April showers brought May flowers (coreopsis, lilies, hydrangea, gardenia…) – along with summer heat, the end of the school year, Mother’s Day, dog-hair tumbleweeds (because of the sudden summer heat), and a lovely royal wedding that was well worth rising before dawn to watch. Also, an infestation of ants in my beloved but very temperamental meyer lemon tree. I’ve tried everything (including washing every damned leaf, at least once a week), to no avail. Suggestions welcomed.
On the work-work front, May was focused on planning for a big milestone: renaming and rebranding the agency I’ve been with for the past two years. This has been a long process and not entirely easy for everyone (because change is hard). But I’ll be excited to share that news as we roll out a new identity and focus, including the addition of a new pilot program, testing an innovative alternative to traditional batterers intervention treatment. The protocol was developed in Iowa, and we’ll be the first to test it in an urban area. (More on the model here, here, and here.)
May also brought my first full month of working in my new little home studio and continued progress on my start-up, Larksome Goods. Note on that: many thanks to everyone who took a peek, sent kind words, and placed an order! If you haven’t been there lately, new things are up every week. And if you are one of those early adopter customers, look in your mail for a little happy coming your way next week.
You may wonder: Why on earth would anyone start an old-fashioned stationery company in 2018, even with the resurgence of small shop letterpress offerings (especially that)? Because I want to. I have always wanted to. It is something I can do for myself, driven by myself, in the face of some significant (and unexpected) changes.
And it’s fun – joyful, even. It is fun making things, fun seeing samples, fun hearing from people who share a love of writing notes. And joy is a scarce and often undervalued commodity these days.
Starting this little business has also opened a window into a new world of other small business folk (mostly women), innovators, and lovers of paper product. Along those lines…
Starting a Product-Based Business
Here’s my business approach: do, and then do better.
Having had this notion of starting a paper goods company in my head for a very long time (22 years), I’ve had a long time to think about what I want this business to look like. And the big idea in my head has been the most significant barrier in front of taking the first step. The second biggest barrier has been a practical one: finding a production partner/vendor.
Last fall an artist colleague introduced me to Printswell Fulfillment, based in Alabama, and they have been simply terrific. I tried a couple of local (Memphis) alternatives, but none compared to the service and quality that Printswell offers. If you have a notion of starting a paper-based product line, I recommend giving them a look.
With a production partner in hand, there was really no good reason not to get started. Just start, dammit, and then figure out the rest (haven’t I said that before?).
So, I got started. And every day since, I’ve gotten just a tiny bit better, thanks to friends, colleagues, the beauty of self-study, and some great resources. My favorite daily listen is now a podcast called Proof to Product, created and hosted by Trade Show Boot Camp founder Katie Hunt. If you have a notion of starting a product line – any product line – and want to hear from some folks who’ve already been there, then have a listen.
(Side note: I hope that the future for both her boot camp and her podcast will include more men and people of color, as it’s currently all white women in their 30s and 40s….)
I’ll confess that starting a small business on the side while going through a significant change in my daily work-work, while also being a full-time mom to two teenagers, has cut into my cooking time. But, yes, there is still some cooking going on….
Eggs Benedict is a favorite in our house (we’re Sunday brunch people, when time allows), but one of the big challenges is preparing more than one plate at a time and still keeping everything the right temperature. So the best cooking discovery of the month came from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen featuring a foolproof Hollandaise sauce and technique for holding poached eggs (if cooking for a crowd). Since ATK/Cook’s Illustrated offers the current season’s recipes/episodes for free but only if you register (ugh), here’s the short version: prepare the sauce as usual, in a double boiler, but instead of melted butter use softened butter (1 stick), 4 egg yolks, and boiling water. Whisk the soft butter and eggs in the bowl, then slowly add boiling water until it comes together. Add lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt, etc. to taste. Delicious. For the poached eggs: hold them in a 150 degree water bath until ready to serve.
Other things? Pasta with peas, asparagus and pancetta. Pork chops with celery and almond salad (have made this more times than I can count). Green chile corned beef hash, made with extra hot green chile from New Mexico. This one was a Mother’s Day special, courtesy of Bernard (and he used potatoes he grew in the garden!), so it has no recipe. But here’s a good guide on corned beef hash (RIP, Gourmet; I still miss you). The green chile just gets mixed in at some point, provided you have green chile in your freezer (which, if you married someone from New Mexico, you probably do).
