A stylish spin on old-fashioned needlework

Getting laid off is no picnic. Even if your company hands you a generous severance package, it can take a few months to stop the world from feeling like it’s falling down on top of you. But if you can get your head above the fog, if you can stop the spinning insecurity, getting laid off can also be the much needed opportunity to turn your life around.36_jennyh_185x165

Jenny worked at a museum, and, like most of us, she liked that it was steady, dependable work. Also, like most of us, she felt unhappy, underpaid, underappreciated and creatively paralyzed. Finally, she was laid off. Instead of using the pink slip to dry her tears, she used it to light a fire and start a needlework business with a modern twist.

“I had been working towards the goal of leaving my job, but it’s kind of like, one foot on the dock, one foot on the boat, and you really don’t feel like you can make that leap,” she said. “I just kept telling myself, ‘People do this all the time and make it work.’ I really felt that I could, and I knew the resources were out there. Not only that, I really believed in what I wanted to do. I loved it.”

Jenny had started embroidering with some reservation years before her layoff. She was curious about it but also thought it would be tedious, boring, time-consuming work.

“When I actually tried it, I realized it was relaxing,” she said. “I had, in a very short period of time, several family members who either died or were in hospitals. I started needle working since it was something that I could do when I was in the hospital. It was the only thing that really dealt with my anxiety and nervous energy in a way that nothing else had.”

Jenny found herself wanting to do needlework every day, and she wanted to be able to have unfettered time to be as creative with it as she wanted to.

“It was like this new found passion that I discovered,” Jenny said. “I looked at the market and thought, ‘Well, you know, the market does not really offer a creative platform for hobbyists my age and younger. They’re not doing this type of work.’ I thought maybe this would be a way to gain some independence.”
Her layoff was just the push she needed.

When Jenny started working on embroidery, there was such a response to the work and the ideas that doors just started opening. She started getting attention from magazines and realized that her contemporary approach to a traditional craft could be a new way of life for her.

“The first media outlet that contacted me was Entrepreneur and I thought that was a good sign,” she said. “I was really amazed when Chronicle Books contacted me. They said that they had been watching what I was doing – and it had only been about a year – and that they had a line of craft kits. The knitting one just came out and they thought I was the person to do the embroidery kit. That was a pretty huge.”

Jenny never thought that she would become an embroiderer, much less someone who runs a small business. But now she has reached a point where her project has become even bigger than her own vision of it. With two assistants, a bookkeeper, an accountant, a financial advisor, a web developer, and even a warehouse to process inventory, orders, and customer service, calling Jenny’s needlework a success would be an understatement. It’s more like a craft revolution.

“When I was working a 9-to-5 job, I was far more stressed out, and I was not satisfied,” she said. However unconventional and interesting working at the museum was, Jenny knew it was not what she wanted to be doing. She didn’t want to be working for someone else, or make less than a livable wage. Since childhood, Jenny knew that she wanted to be an artist, “I knew that there was a practical, very real way it could be done.” After she lost her job, it was time to find out.

With motto’s like “Get to it and do it” or “Failure is only guaranteed if you give up,”Jenny’s advice is simple:

“Persistence is the key. It really is. This is only going to end if I decide to stop doing it. Really, I think that you’ve got to find your pathway to bliss. And it’s not easy to find it. You just have to be true to yourself.”

What about you, if you got laid off today, what dream would you pursue?

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Jenny’s Website
Due to an overabundance of bunnies and dull, outdated instructions, embroidery badly needed an update. Sublime Stitching is the original company to offer hip and (gasp!) edgy Embroidery Patterns and customizable all-in-one Embroidery Starter Kits.

Recommended Reading
If you are interested in starting a small business, check out Small Time Operator by Bernard Kamoroff . “It was my bible… That was my starting point, and it has always been a book I recommend,” said Jenny.

Cross-stitch and Needlework
Check out America’s Favorite magazine for cross-stitch, needlework, embroidery, and more!

Supporting my family with a home-based beauty business

Tara will tell you… she was cheap before cheap was in style. She enjoyed luxury salon treatments, but she didn’t enjoy their inflated prices.

Why was it that having healthy, soft locks should cost a car payment?

Tara felt there had to be an easy way to deep condition her hair the way they did at the salon in her own home. Of course she couldn’t bring in a salon size dryer, so she set out to find the right mix of materials that would create the same effect.

After finding the secret ingredient while watching a marathon race, she had 100 of her deep conditioning caps made and sold them to different salons and beauty shops in her city. An infomercial company saw the product and began to market it along with some shampoo.

That’s when her need for deep conditioning started to fill her need for some serious dough. Tara realized that she had a business on her hands. Something that would be able to make money for her family and herself.

“Once the infomercial was on the air and did fairly well, I realized that this work could go from the realm of a fun hobby, something to do in my spare time, to a real business,” she said.

Soon afterward Tara came up with her second invention.

