Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hopeful


Over a year ago, I applied for a job on Craigslist that couldn’t have sounded more perfect for my situation. The job involves providing writing support for an online university. The typical student is a 30 something woman in the Midwest working full time and taking college classes at night. It’s a work from home job. Flexible hours. Acceptable pay.



The application process has been high maintenance. I sent a cover letter and resume. I sent official college transcripts. I wrote an essay. I took a test. The essay I wrote really sucked. My essay writing skills were rusty, and I was already providing writing support at the time, both in person and online. That’s what made me cross over to the dark side of blogland. I really needed to create a personal writing habit, instead of just telling other people what to do. What's that saying . . . those who can't, teach.



I received a promising email from the online university a month after I completed the application process. The email announced that I successfully completed the application process and outlined a timeframe of another month before I would be trained. Finally, a YES after hundreds of NOs. But then, I didn’t hear from them for another six months. This time, they gave me a vague timeline but let me know I was still in the running. My enthusiasm was lukewarm. Another six months went by and now, I’ve been officially invited to a three-week unpaid training that begins in mid-April. They call it their interview process. That’s right, I will be working 10-12 hours a week for three weeks, before they decide if they would like to pay me. I’m totally doing it.



I’m trying not to get too attached. But . . . I’m liking the idea of keeping what I have now and adding this in. It would work well with my kids’ schedules, it would be something that I would be comfortable doing, and TELECOMMUTING – need I say more? Like I said, I need to chill. I won’t get my hopes up again . . . I’m lying but let me pretend I'm not totally dependent on this working out. My fingers will be crossed until April.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abhi_ryan/2326630058/in/set-72157605187613270/

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BFF


I discovered four calls and two messages from Daisy’s school today after leaving my phone in the car. I breathlessly checked voicemail. The message from the school secretary who doubles as the nurse was, “I just wanted to let you know that your daughter came to the office because she thought she was having a heart attack . . .” A torturously long message ensued . . . minutes went by as the lady detailed every conversation she had with my daughter as well as a play-by-play of what happened at school. Come on, come on . . . is she OK now? What would make a six-year-old think heart attack? I hung up before the first message was over and called the school.



Apparently, Daisy was worried that her heart was beating fast and she was sure it was a heart attack. The secretary asked if she had been running. The answer was yes. Daisy was acting like something was really wrong, so they had her rest on a cot. Then, they sent her back to class where she went back and forth between acting normal and very distressed. I decided not to pick her up. Last year, she had stress-induced stomachaches at school and went to the office daily to ask to go home. The habit was solidified after that one day I picked her up.


I shared our heart attack scare with Daisy’s best friend’s mom at pick-up. Daisy has been devoted to her best friend since preschool, even when so-called BF would say mean things to her and run away. Daisy lives for BF. So, Daisy and I have many conversations around: it’s OK to have more than one best friend, friends don’t always agree (a big issue of contention is that BF hates pink while Daisy loves it but pretends to hate it), everyone needs space, and sometimes you need to stick up for yourself.



A conflict recently arose at lunch. I have finally found something Daisy will eat almost every day for school lunch after wasting many, many sandwiches. Who knew she would be satisfied with refried beans, salsa and grated cheese, kept warm in a Hello Kitty thermos? The problem is BF thinks it’s gross, so Daisy sometimes doesn’t eat her main course. I had the “friends don’t always agree” talk and explained that not only is taste in food subjective, BF happens to be an extraordinarily picky eater. I personally wouldn’t eat the food BF eats, but I ain’t mad at her. I advised Daisy to tell BF that she likes her lunch and isn't interested in anyone else's opinion about it. Daisy marched up to BF the next day and blurted out, “My mom thinks your food is gross.”



BF’s mom laughed when I told her about Daisy’s heart attack. There had been some excitement at their house the night before. A fire truck and ambulance had arrived next door, and she had explained to BF that the neighbor might have had a heart attack. BF was enthralled with the idea of dying from a heart attack, so she must have come to school all fired up. I can totally see what happened . . . Daisy noticed her heart beating at recess and panicked, “Heart attack!”



BF’s mom made an interesting comment. She said BF tends to be lacking in empathy while Daisy feels everything. I had never thought about it in those terms. She might be right. The girls are now very devoted to each other, but there is no shortage of drama. I shudder to think of adolescence.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaredmoo/3963296260/

Monday, February 22, 2010

High Hopes ~ eBay, Part 6


As I mentioned in the last post, I found an amazing product sourcing tool. I’m starting to sound like an infomercial as we speak but seriously, it’s REALLY FUN. Before I get into all that, let me tell you about the suppliers I found on my own.



