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Sheep! My Sheep!

Friday afternoon, I went with my mom to pick up our first sheep from Hobby Knob Farm.

Sheep are NOT into leashes

Since we don't have a trailer, we used my mom's minivan to bring them home.
Sheep in Minivan, Pt 2
This is no easy task, as sheep don't understand the whole “hop in” concept.

Sheep in Minivan, Pt 3
(if these pictures are shaky, it's because I am laughing SO hard)

Once in the van, they calmed right down and gave one look back to their former farm.
One last look back

I was intimately involved in getting them OUT of the van, so there aren't any pictures of that. (Imagine me holding onto the leash, trying to talk the sheep into jumping down).

Once they were out and into the yard, the youngest one (we haven't decided on a name yet – I call her Shera (Princess of Power) and the brothers call her Baby) started munching:
Shera (I think)

The older one, formerly named Itsy Bitsy, is decidedly UN-itsy. My 8 year old brother promptly renamed her Fatty Maddy.

Giving me the eye

At her age, she deserves more respect, her official name is Madeleine.

Shera/Baby is still a lamb (born this spring) and is 3/4 Cotswold, 1/4 Border Leceister with a super curly fleece. Maddy is 4 years old, always twins and is a Shetland/Romney cross.  Her fleece is the first I ever worked with (last fall!) and it is just lovely and fine and squooshy.

The girls were sheared (shorn?) last week and I'm going to get started on their fleeces this week. If you want some of their fiber, let me know in the comments!

The ladies will be living at my mom's house, a short drive my place. I go over there a few times of week to babysit my little brothers, so I'll be taking care of them a few times a week. I just came in from wrangling them, right before writing this!

If you'd like to weigh in on the Shera/Baby debate, let me know in the comments! What do YOU think we should call her?

Welcome Autumn

Happy First Day of Autumn!

I'm celebrating  with an uncharacteristically autumnal color: Plums. I usually dye and spin crazy bright colors, but these rainy first day of Autumn (and, I'll admit, a dyepot mistake) inspired this deep purpley gray.Plums

I'm stocking up on Autumnal inspiration by reading about everyone else's fall crafty-ness. Here are a few of my favorites:

I don't know if I'll be dyeing many more autumnal colors, because I still love my brights, but I love soaking in the colors of the season!

Fighting the Someday Syndrome & Learning to Knit

Today I'm interviewed on the Someday Syndrome, which is a website dedicated to helping you move past the “somedays” we all have. It's a short interview and I talk a bit about the pity party I had for myself before I started selling yarn.

If you've come here from the Someday Syndrome: Welcome!

If you're not a knitter, but you think you might like to someday start, why don't you sign up for my free Maybe-knitter Mini-course?

Maybe-Knitters FREE Mini-Course

You'll get 5 little tips on finding a local knitting group or teacher, the resources that I used to teach myself to knit and an early-bird discount when my Learn to Knit kit goes on sale.

How I came to be a Blonde Chicken

Usually, on Thursdays, I post manifestos, love-letters to the season, but today, my Jay's birthday, I want to post a little manifesto for him.

I'm often asked “What's a Blonde Chicken? Where'd that name come from?“.  It's an adorable little story, so be forewarned: Cuteness lies ahead.

Jay has a huge family. Over 15 aunts and uncles (not counting their spouses, their children and their spouses). Huge. One day they all came to our college campus for a big family thing for Poppa, the family patriarch.

Jay and I had been dating…maybe 2 months? And he wanted me to meet the family.

When it came time to meet Poppa, I leaned down (he was in a wheelchair), gave him a “kiss on the jaw” and moved on. I might have said “Hi, Nice to meet you”. Maybe.

Jay was behind me and Poppa grabbed him and said:

“Don't let go of that blonde chicken!”

As a proper young feminist, I was appropriately disgusted with the nickname.

Jay and Tara

Of course, Jay used it to relentlessly tease me.

Months passed, Poppa passed away and Jay kept calling me his Blonde Chicken.

We fell deeper in love, graduated, got married, got jobs and when I started to think about maybe, sorta opening a business, Jay insisted that I should do it.

When I faultered for a name, Jay offered up “Blonde Chicken”.