“Ever since high school, I had always had the idea of putting nail polish in a pen, like a felt-tip marker,” she says, “I was working on an art project with my daughter, with poster board and pens, and the idea came back to me. That was my genesis for a manicure pen.”

Trusting in her ideas helped Tara become successful. Follow her pointers and you can be a successful inventor too–in due time. Inventions take patience.

1. Create a prototype. Nobody buys an idea.

It’s important to get your idea to the prototype stage. Find something that’s like the product, even though it might be in a completely different industry.

For example, Tara contacted the manufacturers of the pen that she used in her daughter’s art project, and while they couldn’t do cosmetics because they weren’t cosmetic-qualified, they sold her the pen parts that she used to create the first prototype of Manicure Magic.

2. Have your prototype priced out.

Take a look at the marketplace to determine a reasonable cost to create your product.

3. Ask yourself, “How much do I want to invest?”

It’s usually not expensive to get to the point of a prototype, so after that, you need to figure out where the manufacturing money is coming from, and how much of the product you want to produce initially.

4. Figure out where to sell it.

Could you sell it on the internet? Could you present it to one of the shopping channels and sell it that way? Could you take it just down the street to your local store and see if they would carry it? Since Tara’s product was a manicure pen, she knew that if she could demonstrate it and explain it, it would sell. That’s why QVC was the perfect way to launch her product.

If you’re interested in taking your product to a large manufacturer or a large retailer that you think would have an interest in it, find an agent or a consultant to help you get in the door.

5. Define success on your own terms.

“You have to define success for yourself,” said Tara. “You don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to be successful. If your vision of success is just to supplement your family’s income, or just to make enough money to take a really nice vacation, or help pay for tuition for the kids, then you should be proud of that success.”

For those of you with a fascination for new inventions, there’s always something new at the Inventor Spot, a blog that targets new creations from the worlds of food, technology and fashion.

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File It Under Toys
Carving a home office out of the playroom? Consider Home Based Working Moms.

Make the Jump
If you’re about to crash and burn from boredom at your job, try What Color Is Your Parachute, the book that’s been leading people to their passion for more than 40 years.

Smarter, Not Harder
Bust through the glass ceiling with the National Network for Women’s Employment.

It’s Magic!
Buy Tara Murphy’s Manicure Magic set, available at QVC.

The 5 biggest landscape blunders… and how to avoid them

Shirley was a stay‑at‑home mom with, crazy as it sounds, lots of leftover energy. When her kids would take naps, she would go to the front yard and start gardening — putting a fruit tree here, mounting a fallen branch there. Basically, it was her playtime.

Shirley didn’t have any formal training, but she used plants and flowers to express her own sense of style. For her, gardening was artistic expression.

“Eventually, my neighbors got curious,” she said. “They would knock on the door and ask, ‘Who landscaped you?'”

That’s when Shirley realized that she had a knack for landscape design. After her kids started school, she decided to pursue some formal training so she could turn those curious neighbors into clients.

For Shirley, there isn’t anything that can stand in the way of her creating a beautiful garden for somebody.

“I think it’s part of being a creative person,” she said. “I don’t see blank slates. I see trees. I see flowers. I see succulents. I see sculpture.”

In her line of work, she also sees mistakes people make when trying to landscape on their own. Here are some of the most common landscape blunders Shirley encounters:

1. Starting without a plan.

It’s not a good idea for a homeowner to start making holes and start tearing things down when they don’t know exactly what they’re doing, especially when they haven’t called utility services first. They may not know where the gas line or sewage line are, and it’s not fun to find them by accident.

2. Forgetting that plants require care.

People forget that plants need to be taken care of. Ask yourself, am I willing to keep up with the garden I have planned? If I want to go on vacation, is there a way to properly irrigate so I don’t come back to a dead garden?

3. Overlooking seasonal changes.

Trees and plants change with the seasons. A beautiful deciduous tree may seem perfect in the spring, but it could leave you feeling exposed in the fall and winter when it drops its leaves. Think through these seasonal changes so you’re not regretting your decisions later.

4. Working without a focal point.

Whether it’s an existing tree or a whimsical piece of art, it’s really smart to plan and design around a single focal area. By making everything around the focal point really subtle and quiet, you force the attention onto the item that you want people to pay attention to.

“When I moved into my house, I inherited a beautiful 40 year old pepper tree, and I absolutely love it. I knew that tree was going to serve as a focal area because it’s so grand,” Shirley said. “I decided to put in a pond and waterfall that would meander right to the side of the tree. Now, when you take in the tree, you also take in a beautiful feeling, a setting. It’s more of a package deal instead of a la carte.”

5. Not anticipating growth.

When you put a plant or a tree in your garden, you have to remember that it is going to need to put down roots, they is going to need room to grow. Many people put in plants without considering how they’re going to mature. When you first install your landscape design, you may finish putting it in, but it’s not in its finished form. Gardens get better with age, and you have to plan for the growing up that they do.