I had high hopes for the beer journal. As I’ve said repeatedly, my husband’s into brewing beer. Many beer-related items were selling well on eBay at the time. So, my husband went over the items his fellow enthusiasts were looking to buy, based on brewing newsgroup discussions. I looked into turkey fryers, which are also used as brew kettles, but those were too costly to ship. I looked into some obscure-to-me brewing parts. I wasn’t feeling it. Eventually, I found The Beer Journal by Chris Wright. I contacted the guy and asked him about wholesale pricing. The price he quoted was a little steep so I tried to bring it down and never heard back from him. Then one night, my husband was at one of his brewery haunts and randomly sat next to him at the bar. Chris was visiting from Colorado. After talking for a few minutes, they figured out their small-world connection. Chris told my husband I should contact him. From there, we worked out a deal and he gave me a year from my last order to be his exclusive eBay seller. A few sold here and there. Nothing impressive.



The wall shelf opportunity disappeared without an explanation. I had sold about eight wall ledges that came with the houseware pallet of customer returns and then received a handful of requests for more. There were other types of wall ledges that you could buy on eBay, but none were as simple as mine. They came in various lengths, in black or off-white, and attached to the wall. I looked and looked for a supplier of something comparable, as it didn’t make sense to order a whole new pallet for a small number of shelves. Finally, I found a company in Canada that made something very similar. It was a new company and I was contacted by a brand new sales rep. He was somewhere in the Midwest, on his first trip to the States in his new position, and called me every day to provide info, check in, etc. The guy was my new best friend, I’m telling you. I asked him about a minimum order and he told me not to worry about it. He sent me two binders and samples. Then I sent him my order . . . it totaled $150. I needed to be cautious. I was still putting orders on my credit card. I lost my best friend; I never heard from him again. I emailed and called. Maybe he talked big about his lead in California and preferred to say it fell through rather than turn in my measly order. Maybe he had a horrible accident (I hope not). Maybe he was fired.



Then there was Lady Emily, the only drop-shipper I tried. It’s a line of organic make-up and skincare. It’s based in the South and its packaging is the Southern Belle version of Mary Kay. Even though it made no sense that I would be selling the stuff, I enthusiastically set up an account. I paid for the listings and otherwise paid nothing until something sold, at which time I paid half the retail plus a flat shipping rate of $6.95, and Lady Emily shipped the order. I got one steady customer out of it, a disgruntled former Lady Emily employee who had a thing for the shea butter scrub. That stuff is actually really nice. I was invited to join a fundamental Christian, women-in-business club because of Lady Emily, which was an experience in itself. There was so much competition for natural beauty products, even within the club. Some of the other skincare lines apparently came with Jesus Christ’s seal of approval and maybe Moses’ too. I'm not kidding. That is some stiff competition.



OK, next time I’ll tell you about the AWESOME – FUN - AMAZING product sourcing tool.


picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/restlessglobetrotter/2774586418/

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pics and Lingerie ~ eBay, Part 5


So, last I left the eBay saga, I was slowly getting rid of the garage full of pallet merchandise. There was quite a bit that I eventually sold at a garage sale, tossed in the trash, or left in the front yard for free. But first, I created a whole bunch of eBay listings. I knew pictures were important, so I made a few modest investments. I already had a digital camera. I purchased a backdrop, which was around $80. This was essentially a large frame that came with two pieces of linen – one white and one black – because linen absorbs light well. I also got a tripod, which ran about $130, and a hanging mannequin torso for about $15.




The backdrop was convenient in that I could set up wherever there was good light in the house. However, a sheet draped over something like a rolling rack would have worked in a pinch. I read the advice somewhere to stick with one backdrop, so I chose white. This seemed to be the best choice except when photographing the many pieces of white underwear. The tripod was useful when taking pictures of 100 pieces of lingerie at a time. I could set up the camera and leave it while changing the mannequin. That mannequin caused quite a bit of excitement in my house . . . family members and visitors alike wanted to know, “Who is that?” You mean what is that? That is a well-endowed piece of plastic. But whatever floats your boat.



Lighting was the biggest challenge for me in creating decent-looking pics. Some were great and others were dismal. It all depended on the weather. There are lots of windows in my house, and I became familiar with how the sunlight angled through them at different times of day and even in different seasons. There are also many foggy days here year round, so sometimes I would just go with the grayish pics in my quest to get things listed. I was reluctant to spend more money at the time, but I could have purchased a photo lighting kit to solve my problem. I tried various light fixtures I had around the house; nothing was bright enough. I was also tempted to buy or make a lightbox, which is what it sounds like. You can photograph objects on it, completely eliminating shadows. Instead, I placed objects that couldn't be hung in front of the backdrop on an ottoman covered in the white linen.



I liked taking the pictures, especially of the lingerie, but it was a complicated endeavor with little kids. My mom was entertained watching me one day. I would dress the mannequin, grabbing lingerie out of my children’s hands while my dog poked her head through the backdrop. I would brush off the dog hair then Violet, who was still a baby, would cry because she needed something. As I attended to her, Daisy would snake a couple silky pieces of lingerie to try on in the other room. I’d recover the lingerie then try to get back to the pictures. As I clicked away, the kids would naturally gravitate toward the front of the camera. So would the dog. I would take a few family pics then situate everyone somewhere else, which would buy me a couple minutes of time before the next interruption. Maybe a cat would brush by and a swishing tale would show up in the frame. Maybe little grimy hands would find their way to the white backdrop or the mannequin's firm bust covered in something gauzy. I was usually spent after pictures.