When I doubted that I could really, truly put all the parts of a business together, Jay insisted.

When I considered quitting my day job, Jay insisted.

At every step, at every opportunity for me to turn back, Jay's had my back, insisting I could do the Thing.

And for him, it isn't even a big deal. It's just the Thing, Tara's Thing She Needs To Do.

He's just quietly certain I can do it. No big pep rallies (even when I thought I wanted one), no big deal. I can do it. Period.

Today, on his 27th birthday, here, in this space he's helped to create,  I just wanted to acknowledge his insistence, and to thank him for not letting go of this blonde chicken.

(PS. The real tragedy – Jay's red/green colorblind. I work with color all day and he can't even enjoy my current favorite color, an enchantingly juicy Cherry)

Seattle A-Go-Go

Since starting my West Coast Adventure more than 2 weeks ago, I've been wondering how to possibly share it all here, with you. 14 days of travel, work, play and visiting is a lot to sum up but here are some of the highlights of the Seattle leg of my trip.

Urban Craft Uprising was unbelievable. Kim Werker's post on the show gives a great perspective. I met so many customers from Ravelry, from my Adventure Club and from Twitter. I met Jenny Hart, Sister Diane and Tara.

Revival Ink at UCU

I even met a couple that graduated from my alma mater (which is bizarre, since we were in Seattle and Lee is in Tennessee) and were interested in learning to spin.

Shows like this are big and fun and completely exhausting. It's so refreshing to chat with people who get what I'm trying to do and exhilarating to meet new people who want to know more.

But at the end of the day, it was relaxing to go home to my college roomates who were hosting me for the weekend. They showed me around Fremont and Wallingford. I saw Stalin.

Lenin in Fremont

We ate cupcakes at Trophy.

Famous Cupcakes 26:365

I visited Hilltop Yarn and spent over an hour chatting with Jessica (of Rose-Kim Knits) at the Fiber Gallery.

Fiber Gallery

I thought about reviewing all the yarn stores I visited and cupcake/chocolate/ice cream parlors I tasted, but decided I'd rather just tell you that if you're in Seattle, see it all! Experience it all, eat it all, talk to all the supersmart fiber people. It is just an overwhelmingly awesome city filled with amazing people and fabulously cute food.

Summer Manifesto – Glad to Be Home Edition

edge

Each season I make a little list of the pleasures I want to soak in. I call them manifestos, but they’re really just love letters to the season. These seasonal lists are my own little things-to-do-before-the-moment-passes.
I hope to keep listing these, every Thursday, as a reminder to soak it in over the weekend (and as a mid-week cheer-up).

After 2 weeks of endless travel (in order: plane, bus(ses), train(s), car, trolley, truck, plane(s)), I am so grateful to have amazing friends and family to visit and a snuggly family to come home to.

This coming week I want to stick close to home and enjoy all the local treasures:

  • Photographing my new shawl (pictured at the top of the post) and listing it as my first pattern for sale!
  • Local library. I LOVE my library and have a summer reading list a mile long (you can keep up with my book lists on Goodreads)
  • Johnson City Farmer's Market. I list this nearly every week, but I am very much looking forward to berries (for more jam!) and peaches (more pies!).
  • Tomatoes! Our tomatoes are just starting to come off the vine and I know the farmer's market is going to be overrun with them. We're going to try canning sauce for the first time and I am so excited!
  • Preserving summer's harvest. Jam! Sauce! Fresh salsa!

What summery goodness will you be enjoying this weekend?

Week in Numbers

Space Needle

1 week = last 9 days

72 lb suitcase (spinning wheel + yarn + clothes for a 2 week trip)

2 planes (Tri – Cin, Cin – Sea)

1 great afternoon with Eileen (lunch! cupcakes! epiphanies!)

12 hours talking to awesome Seattlers (and some fabulous Vancouver-ites, including my dear Kim Werker).

2 yarn stores in Seattle (Hilltop Yarn, Fiber Gallery)

2 hours spent talking to Jessica of RoseKimKnits

1 lunch with crafty rockstar Sister Diane.