For Shirley, success is having a garden. And she would encourage anyone to try and plant one for themselves.

“With a garden, you see something through from start to finish,” she said. “Gardens, like people, go through ups and downs. They get sick. They look ugly. Sometimes they look beautiful. The point is, hang in there with your garden. Nurture it. Address your problems and issues. Don’t run away from them. Take care of them. And in the end, you’ll have a little bit of heaven on Earth.”

For more stylish insights into landscape design, visit Shirley’s website.

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Garden All Over the World

Love gardens? This all-inclusive tour will take you from Ecuador’s tropical flora to China, where the blossoms grow.

Preserving the Beauty
The Garden Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s most beautiful historical gardens.

Just Kidding Around
Crafty Carol Shackleford delights with her fun descriptions of at-home projects, from sewing to cooking to gardening.

Small Bites, Big Change
Bite-sized, affordable and convenient ways to make small changes to affect big change.

Changing the world, one girl at a time

As much as we’d like to believe that we are given what we have earned, the truth is that we don’t live in a meritocracy. And we certainly don’t live in a world where everyone is given equal chances in the educational system. There are jaw-dropping, stomach turning differences between which schools get certain programs, funding, and teachers. Some of this has to do with money, some with location, but some of it can be attributed to good old fashion social roles and stereotypes.

Recalling the tree houses of childhood, the grown-up exclusive clubs are ever as menacing, but much more subtle. Take the world of math and science, for instance, written in the eyes of professors, teachers, and fellow students is that familiar knell, “No Girls Allowed.”

“When I was growing up, I got the message that girls were bad at math.” Dreaming of becoming a veterinarian was nice and cute when Rachel was a child. But as she came of age it was time face the facts: without the right math or the science classes, she couldn’t become a doctor. So that was that, Rachel moved on.

It was not until she graduated college and started volunteering with middle school girls that the problem became apparent for Rachel, 10 years later nothing had changed. Something had to be done. So Rachel founded a non-profit organization for elementary and middle school-aged girls called GirlStart to empower girls in math, science and technology.

“We take the trends that appeal to girls, and we show them the math and science and technology behind those trends,” says Rachel. GirlStart shows girls how to do everything from taking apart a computer, building a website, making music videos, to ooey-gooey sticky science.

That’s right, Rachel started her own company without a trust fund, a master’s degree, or an engineering degree! No one her family had started a company, it was created “on a shoes string” of passion, $500 in the bank, and a credit card.

And so, GirlStart began in the living room of Rachel’s apartment. She had spent almost a whole year living on rice and beans, struggling to make ends meet when she finally got the grant. The day had come, “I went to the post office. I opened my box, and I couldn’t believe it. I hopped in my car and turned on ABBA really loud. It felt like the biggest euphoric rush I had ever experienced.”

But the truth is, part of being an entrepreneur are these dark days just like those years Rachel was scraping by, and trying to find strength to sell her idea. “There are bombs and ups-and-downs along the way,” Rachel says, “but the payoff is so worth the challenges. The opportunity to see these girls and the difference this program is making in their lives is worth every hardship. And even the hardships are really opportunities in disguise. When you really, truly believe that you will be successful, you will be able to handle all the bumps in your path.”

As long as there are little girls in the world who are afraid of math class and who think that technology is for boys, there’s always a reason for GirlStart.

Turns out girls aren’t so bad at math, “We have girls who walk into GirlStart and do not know the difference between a computer chip and a potato chip. But they come into GirlStart, and they get into it. We have girls that have gone on to start their own companies. We have one girl who was only in eighth grade and she has her own Web design firm. We have girls who did not have a relationship with their dad because their dad’s a techie. Then they went to GirlStart and learned how to build a Web page. Now they can talk to their dad. We have girls who came to GirlStart and did not speak a word of English. And they learn how to speak English through GirlStart, because math is the universal language. We have girls who have gone on to be engineering majors and came back to mentor other girls.”

Even though girls live in a stressful bubble inundated with advertisements practically commanding them to be self conscious and isolated because that’s “just what it’s like to be a teenager,” there are places like GirlStart where they’re being themselves. They’re taking risks. They’re doing things they’ve never done before—just like Rachel.

If Rachel could tell you just one thing it would be:

  • Think about who you really want to be

and

  • Start working toward that goal today

That is all it takes. After all, starting small is starting somewhere; if you take one step a day you are still moving forward.

“We throw out so many obstacles for ourselves, but they’re really only perceived limitations. I see it with the girls that we serve at GirlStart every day, and there’s nothing that women can’t do. We need more women out there doing great things.”

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GirlStart
Now that you’ve heard all about GirlStart, go check it out!

Volunteer Match
Get connected with the right volunteer program and invest in your community.

Guide Star
Guide Star connects people with non-profits.

Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls
A non-profit, builds girls self-esteem through music creation and performance. Providing workshops and technical training, we create leadership opportunities, cultivate a supportive community of peers and mentors, and encourage social change and the development of life skills.