As I went through the lingerie overstock, I found a few torture devices known as thong girdles. I had never seen these before and wondered if they were even worth listing. Turns out, the first thing I sold was a thong girdle. It took me an entire day to figure out why a man would be purchasing one of these puppies (I was still waking up a lot at night with Violet so my thinking wasn’t clear). It’s all about smooth in the front, curvy in the back. And my thong girdles were plain with a comfortably-sized thong, instead of lacy floss. I sold out of the much-desired thong girdles quickly. I heard from several men who wanted MORE, MORE, MORE. I made it my mission to find them.



In the beginning, most of my lingerie customers were men. Some seemed to be shopping for their significant others or mothers (or so they said). But others were clearly purchasing lingerie for themselves. I learned to create a discreet environment, which essentially was to never answer questions publicly, an option that results in the customer’s eBay name becoming a permanent part of the listing, and to use the private listing option, which was a matter of checking a box when creating the listing. This way, customers could remain anonymous as far as eBay’s public selling and feedback records.



I also realized that some of my male customers enjoyed a lot of correspondence with their lingerie purchases. Like A LOT. I would guess that this is all part of the fetish, which inspired me to include handwritten notes with the items I shipped out. It was too time-consuming to maintain as I made more sales, but several customers responded to the notes via email and mentioned them in feedback. In the notes, I offered to find things for customers, which resulted in a list of wanted items.



I did reorder the overstock lingerie from Via Trading, and also resumed my search for more suppliers. There were more mishaps, but I was about to discover a tool that would make all the difference.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aperte/399835909/

Friday, February 19, 2010

Little Miss Dragon


The martial arts studio was unexpectedly crammed with a larger than usual audience yesterday afternoon. It was test day for Daisy’s Little Dragon class. Violet was with me because I cut out the little bit of daycare I had left on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make room for the new $75 a month Little Dragon bill.



I was sitting next to the nice lady I talked to before . . . the one that I talked to about asthma and alternative medicine when Violet was sick. I was irritated because she had brought a friend and her kids, and they were using too many damn chairs. I wedged myself next to her and plopped Violet on my lap. Violet had zero interest in watching her sister progress through the various forms, so I handed her a Leapster with the sound turned off.



The announcement was made that every kid was going to get a chance to kick through a board. Several members of the audience could be heard murmuring something like, “But my kid doesn’t know how to do that! S/he just started!” The room was tense. I wasn’t really prepared for all the hullaballoo either but Daisy rolled with it. Luckily, I had my camera in my purse. I tried to take pics around Violet’s head but most turned out to be fuzzy, crooked or the second after something happened.


As the kids were practicing their kicks, one of the boys screamed in pain. I looked up to see that it was the boy next to Daisy. The kid ran off to his mama and the teacher, who sounds stern when addressing his students on the mat, asked Daisy, “Did you kick him in the face?” All eyes were on her as she faced the teacher, “Yes, sir. It was an accident.” The teacher replied, “Don’t you think you should go see if he’s OK?” Daisy froze and didn’t answer. She didn’t move. I could see by the side of her face that she was trying not to cry. Violet suddenly took an interest in what was happening on the mat, “What happened to Sis?”



My heart went out to Daisy. She often gets intensely anxious if she thinks she’s about to get in trouble. She can’t even watch a cartoon if a character is about to get in trouble. She’ll beg me to turn the TV off or run to her room. I know it took every ounce of her strength to not make the run of shame to her mama. The teacher could see that Daisy was mortified and softened his tone, “Are you OK?” Daisy nodded, “Yes, sir.” The mom took the crying boy out of the room and one of the teaching assistants followed her with a first aid kit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t momentarily – and I mean JUST FOR A MOMENT – proud of my daughter’s dangerous moves.



The lady next to me kept referring to me as Mom throughout the class as she and several others giggled at Violet’s monkey behavior, “Mom, you’re getting so much love. She’s all up in your personal space.” Yeah . . . you too, Lady. Violet tried to make out with my face to get my attention off her sister. She turned on her Leapster at full volume to totally disrupt the class. She jumped off my lap to tear through the aisle of parents, trying out a few karate moves herself. She called out to her sister. She ate goldfish, scattering crumbs around the non-goldfish eating, buy local, don’t-eat-the-poison-of-the-masses audience. I thought about mentioning nonchalantly, “Of course, that’s organic, LOCAL goldfish” but the bright orange crumbs couldn’t be denied.