2 moments of oh-my-gosh-I-took-the-wrong bus! in 2 (!) cities

1 night with 4 fabulous businesses-women at Cairene's.

2 yarn stores in Portland (Knit/Purl, Close Knit)

1 missed flight (my husband)

1 missed train

54 minutes on the phone with Delta to get the missing luggage sent to our hotel.

1 extra night in Portland

37 hours on a train (Seattle to Portland, Portland to LA, LA to Oceanside)

$40 for some snacks on the train (Jay says, “train-way robbery”. Heh.)

1 yarn store in Southern California (so far!): Clever Knits

2 nights of from-the-garden tomato sauce

7-ish days of being completely unplugged; from internet, from Twitter, even from TV

2 1/2 books read (Not Buying It, Made to Stick, Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society)

2 more days in Oceanside left

10 more hours of plane travel until I'm home to my puppy.

How was your week?

Summer Manifesto – West Coast Edition

Each season I make a little list of the pleasures I want to soak in. I call them manifestos, but they’re really just love letters to the season. These seasonal lists are my own little things-to-do-before-the-moment-passes.
I hope to keep listing these, every Thursday, as a reminder to soak it in over the weekend (and as a mid-week cheer-up).

This next week is going to be packed with summery travely adventury goodness.

I want fully enjoy (and document with lots of photos):

  • Travelling by train, plane and Seattle's great bus system (all with my new wheel).
  • Staying with my college roomates,
  • Having lunch (and running errands – she's so sweet!) with Eileen.
  • Selling yarn, meeting knitters and having a great time at Urban Craft Uprising.
  • Exploring Portland and hitting every donut, coffee, and  yarn stores I can.
  • Having dinner at Cairene's with a bunch of lovely fellow small-biz owners/friends.
  • Going on my first real train trip, from Portland allll the way down to my dad's house in Oceanside. It's a 36-ish hour ride and we are SO excited!
  • Relaxing with my family at the beach, in the backyard and at the best farmer's market EVER.

Path to Yarn – Out of the Cubicle Forest

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. and I ran a business. Yesterday I moved into cubicle-land but today I leave it behind.

Yesterday we left off at January 2009, when I made my Escape Plan.
The plan was simple. I needed 3 of the following 4 things to happen:

  1. My sales to reach $XX/week for 3 out of 4 weeks, for 3 months in a row. (This would show consistency.)
  2. My savings account to grow to $XX (to cover those weeks when my sales weren't as high).
  3. Open 2 wholesale/consignment accounts (I thought this would provide me with another stream of income, other than Etsy, but I soon realized that wholesale sales wouldn't help my bottom line as much as just selling the yarn full price in different venues).
  4. Some press for Blonde Chicken Boutique (that happened in March!)

This plan both gave me a goal (sell enough yarn, save enough money) and a metric to measure my progress.

No longer could I just complain about my dayjob; I knew what I had to do to quit!

I talked the plan over with my husband and he was comfortable with it, except he wanted to add something. He wanted me to not just keep up my books, but to print off a little report explaining sales and expenses. Although he didn't know it was called this, it's essentially a Profit & Loss Report (I used to have to do these for the pottery studio).

The report isn't for him, he doesn't even see it (unless something super exciting or weird happened), but he knew that if I assess it monthly, I'll be more diligent & responsible in my bookkeeping. (I'm the one that tracks the bills/household expenses and he knows I'm a tyrant when I really commit to something!)

My dayjob income was our family's primary income. Without it, or something replacing it, we can't pay 75% of our bills. So quitting my job was not taken lightly by either of us.

But Jay didn't want that to stand in my way, either. So we got out all the bills. We made up a budget (we've done this before, but we wanted to refresh it). We brainstormed ways to cut the cut-able bills (cable, for example) and ways to get rid of the things we could pay off (our car's nearly paid off!) Once we could do those things, and our monthly expenses lined up with my monthly yarn-income (for 3 months in a row), he'd feel completely comfortable with my quitting. I agreed.

(Side note: I hesitate to share all this, because I'm intensely private and this seems nearly too much. But SO many people have asked me how I made the decision and I want to be as honest as possible. We thought and prayed and planned HARD before it happened. We made concessions. We argued. We made up. This decision doesn't just affect me, but the whole family and without Jay's support, I would have been frozen by fear and uncertainty a long time ago.)

