Days of Bathroom Letters are Over

I admit I can sometimes be a little hard on Howard on the blog. Though he knows that I jest in love I feel that on Valentine’s Day he deserves some credit where credit is due. I woke up this morning to a wonderful little box – containing beautiful pearl earrings. Which is awesome, considering I’ve already lost one pearl/diamond earring he gave me as a present on our wedding day (see my propensity to lose things here). But the man has certainly stepped up his game in recent years. I mean, this gift was almost as good as last year’s gift, when he got me the full collection of Harry Potter movies.

When I think about things like this it takes me back to the Howie I knew five to ten years ago when we were a young and clueless couple. Howie went from buying me a rose on our first date, to an unfortunate slump around years 4 and 5. I don’t know if it was the extreme sense of comfort and “easy-goingness” of our relationship, but there was a period of time that can best be characterized as the Toilet Love Letter years. And oh, how I am so glad those days are gone.

One particular anniversary (maybe our fifth) I presented Howie with a nice little card and present – probably a DVD or CD of some kind. To my dismay, Howie had to break the news that he unfortunately had not had time to go out and get me something – but not to worry, he’d have something tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went, then the next day, and pretty soon a week had passed by with no anniversary present. As if my scowl wasn’t enough, Howie asked what was wrong.

Cheryl: “I don’t know what to say anymore Howie! Do I have to BEG for an anniversary gift from you?! You promise and promise and still nothing!

Howie: Baaaaaaabe….stop…..

Cheryl: Well it means nothing now! I don’t even want a gift! All I wanted was to feel a little bit of appreciation from you – you could have at least written me a letter or something!!

Howie: Well I did write you a letter!

Cheryl: You did?

Howie: Y…yeah… Let me go get it.

(Howie walks out of room. I hear some rummaging and papers. Then I hear the bathroom door lock. Ten minutes pass by, he emerged from the bathroom. Love letter in hand.)

Howie: Here you go!

Cheryl: Did you just write this on the toilet?

Howie: No.

Cheryl: Seriously Howie?! You just wrote me a hap-hazard letter on the TOILET?!

Howie: I don’t see what the problem is, it’s a nice letter!

From there the conversation digressed into an emotional rant in which I was convinced Howie didn’t have a romantic bone in his body. Let’s just say that was the last time Howie wrote me a love letter in the washroom… and the last time we ever celebrated “dating anniversaries”.

Regardless, Howie and I have grown up a lot in the 10+ years of our relationship. He’s like a fine wine that gets better with age. I feel so blessed to be married to my best friend and appreciate the fact that we can look back on the Toilet Love Letter incident and laugh.

Howie, Happy Valentines Day. I love you more than chocolate.

A Lovable Little Mom-preneur!

I used to think that my millennial wife life was busy. Then, I interviewed Laura Nunn of Lovable Little Tree Huggers and realized that adding two little boys to the mix makes my “busy” pale in comparison to hers! (Apparently children are much more work than mini schnauzers). Laura is wife to youth pastor Andrew and in addition to having a toddler (Ethan) and infant (Seth) sons, she keeps busy mentoring other people’s teens at Acton Beth-el Christian Reformed Church.

But if that wasn’t enough, Laura’s name can be added to the growing list of “MOM-preneurs,” a newly coined term in recent years that describes moms who establish businesses at home while also acting as the full time parent of their children. But Laura would blush if she heard me calling her an entrepreneur. In her mind, she’s just a mom who cares about the products she uses on her family, but I’ll let you decide! Either way, you have to agree that she’s a stellar example of someone who turned a passion into a thriving business!

Laura, please describe your business in a nutshell for people who are new to Lovable Little Tree Huggers!

Gladly! Lovable Little Tree Huggers is an online natural baby product store that primarily carries cloth diapers, organic bath products and “babywearing” products.

Where did the idea to start your own “green” baby product store come from?

Well, I was always a person who was conscious about the types of products that I used on my body and within my home. I am the kind of person that separated recyclables even when I was camping! When I had Ethan and became a parent for the first time, that “environmental” part of me naturally extended to parenting. In fact, I would say I thought about the types of products we used even more once a baby was added to the mix. As Ethan grew up and we entered the world of “green parenting,” I noticed that there were so many different products and options and available (especially with cloth diapers), and we naturally discovered some that worked best for our family on a trial and error basis. Eventually, I found myself sharing that knowledge with friends and fellow parents, so the idea for a store was born out of a desire to pass along the knowledge we gained from testing the products ourselves.

How bad do you want to squish his cheeks and say “SMOOTCHIE FACE!” right now?

What’s it like being a small business owner?

First, I never expected to be a small business owner. The idea actually scared me because I did not consider myself a business owner at all. If it wasn’t for my husband Andrew who kept pushing me to go for it, I’m not sure I would have taken that leap! But now that I’m doing it, I have to say that I love it because I’m so passionate about what I’m doing. When I first set up the business it was overwhelming. I had to figure out all of tax, registry and website stuff. Luckily I have friends that were able to help me out with those things. Overall it’s a learning process! I’ve also participated in some mompreneur networking things like “TweetUps” and belong to a Mums and Chums organization which connected me with some great peers.