I started liking the lady next to me again when the splitting of the boards commenced. Three kids were brought up at a time. They were allowed to choose whatever kick they preferred and then BAM, they broke through the boards. Watching each kid go from nervous uncertainty to beaming pride when the board was broken was the best thing ever. The lady and I got teary-eyed just watching it and shared an affectionate smile, from one emotional nut case to another. I don’t know why but ever since I’ve been a mom, there are a ton of weird things that make me cry . . . like makeovers. I had to stop watching What Not to Wear after my concerned family kept finding me sobbing on the couch. It touches me because the made-over person feels so much better about themselves. And that’s what was happening with the kids who were feeling a new sense of their powerful selves.


My daughter was no exception. We went home and she completed an hour’s worth of homework like a champ . . . or should I say Little Dragon. I made some South Beach chili to celebrate. Daisy was a little suspicious of what I was calling a celebration dinner, but she really liked it. You can tell I'm not a proud mama at all. Not really bragging to anyone who will listen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spring Tease

Spring showed up briefly this weekend and was still lingering today. So instead of running back to my car after tutoring, wishing I had my raincoat, I went on a walk. My car was parked next to a eucalyptus grove, a block from the ocean. It was full of monarch butterflies that were too quick for my camera handling abilities.




I was loving the gentle weather. Soft breeze. Slight chill in the air. Warm sun.




I started into my South Beach Interval Walking (I only do Super Charged at night when no one can see), and watched the waves flashing silver in the sun.





This is surfer guy central. The younger ones watch the waves and the older ones watch the women.The old guys are way friendly and will even pull over in their cars to strike up a conversation. I told my mom it was a great place to go for an ego boost. Her response was cranky, "Well, they're probably just staring at your boobs. Little do they know they're only temporary." I'll explain what she meant in a minute but she totally cracks me up sometimes. Don't look now boys, 'cause these babies are just visiting.




My mom was worried because of the extra weight I've been carrying since Violet was born, and I wasn't a stick to begin with. She's pretty good about keeping her comments to herself but more expressive through magazine subscriptions . . . I am now receiving Fitness, Health, Prevention and Self. She's obviously very relieved to see me making some progress in this arena. Anyway, with the extra weight, I had real grown-up fabulous boobs for the first time in my life. My mom, a true humanitarian, apparently didn't want anyone wasting time looking at a mere breast mirage.




Beautiful walk though. The most interesting thing I saw beside the view was a man sitting on the sidewalk video recording something in his backpack. It just about killed me to walk by and not ask . . . WHY? WHAT'S IN THERE? I thought of insects, severed body parts, drugs, kangaroo babies . . . but no, none of those explanations seemed very likely. It will probably be one of those things that I wonder about the next time I walk . . . it's more interesting than breasts anyway.





I was so excited when I saw the possibility of this shot that I didn't focus or center the frame very well. It's almost an amazing picture. I'm in the neighborhood five mornings a week, so I'll try again soon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

President's Day

I told Violet it was President's Weekend. She was surprised, "What the?" (That's how my children talk. I don't know where the hell they get it.) I understood her confusion. It was not only Valentine's Day at School on Thursday . . . it was Valentine's Day at Home on Sunday . . . two days off from school . . . Chinese New Year . . . and now what's this business about presidents? Weirdest weekend ever.





How would you explain President's Day to a three-year-old?




We're celebrating




these guys. They all got a turn to be the boss of the country.


















Sure, a girl could be President. She was kind of close.




This is our president now.




Everyone was excited about Obama becoming president.

























Maybe not EVERYONE.




Bush was the president before Obama.




He did things a lot of people didn't like.




So did Clinton. He was the president before Bush and after Bush . . . he was surrounded by them. He tried to help his wife become president.




He tries to help LOTS of people.










The president has the toughest job in the country.




And it's probably never been tougher than right now.




We hope things get better.




But no matter what, it will be someone else's turn soon enough.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What the Hell Am I Going to Do Now? ~ eBay, Part 4


As you might remember from Part 3, I now had a garage full of customer returns and closeouts from Via Trading that I had paid over $2000 for. Well, “paid” isn’t exactly right – it was all on a business credit card. I can’t really describe how this affected my husband. It wasn’t good. Not only was there graphic evidence of my loose spending habits stacked six-feet high onto pallets, the junk was in his man cave. We had plenty of visitors who stopped by for the tour, “Let me see the pallets!” I tried to discourage them but couldn’t stop the steady stream of lookie lous. OK, here are the pallets. Here are the broken toy helicopters and cracked spy devices. And in that room is my seething husband. You better keep your distance.



And it’s true that I wasted $1000 on broken electronic gadgets and toys. I tried to minimize the loss . . . I took apart a few things to see if I could sell the parts . . . and the answer was NO; no one was interested in buying the motor for an obscure remote control tank . . . even if it was amphibious. I did sell a few things on eBay . . . There were three “listening devices” that really worked. I know because I listened in on my neighbors, only one time for each device of course. Just to try them out. I also sold a snore stopper and a couple remote control planes. This is how I unintentionally ruined one little boy’s Christmas. I thought the plane worked – it didn’t – and his dad let me know in a dramatic complaint email that the boy would never again trust Santa’s workmanship. I gave the family a full refund, my apologies, and didn’t even ask them to send it back. I barely knew what it was in the first place.