If you’re looking more for inspiration than for specific recipes and you don’t already follow Phyllis Grant (dash&bella) on Instagram, well, follow her. Be inspired, in particular, by her #hellasalads posts. They’re in the spirit of Mark Bittman’s bookmark-worthy 101 Simple Salads column (from 2009), only with an added dash of delicious savvy, smirk, and snark. (Also, every now and again, go back and read Grant’s collaborative “I Know A Mama Who,” one of her best post from the blog she stopped writing a couple of years ago.)
Looking for a new cocktail for summer? Try this: My Perfect 3-Ingredient Summer Drink: Limoncello Gin Cocktail. I added some fresh lemon juice to cut the sweetness of the limoncello, and I used Letherbee gin because it is less sweet than Hendrick’s.
Finally: I’ve been on a quest for a decent bottled Caesar dressing, since Caesar salad is too often the only green thing my teenage children will willingly eat (because they don’t know I make the dressing with anchovies – and this will remain our secret). Why I didn’t sooner reach for Brianna’s I can’t say. Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette has long been a kitchen staple; the Asiago Caesar is equally good, if a tad thick. I mixed the two dressings (don’t tell my children), and the result was perfect. Quest complete.
Last summer while relaxing for a week at the beach (sadly not something in this year’s budget), I bought a set of blue and white Erin Flett napkins. And I can’t tell you how happy they make me, every time I set the table with them. They’re pretty, they’re durable, and they’re made by a woman who is chasing her dream – with great success. How can you beat that? Shop for yourself: http://erinflett.com/.
Given that my world often revolves around writing, and that I prefer to write both letters and meeting notes by hand, I’m a sucker for pens and pencils. My newest acquisition is a lime green Lamy fountain pen. Actually, my newest acquisition is TWO lime green Lamy fountain pens, one for home and one for the office. (It’s a sickness….) Anyway, there’s a flash sale right now at Lamy USA, and you can get 50% off between now and May 31, 2018.
In doing some research for my online store, I also discovered the wonderful C&W Pencils. Pencils, you say? Yes, PENCILS. I love them. I love sharpening them, writing with them, using them to anchor the struggle bun in my hair. I love pencils. I even have a set of extra fat colored pencils specifically for highlighting text in books (because why on earth would one use a highlighter pen when there’s a pencil alternative?). Speaking of books,
Yes, Still Reading…
My favorite book of the month was an oldie (published in 2003) that I missed(because I was having a second baby and spending nights reading The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon to my first): The Day the World Came to Town. Although the writing is not magnificent (think: an A+ middle school essay on a summer vacation), the story – and stories with the story – are incredible. It was balm for my spirit, just when I needed it.
Next on my list is Less, the comic novel that won a Pulitzer Prize. Report on that next month.
Outside of books, here are few articles I thought enough of to same them to Pocket:
A Work by Zora Neale Hurston Will Finally Be Published. This is one of several articles about this book, which I’m looking forward to reading.
It made my heart happy to see this headline pop up in my alerts a few weeks ago: Seattle’s JuneBaby Named Best New Restaurant at Beard Awards. The chef, Edouardo Jordan, is the first African American to receive the award (which is both thrilling and depressing news. It’s 2018, for heaven’s sake….)
If you love Southern art and Southern Gothic folklore, then you may already be a Walter Anderson fan. If so (and even if not), then take time for this gem from my beloved Bitter Southerner: The Many Voyages of Walter Anderson. The romantic myth of the tortured artist isn’t really all that romantic, though this man’s talent was staggering.
Girls With Working Moms Get Better Jobs and Higher Pay, According to Research. One of the things I loved most about this article was this excerpt: “McGinn stresses there isn’t one “right” way to raise a child and that neither option is inherently detrimental. But as more moms enter the workforce, some wrestling with the guilt of leaving their child at home, her research is a tiny fist-bump to moms in the struggle.” Amen, sister.
Speaking of mothers: Even if you didn’t watch the royal wedding, but especially if you did, don’t miss The Profound Presence of Doria Ragland.
And speaking of presence: OK, so it’s kinda like when the popular kid comments (loudly enough for everyone to hear) that s/he likes what you’re wearing/doing/etc. Actually, it’s exactly like that: From Blight to Bright Lights in Memphis; thank you, New York Times.
All caught up with current books and wondering what to read in the coming months? Here’s a list: 4 Writers to Watch This Summer.
And last, but not least, because (I don’t even know what words to use or what to write about this any more): The Futility of Trying to Prevent More School Shootings in America.
So, May, I’m calling you a wrap – although we’ve got a few more days to enjoy your pre-June Mayness. Next up: the start of tomatoes, corn, blueberries… oh my….