How do you promote your business?

Word-of-mouth is the main way that I attract new customers. Customers who have had a good experience with me often tell their friends and it’s through forming new relationships with people wanting to learn about cloth diapering or natural parenting that I get new customers. The gift registry is a very popular thing on my website and cloth diapering supplies are the most popular of the products. It can be a investment up front so it’s a great thing to be a gift registry. Andrew is also one of my biggest promoters – especially with the “dad” crowd. He promotes my products even more than I do, and it’s great because he can relate to the other men who are hesitant to start cloth diapering. Besides word of mouth, I also do some consumer shows. This allows people to touch and feel my products before they order.

What are some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge is always time. There is always something to do, something I could improve on the website, new products I could look into, different marketing things I could think of. But for me, being a stay-at-home mom is my primary responsibility and focus. I’ve tried setting aside certain days or evening where I can focus solely on the business but sometimes that’s not only possible. Thankfully, my husband Andrew has been a huge supporter from day one so if I need to do some work on the business he’s always there to help me I started this business because of a passion to help others, not with the intention (at least right now) to grow this into a huge operation. Running a business is a challenge and a blessing – it allows me to contribute to our household and to focus on my family.

The other challenge I find I face is balancing my desire to provide natural product as affordable as possible with my desire to still make a decent profit. Many times I find myself hesitant to charge what I really need to!

What is your definition of success for Lovable Little Tree Huggers?

A lot of people ask why I’m not doing more things to push my business. But to me, success is meeting couples and then watching them convert to “green-parenting.” I find it awesome! If I was able to make the world of cloth diapering and natural parenting accessible and attainable to people, that feels like success! The fact that I get to make a little extra money while doing so is like the icing on the cake. Being an educator, influencing people in my circle, providing talks at the Early Years centre, and helping people who don’t know where to start is success in my mind. It is less about millions of customers and more about building a base of happy, satisfied people.

What is your plan for your business in the next five to ten years?

That’s a good question. Well, I don’t want it to be huge. I want to stay home with my kids. If it grows when they are in school that’s good, but I don’t envision growth in a bricks and mortar type of store, I always want to be able to run this from my home and stick to my core products. I’ve actually declined inquiries for franchising because I want to keep this at a manageable size that I can control from my home in my available time.

And of course, converting more people to natural parenting is a goal!

What advice do you have for other millennial women who are thinking of starting a business?

First, you absolutely must have a passion for what you are selling. I’ve seen friends do things like bakeware and scrapbooking reps, but they end up hating their job because they weren’t overly passionate about it. The other thing I would say to young women who are thinking about starting a business is to just go for it! There is so much information and resources and friends that are willing to help you out with the things you don’t know, and as long as you have a passion and see a need it’s worth trying out!

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I asked Laura if there were any plans to carry natural dog shampoos in the future and she said she would have to think about it. But regardless, I was so impressed with her passion and products that I’ve decided future Howard IV will most definitely sport cloth diapers!

Let me know your thoughts about Laura and Lovable Little Tree Huggers! Would you ever consider “green parenting?”

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Email: laura@lovablelittletreehuggers.com
Website: www.lovablelittletreehuggers.com
Twitter: @MamaTreeHugger

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Disclaimer: Just because I mentioned “future Howard IV” does not entail I agree to, or am making any promises to name any offspring “Howard.” The reference in this post was strictly intended for humorous purposes.

 

Meet Frank (Call me Shirley)

Working for an engineering firm means that you must get used to being a minority as a woman, and it also means you need to become comfortable with engineers. At times I feel like my workplace could inspire a long running sitcom. When I share my workplace stories with family and friends they think at times I must be making this stuff up. But I swear I’m not. I just work with an extremely colourful cast of people. So just to give you a glimpse of my work life, I’m going to introduce you all to Frank.

Part of my job involves working very closely with the company’s president Frank. Frank was born in Liverpool in the 1930s and has a very intriguing, international history. Before coming to Canada and founding a severe service valve company in the 80s, Frank began his career as an engineer in the British army. For a time he was in the Suez and I’m pretty sure he saw active battle (though I may have to fact-check that one).

He’s worked for British conglomerate companies with nuclear reactors all over the world and happened to fall in love with a Canadian gal back in the 1950s and married her. He’s worked and raised his family for extended periods of time in Singapore and Kenya before deciding to settle in Canada for the sake of his wife. He’s chaired the Olympic committee for the Pentathlon and in his own words “made and lost a fortune three times.” He’s lucky this valve business panned out or apparently that would have been the final straw for his wife.

At nearly 80 Frank still comes into the office at least 3 to 4 times a week and has been talking about retiring for 10 years. He’s definitely an engineer, is very particular, and likes to have all his “ducks in a row” before he can start working on something. When I first started working with Frank I think he mistakenly thought I was his personal secretary and called me Shirley for a period of time. I had to learn how to decipher his handwriting because he’s “no good at those computer things” and he once spent two minutes looking all over his desk when I told him I saved a file to his desktop.