I listed the rest of the tech gadgets on Craigslist. I had interested parties meet me at my neighborhood liquor store. This seemed to scare off most of the potential female customers. It must have seemed seedy, but the parking lot was really convenient and I refused to bring strangers to my house for the sake of my kids. I spent a lot of time in that parking lot – I bet the people working in the liquor store thought I was selling something a little more profitable than broken toys. I met a nice young man who was interested in the helicopters. It was his hobby and by our third meeting, he had tested about a dozen of them, most of which truly couldn’t be repaired despite his best efforts.



I also got to know a man who was some kind of preacher. He had long hair and piercing blue eyes, and he spoke with an Australian accent. He was always the first to reply to my anonymous ads. I was a little creeped out by him. He wanted to know if I was in trouble and invited himself over to my house. I stopped responding to his inquiries. I also met a man who drove up in a brand new convertible Mercedes. He reeked of money and haggled over the price of the watch winder to save a few bucks. Then, he told me his life story and described his financial portfolio in detail. I heard from him the next day because he wanted to return the winder. One of the most memorable Craigslist meetings was with a huge bear of a man who got out of a tiny car. He was interested in the hot dog cooker (you know, those steel things that rotate the hot dogs as they cook). He took one look at the hot dog cooker and went into a rage. It apparently wasn’t what he was looking for, but he really didn’t need to get so personal about it. I told him, sorry it didn’t work out. Maybe next time. I think he answered with a grunt as he walked back to his clown car.



The rest of the pallets had more promise. The mixed housewares pallet was OK. I sold out of the wall shelves immediately. A handful of pieces from a Christmas village collection also sold for a decent price. On the other hand, there were several religious plaques and posters that did not sell. Neither did the wrought iron wall pieces and frames in various stages of disrepair, which I thought would have been more popular. What I remember most about this pallet was the berry-scented red candlewax that had somehow melted over a good portion of the items, permanently staining everything it touched. It even got on the white backdrop that I used for taking pictures.



The lamp pallet was the cheapest of the four . . . I think it was $299. Getting a customer return pallet from a big chain is a good idea because sales associates might not investigate their returns. Some of the working lamps had notes attached that read, “Customer says it doesn’t work.” I also enjoyed the random bonus items, like a Rachel Ray grill pan in pristine condition. I became attached to something in there that never sold. There were about 10 metal-like lamps with rugged leather-like shades . . . the base of the lamps were in the form of a stag with a full set of antlers descending a rocky path. I say “metal like” because they were actually made of resin, which is a form of plastic, and painted in bronze. Each one was broken in a different place. Some were missing antlers, other were missing hooves, one was headless . . . it was my herd of special deer lamps. I gave the only one that seemed to be completely intact to my father-in-law for Christmas as a gag gift, although I’m not sure he got the joke. None of those deer lamps sold, not even later at a garage sale for $1, but someone certainly grabbed them up in seconds when left out for free in my front yard. Really should have kept a couple of those lovelies.



And last, but not least, there was the box of 100 pieces of lingerie. These were not customer returns, but grabbed from the clearance rack. In hindsight, this was the only thing I should have purchased from Via Trading. The pieces were of excellent quality in new condition. I knew the language of women’s intimates, the concerns women have around it, and the solutions various pieces provide. I will certainly get deeper into the lingerie part of my eBay adventure but for now, a couple last thoughts on the Via Trading goods.



Obviously, I had no business buying the tech pallet. The houseware and lamp pallets were OK but the downside was the lack of quality control. And the biggest issue with all of them was the time it took to create individual listings for the many one-of-a-kind items. With the exception of the tech pallet, which ended up costing something like $27 per item that wasn’t broken beyond recognition, the prices were seductive. The lamp and houseware pallets broke down to just under $10 per item, and the lingerie was around $5 each. I think pallets could be a good way for an eBay store to grow inventory at key times of the year, such as Christmas or Valentine’s, but otherwise are too random and time consuming. In hindsight, what I should have done was buy four boxes of the lingerie, which would have increased the number of duplicates and contributed to a decent looking eBay store. But I really didn’t know women’s intimates would see well on eBay . . . ignorantly, I was only thinking about female customers at the time.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/acloudman/887285187/

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pursuing Patience

I’ve been meaning to get back to my eBay story, but really, it’s getting harder to find the time for writing anything beyond emails, essay feedback, and cover letters. And yes, I’m continuing the mad job hunt.



Found an interesting job listing tonight on Craigslist between dramatic scenes of The Bachelor (so glad Ally chose her job over Jake. He’s so annoying – especially in a turtleneck – and she’d totally regret ending up with him). The listing was for several “Sleep Technologist” positions at a chain of sleep clinics. Here’s the description: “As a member of our sleep clinic, you will be trained to become an independent sleep technologist administering overnight sleep studies. Trained technologist will run overnight tests independently in one of our locations.” Did you get the part that it’s overnight? I like imagining what I would say in the interview . . . well, I do have a passion for SLEEP but I also get my best energy OVERNIGHT . . .  



