish each day have to be noted, remembered and acted on. All this while still managing the myriad of tasks required in our daily lives.

Who has time to pause? If we do, is it constructive pausing or more of a “Phew” as we rest a bit with a cup of tea and book? I see a moment of rest as very different from a moment of pause. One is passive; the other active. I rest to relax my brain; I pause to refresh my thinking.

“Pause” is genderless but I love that this is a root of “menopause”. As a woman of a certain age, the great, broad impact of menopause on my life is somewhat overwhelming. It’s a time of change; to my body; my career; my relationships; my confidence. In many ways, this is a crucial time to pause and refresh my thinking.
Much of what is happening is good for me so it’s easy to overlook whatever negative changes may be happening. My life is getting better in its richness; relationships are becoming deeper. With the kids gone, there is more time for my husband and I to do what we like and explore life as never before. There is a new playfulness to our lives.

All of the good changes have been written about by so many. Why then do we collectively dwell on the negative physical changes when we think of menopause? As we baby boomer women take over the world just in numbers alone, we certainly should focus on the pluses of achieving this age.

Even so, just as at any time in our life, it’s critical that we not overlook our health as we “Pause”. I have found it too easy to generally lump every change under that vast umbrella and to ignore things that should not be ignored.

As we head into April, make a promise to yourself to have that checkup; take that walk; eat consciously; and take time for those you love.