Cartoon which appeared in our company newsletter

I don’t take the name mix-up personally however, and several of my co-workers have not only accepted their new Frank-given names but embraced them. Maurice is now Mortinique after Frank mistakingly introduced him as Mortimer, but then remembered he had a French name.

He’s a true entrepreneur at heart and can’t stand “bloody bureaucrats” because “they’ve never created a shilling of wealth in their lives.” He has the most priceless anecdotes and is an absolute jaw-dropping delight when he comes along on important client dinners. He’s not a big fan of utensils at the company lunches and prefers to choose what deli meat to place on his sandwich with his hands.  My personal favourite Frank-isms are:

“At my age you can’t see as well, can’t hear as well and sometimes you forget to zip up your fly. What’s even worse is when you forget to zip it down.”

and

“I like a woman with big mahguffies.” (Which he claims is a Swahili term, your guess as to  what mahguffies are is as good as mine).

In his spare time he breeds horses on his beautiful rolling farm. His favourite horse is the great big Shire horses he used to see as a boy working on the Liverpool docks. Many of us would know these as Clydesdales but you NEVER call them Clydesdales in Frank’s presence because according to him “the bloody Scots took English Shires, brought them over to Scotland and started calling them Clydesdales.”  When my little sister desperately needed a summer job Frank hired her to pull out all the “bloody thistles” in his horse fields. She asked him why he kept a llama with the goats and he told her it keeps the coyotes away. She asked if that was true, he said “Well that’s what the bloody llama salesman told me.”

Frank is the kind of man that adds a lot of character to a company. You can’t help but love the guy. When I told him I was taking three weeks off to get married he was shocked and asked if I was sure I loved the guy. I told him I most definitely did and he replied, “Well make sure that you do. Because that’s the one thing in life you don’t want to muck up.”

Pioneer Obsession Explained

Some kids are into dinosaurs, some are into princesses. Some love horses, some love action heroes and some kids love reptiles and snakes.

I wasn’t into any of those things. I was into pioneers.

I couldn’t tell you why this obsession began but it started when I was around six years old. I got the Little House on the Prairie book series and read the entire  seven book collection within a couple months. Then I watched the TV series, and then I started getting books from the library about other pioneers. It kind of snowballed from there.

The Ingalls family

Next thing my mom knew I was requesting whole cream from the grocery store so I could churn my own butter. After one hour of incessantly shaking cream in a tupperware cup with marbles I managed to create exactly 1 teaspoon of homemade butter to butter a single piece of toast. It was glorious.

I started spooling yarn to create floor-sized homemade rugs. Only I was never quite patient enough and these often ended up as coasters. By far, my favourite class trips were always the pioneer village ones. My dream was to someday get a job as one of the costumed pioneer children and live day and night as a pioneer girl. When my parents decided to take us to one of the largest pioneer villages in all of Canada, I used up an entire disposable camera within just four hours. Those cameras were supposed to last for the rest of our two week vacation.

Alas, this obsession did not fade with age. The most delightful perk of choosing the University of Waterloo was that it was adjacent to one of the largest Mennonite communities in North America.

Mennonite horse and buggy on the highway

Imagine my delight being only 15 minutes away from modern day pioneer-like people! Horse and buggies, long pioneer dresses, overalls and straw hats and farms which operated entirely without electricity. Local hardware centres actually had sheds in the parking lots for pioneers to harness their horses. It was magical.

Howie has graciously entertained my weird obsession for years. One of the best birthday surprises he ever arranged was spending an entire day at Black Creek Pioneer Village. He also took me for drives in the back roads of Waterloo county just so I could look at Mennonite farms and driveway fruit stands.

Cheryl: Howie pull over! I want to go talk to those Mennonite children!

Howie: No Cheryl I’m not pulling over. Don’t be ridiculous.

Cheryl: What? I just want to talk to them as ask them about their lifestyle.

Howie: That’s not creepy in the slightest.

Cheryl: I’m not going to be creepy! I just want to see how they live. Do you think they would invite me into their house?

Howie: Yes Cheryl. I’m sure these Mennonite children just set up these fruit stands as a trap to meet strange ladies and invite them into their homes so they can tell them all about their lifestyle.

Cheryl: It’s worth a try at least. Please pull over Howie!

Howie: Not going to happen. Now just settle down or I’m not coming along on any more of these drives.

Cheryl: Good! Then I’ll just go driving by myself and pull over and talk to them without you!

Howie: Oh geez….

I don’t know why exactly I am obsessed with pioneers, but I’ve definitely romanticized them in many ways. Maybe it’s the simple, down to earth existence where everything they eat and use was made entirely by themselves. Maybe it’s how feminine the dresses and bonnets were, or how manly pioneer men were with the hunting, and building and farming.

It’s just a weird quirk of mine. Thank goodness Howie doesn’t question my sanity (at least to my face) because of it. In fact, he lovingly indulges my obsessive interest (to a point). Though he won’t allow me to approach the Mennonites, at least he lets me observe them from the safety of our car. And I’m sure if I asked him enough, he might even dress up as a pioneer for my birthday… (TMI?)

Do you have any weird or random interests that you just can’t explain? How does your significant other react to this?