I just completed Phase 1 of the South Beach diet. It really wasn’t bad. I had to get used to taking the time to make food for myself and eating breakfast. There was only one day I didn’t exercise in two weeks. I haven’t done that since . . . well, probably ever. I feel healthier and lost 16 pounds so far. I’m about halfway to my goal and tomorrow, I start the gradual process of adding back fruits and healthy carbs . . . and even a little wine. Hurray for chardonnay! But right now, I can’t wait to eat an orange or even one of those much-celebrated organic apples. Strangely, I’ve always gone out of my way to have organic fruits and vegetables in the house for my kids, but I have rarely eaten them myself. I wanted to save them for the kids, but the kids are more interested in them when they see me being a good example. So, duh.



Feeling healthier is translating into me being a little more patient with the kids. I mean, I did yell once or twice today but puh-lease. When they’re not torturing each other, they’re telling on each other. I might have explained a little too emphatically in the car today that I didn’t want to hear it anymore . . . they’re both equally guilty and equally innocent. Daisy corrected me, “I’m not innocent. I’m dangerous. I know karate. Today, Melanie and I chased Anthony at school, and he screamed like a banshee.” Apparently, those two weeks of Little Dragons are really paying off.



The other time I raised my voice was a little less excusable. I made brinner for the kids tonight. Daisy wanted scrambled eggs while Violet wanted “round eggs,” so I did the short order cook thing that you’re absolutely not supposed to do as a parent. They wanted to eat dinner alone in Daisy’s room, which I know for a fact was a totally bad idea as well. I went upstairs to bring Violet her plate, and she needed assistance in the bathroom. So, I handed her dinner plate to her sister, who abandoned it on the floor. I walked out of the bathroom to find our dog licking Violet’s empty plate clean. I might have raised my voice a little at Daisy before returning to the kitchen to make another plate. She should have known better than to leave food on the floor, but then again, I should have just had them eat at the dining table like well-adjusted children. But seriously, if you are a parent who never raises your voice, please contact me with the details (and sorry, if you have one child who's younger than 2, I'm not interested). Really need to get some more reading done in the Mindful Parenting book. I’ll let you know if I learn anything worth mentioning.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kanzeon_zen_center/447750294/

Friday, February 5, 2010

Staying Humble


I’m taking a break from the eBay saga for this week’s update . . .



Violet’s asthma has flared up in a way that's never happened in her three and a half years. This time, instead of getting sick then having issues, her asthma symptoms appeared from out of the blue. I suspect the cold, drafty house during the construction has something to do with it. It makes my mama senses tingle – I am poised for action. She’s taking her breathing treatments well but is pale and her oxygen was a little low at the doctor’s yesterday.



After a couple sleepless nights, I curled up next to my sick daughter as she was trying to settle down for an afternoon nap. Our contractors were here banging away not too far away from us on the other side of the wall and I wondered if she’d be able to sleep. I woke up in darkness and quiet. I stumbled around looking for a clock with the actual time on it (we have clocks all over the house that don’t work – it’s on my list) and realized daycare, where Daisy was, had closed half an hour ago. Daisy was one big walking drama when she got back with her dad.



Daisy's nightly first grade homework is killing us. She’s the youngest kid in the class, which I think is why she's lagging. There’s a trend of parents enrolling their kids in kindergarten later than before because the older kids tend to perform better academically. But with Daisy, that was a hard call to make. Not only is she one of the tallest kids in the class, she’s socially and verbally advanced. I am comforted by the research that shows the younger kids catch up by fourth grade, but it looks like we have a few challenging years ahead of us. Our fight for second grade is not over yet.



Little Dragons is going well. Daisy walks out of her martial arts class with a confident swagger and that's exactly what she needs right now. Yesterday, I got her to class just in time . . . it was miserable weather that made for slow driving. I sat on one of the folding chairs they have set out for parents. The chairs are crammed together so tightly that you can feel the parents on either side of you. I had Violet on my lap and explained that her cough wasn’t contagious. I was sitting next to a nice lady who told me it was OK . . . she was a mom too and was used to vomit and whatever else on her bare hands. We got to talking about asthma as her daughter also has it. The conversation turned toward the shortcomings of Western medicine, a pretty standard theme in my town. I’ve gotten some heavy advice around this recently. I am open to trying all kinds of preventative measures, but when it comes to making sure my daughter is getting enough oxygen, I kiss Western medicine’s feet.