So January began with these goals in place. During both January and February, I made my sales goals! Yay!

In March, I learned that due to the state budget “crisis”, the University (my dayjob) was offering a buyout. 3 months pay + 6 months of what the state paid for my health insurance + some other bonuses.

I was overjoyed. Jay and I sat down and did more math, more planning. We asked ourselves, Will the buyout help us reach the goals in the Escape Plan? Or will it happen too soon?

We agreed that the buyout money would go to pay off the car and go into savings. My business would become the primary income in August (I got my last regular paycheck at the end of June). We knew we couldn't coddle the business, it needed to start supporting us as soon possible, so that if this crazy idea wasn't going to work, we'll know sooner, rather than later.

We decided it would work. I applied in April, but had to wait until May to find out if I was accepted. During this excruciating 2 months, we stuck with the Plan. My sales continued to be where we needed them, I started to look at health insurance plans.

I found that I was approved for the buyout, but I still needed to work until June 30th (and I won't get the buyout money until months later). That last month in the dayjob was so hard, so depressing. Coworkers stopped talking to me. No one acknowledged my birthday. People kept saying, “Oh, how cute”, about my business. Oh, and because my apartment was being renovated (and made more expensive) we had to move by July 12th.

But it happened! My last day rolled around and here I am, writing about the path that led me here!

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below!

Thanks for coming along on this path with me, it's been to remember what exactly brought me here!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

Path To Yarn – Moving into Cubicle-land

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. Yesterday, I ran a business, but today, I move and lose it.

After working at the Kil'n Time for 2 years, I wanted a change. Jay & I had always wanted to move to Tennessee and we decided now was the time. We were young, underemployed (neither of our jobs required the Bachelor's degrees we had) and had few responsibilities. 2 weeks later, we lived in Johnson City, TN.

We launched blondechicken.com (it looked a bit different then) the week after we moved. I was selling my handdyed yarn straight from this website, not Etsy. I waited for the sales.

Nothing.

I imagined that my experience as a store manager of a pottery studio would provide me with another interesting, arty job. After a month of searching, talking, applying and interviewing, I had landed two jobs: office temp at the local state university and barista at Starbucks in the evenings.
In July and August 2006, I worked 80-90 hours a week. I had no time to make any yarn, let alone market my “new” business.

By September, I quit Starbucks and was busy temping around campus. I worked full-time, had all the responsibilities of a regular employee, but had no benefits or time off. I temped in the same position for nearly a year before I was hired to do the job I was already doing.

This time in my life is the hardest to write about. It was the “dark before the dawn” or whatever, but at the time, I didn't know there would be a dawn.

I started to fear that I was an office drone and would always be an office drone. My coworkers were miserable women in their 60s who hated what they did, and had hated it for 40 years. They monthly counted down until retirement, weekly counted down to payday and daily counted down until Friday.
It sucked me under.

One day my mom and I were wandering the local art supply store. The owner commented on my mom's shawl, one I had knit from my handspun yarn. My mom (of course) gushed about the beautiful yarn I made and the shopowner asked me to sell some in her shop.

In April 2007, I gave her 12 skeins and they hung in the attached art gallery.
Not a one of them sold and she returned them to me in October 2007.

After a year of the soul-sucking, I got a job in a different department in November 2007. Same job, better pay and MUCH better working conditions. When I went home from work, I actually had energy! I even had something approaching ambition.

In one of my energy-filled Saturdays, just a week after I started the new job, I took pictures of those unsold skeins of handspun and listed them on Etsy. (you can see them here)

They sold by December!
So I spun more, listed more, they sold!
By January, I was spending my days (at the day job) reading about succeeding on Etsy and my nights spinning.

And that was it.  I dedicated myself to building a plan that would get me OUT of cubicle-land and INTO the doing what I wanted. I read everything I could about small businesses. I learned all I could about the yarn industry. I tried every marketing strategy suggested. I spent hours in the Etsy forums and reading business blogs.

A year later, January 2009,  I made the official  Quit-My-Dayjob Plan. More on that tomorrow!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

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