Our conversation was cut off by Violet’s announcement, “Me need to go poo poo.” As I got up to take her to the bathroom, she changed her story and was full of attitude about it, “I ALREADY DID! I ALREADY DID!” I had pulled the amateur parent maneuver of not having a change of clothes in the car, so we faced the storm to get home and back before Daisy’s class was over. I really should have known better . . . a super sensitive stomach plus a wracking cough is a recipe for disaster. Earlier in the day, we had about 20 minutes to grab lunch, so I swung by a Whole Foods. Violet loves to get a questionable combo at the food bar – hardboiled eggs, baby shrimp that are always a little watery and fishy smelling, and a side of grated parmesan cheese. They didn’t have the hardboiled eggs and it threw her whole game off. We couldn’t find a single thing that would do, so I picked her up and ran to the McDonald’s next door. I knew she’d drink a strawberry milkshake if nothing else. I wanted to get something in her belly because she’d really hadn't eaten much for about 24 hours. She drank about a quarter of it. Good enough . . . that is, until it shot out of her other end while she was sitting on my lap.



I wonder what the nice lady with all of the alternative medicine knowledge would have thought of my McDonald’s solution. I tend to keep my distance from those people – when I hear a self-righteous tone about things like organic milk or Spongebob, I check out. Once, a mom I had just met in Violet’s gymnastics class told me I was wasting gas by keeping that Tulle box on top of my Subaru. She was new to town and was trying to be friends, and I had agreed to meet for a picnic with our kids after class. I should have known when she made a big deal about her apples being organic. I like organic apples too, but I don't have to talk about them to people I barely know. I let the little piece of paper with her phone number fall to the floor of my car, the bermuda triangle of my life.



And one last thing I wanted to mention. Amy, my good friend, guest blogger and longtime source of entertainment, started her own blog. She’s so upwardly mobile, it’s not even funny and she’s good at everything she does. She’s already gotten more followers in a week than I have in a year but that’s typical. Do you know she even upstaged me with my own grandmas? Not only did she go out of her way to impress them every time she saw them, she was exchanging love letters with one of them behind my back. Amy gleefully showed me one of the letters . . . my grandma had never said those kinds of loving things to me. Oh well, staying humble is the theme of my life right now, so check out her blog, The Brown Knows.



picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/for_tea_too/1979427503/

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Arrival of Via Trading Goods ~ eBay, Part 3


As I said in the previous post, I was thrilled to find Via Trading after a couple weeks of fruitless searches for eBay goods. I would guess that it’s the most successful “pallet company” in California. Operating out of Southern California, Via Trading buys pallets of closeouts, overstock, customer returns and damaged merchandise from retail stores. Did you ever wonder what happens to the camera you bought online after you return it? Or all the leftover clothes on the clearance racks? It all gets shrink wrapped onto pallets or stuffed into boxes to be shipped to companies like Via Trading.



Via Trading carries an ever changing assortment of inventory . . . make-up, tires, tools, electronics, shoes, handbags, clothes. Some types of pallets are offered one time only and others are a regular part of the assortment. To buy the pallets, you need to show proof of a resale license and agree not to advertise the brand names for the same reason that department stores will advertise a sale on “designer handbags” instead of Michael Kors handbags . . . to protect the image and value of the brand. You’re also expected to remove the store tags so that customers don’t attempt to return the item to the original stores.



There is risk in buying from any liquidator. It is standard practice for the pallets to be unmanifested – not inventoried - and pallets selling for the exact same price from the exact same store vary considerably. I have to give Via Trading credit for making sure the risk was clear. They call you before you pay the first time to discuss the risks involved. You can expect that at least a small portion of the customer return pallets will be too damaged to sell. On the other hand, the average price per item should more than make up for the junk.



I knew right away that I wanted to get a housewares pallet or two. It reminded me of something we called Loss Land at the home design store, a room where we’d throw all the merchandise that was missing parts or too damaged to return to the sales floor. During our twice-yearly sales we’d go through the room, which was usually overflowing to the hallway – repairing what we could, sorting out parts and making original creations to be sold at bargain prices. There would be people lined up for an hour before the store opened just for this part of the sale. Feeling confident about the housewares return pallets, I ordered one mixed housewares and one assorted lamps. The actual names of the stores were not listed but the system of using initials was easy to figure out.



I overextended my confidence in being able to repair things when I grabbed a very expensive pallet of customer returns from an online electronic gadget store that doesn’t exist anymore. It was one of the pallets that Via Trading normally sold out of within a few days of receiving them. I think I paid about $1000 for my electronics pallet, which was 2-3 times the cost of the other pallets I purchased. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.



As an afterthought, I threw in a box of clearance lingerie from a major department store. I figured it was worth trying plus I got a discount for four orders. You may wonder why I went for all four instead of trying just one. Well, I felt the pressure of only having six months to get an eBay store going before needing to find a job outside the home, and not only did I get a discount from ordering more - I saved on freight, which included a $45 charge for delivery to a residence (smaller, lighter items like lingerie could be shipped UPS, but the pallets had to go by truck). If you live in Southern California and can pick up the pallets yourself, you have a huge advantage in making the venture profitable.



You should have seen the truck driver’s face the day he pulled up in front of my house. Apparently, he had been driving up and down my street for a half hour, looking for a likely place to be dropping off three 6-foot pallets plus a box. There’s nothing like a truck trying to turn around on a residential street to really piss off the neighbors. The truck driver was frustrated himself by the time I talked to him, and he asked me something like, “And where exactly are you going to put these????” I explained, not to worry . . . I had cleaned out my garage. He acted like he didn’t want to make the delivery and I had to coax him into doing it. It’s going to be fine . . . here, look at my garage. Let’s do it! He brought them in and sure enough they fit but just barely. He mentioned that it sounded like something was broken when he unloaded one of the pallets. I told him it was OK because that's exactly what it was - broken stuff. He was shaking his head as he drove off.



I tore into the electronics pallet and brought whatever I could carry inside so I could go through it and see what I had just purchased. It was kind of like Christmas. My family wasn’t home at the time, so I spread stuff out and sorted. As I opened box after box, my excitement turned to anxiety as I discovered many, many broken remote control helicopters and planes, exercise machines (one that normally retailed for $1200 was so heavy that it took three people to move it and barely), spy devices, iPod knockoffs, snore stoppers, watch winders, jewelry boxes, and more. First, I attempted to sort the merchandise by what worked - there were items with minor cosmetic issues or damaged packaging – and what didn’t. The majority of the items on my pallet didn’t work. At all.



With a sinking feeling, I realized I had no idea how to repair these electronics. If I did, maybe it would have made sense for me to buy that pallet. But it really didn’t make sense and it was a really expensive way to figure that out. Later, I nervously watched my husband approach the electronic toys with interest. Since he had at least played with toys similar to this when he was a kid, he could figure out how they were supposed to work. As he gradually realized that most of it was broken and beyond our ability to repair it, he pretty much stopped talking to me. I couldn’t worry too much about his reaction at the time. I needed to figure out a plan to pay back the Via Trading bill on my new business credit card, which was more than $2000. I hadn’t even looked in the other pallets but it was like a Christmas gone horribly wrong. If I had looked, I would have realized all hope was not lost.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Search for Goods ~ eBay, Part 2


The first thing I did with my suddenly unemployed self way back in September 2007 was get primed for an eBay business. Honestly, the first thing I did was lie silently on the couch in stunned silence. I took my kids for a walk. I called a few people. My husband and I discussed a plan before he took over the kids for the evening. I opened a bottle of wine and called a few more people. I woke up with a headache the next day THEN I figured out how to set up an eBay business.



I completed the required business forms without a clue of what I was going to sell. I just knew I needed to make money from home. My toddler was often too sick for daycare. And really, both kids needed more from me than what my work schedule had allowed. I followed the advice from What to Sell on eBay and Where to Get It, which I remember like this: Look for the types of products that are in demand or meet a consumer need. Find suppliers. Try lots of different products to increase the likelihood that something will sell. Don't be concerned if the types of products you sell have nothing to do with each other, but make sure you can make a profit when considering the freight costs, competition, time it takes to create the listings, and shipping costs for customers. Also, consider your own knowledge and experience when choosing products. I knew housewares and women's intimates. Picture the kinds of products carried at a Crate and Barrel or the lingerie department at Macy’s.



I researched products by looking at the completed listings on eBay. (You do this the same way you'd search for something to buy except refine the search by checking “showing only completed listings” on the left of your screen.) I looked at everything I could think of . . . bras, boyshorts, turkey fryers, kitchen gadgets, cuckoo clocks. Kitchen gadgets and bras were both selling well but there was lots of competition. Cuckoo clocks were selling like crazy. So were turkey fryers, otherwise known as brew kettles to the craft beer enthusiast. I looked up wholesalers online, understanding that wholesalers usually don't do the actual selling. I looked up the sales rep companies I knew from my home design store days. I looked for the brands I remembered from selling lingerie. The only thing that came out of my research was the knowledge that of the companies that were willing to sell to me, the prices were too high. I needed to find other options.



I was ecstatic when I found Via Trading. It presented a tremendous opportunity but resulted in a costly mistake. It’s worthy of its own post.



I found Salehoo. Salehoo advertises itself as “a wholesale directory of eBay product suppliers.” They supposedly specialize in companies that offer drop shipping, which sounded ideal for my situation. I could pay for products as they sell and avoid having to store them or ship them from my home. Salehoo costs $67 for a lifetime membership. I thought it was a bargain if it would help me find suppliers that were willing to do business with eBayers. I was wrong. It was a total waste of money. The wholesale prices were too high and I wasn’t impressed with the selection and products. I didn’t find any negative reviews about them at the time but there is now. Check out Salehoo Sucks if you’re interested. Apparently, Salehoo employs aggressive marketing and legal teams. I better shut up now.



And then, I found an amazing resource for product sourcing. I wish I would have found it on Day 1 of my search for suppliers. More later. This post is long enough.




picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/psd/55117620/