To Write Better, Read…

I’ve always believed that readers make the best writers. Any skill I have has come from reading books. I’m a collector of books. I treasure them. I also treasure handwritten notes and am especially proud of the few recipes I have which are written in my grandmother’s hand. It’s like having a bit of her still with me- unique to her and I would recognize her handwriting anywhere. I have a handwritten Cheese Sauce Recipe which has stood the test of time too. Written after World War II – it helps me realize that while ‘oleo’ was almost never used- it was during the time when supplies were rationed.

I also think journaling is a worthwhile pastime- in fact, I’m still surprised by what I was thinking or learning at the time…

My 6 year old sister taught 4 years old me- how to read and write. It set me on the path to being a lifelong lover of words and phrases. I collect them with no rhyme or reason except I like the way the sound or look on a page. I’ll take a few pages out with my hodge podge of phrases and words- then it’s almost like shaking them in my fist, then casting them on a page until I like how they look and sound.

Here’s a few notes from what I’ve been reading-

  • Alabama is filled with Dollar Generals and Church Spires.’ (It’s true you know!) and I could add- ‘we still have snake handlers and a Rattlesnake Rodeo. They’ve figured out how to season it up and fry it. I guess, that’s truly the safest way to take up the serpent and live.’
  • From southern author, Michael Lee West there’s this- ‘the bayous twisted off like spilled cane syrup, thick, moss choked woods formed a canopy over poisonous snakes and man eating alligators.’ Now, that! makes you want to visit my home state!

Reading made me want to draw a plan for an herb garden, I pored over that one for a month- it was partially laid out, then a tornado came through- the best laid plans were set aside- indefinitely.

I love true ink pens and grumbled that cursive writing wasn’t going to be taught- it’s an art form you know. A signature is a treasure, an identification, as unique as a fingerprint. Even a short handwritten note, a sketch or a snippet of calligraphy speaks to me.

Pat Conroy started everyday with poetry to get the rhythm of words, then he read 200 pages in whichever book he was reading at the time. Only then, did Conroy start his full day of writing. Mr. Conroy wrote by hand, on a yellow legal pad- five pages toward the book he was working on! Can you imagine! Perhaps that why Mr. Conroy was able to make a living writing books!

Creating content is an absolutely necessary skill in today’s world. If you fear you simply cannot write posts- Read! Then write, just as if you’re speaking directly to someone else or even your best self!

I repeat, ‘I’ve always believed that Readers make the best Writers.’

Love y’all, Brenda

Here’s Mimi’s Cheese Sauce recipe- because I know you want it!

Always Protect Home Plate…

Always protect Home Plate. That old baseball term, still holds true. Home Plate, home base whichever you call it- it’s where your true base of support resides. No matter where you live or work, there’s always a certain amount of uncertainty, yet generally we know where our most consistent support resides. In the South, the weather is almost on our radar. A tornado or hurricane can destructively come through certain times of the year. When bad weather is in the forecast, if we have a bit of warning or just feel it in our bones- we always protect home base. We board up windows and secure the doors. We round up our loved ones, we know instinctively where ‘to get’… the safest places to stay until the storm passes over. Then, when the danger’s passed, we assess the damage, then set about rebuilding- doing what we can to get our homes and businesses back up and running.

In this current crisis we’re in, the rule- to protect home plate, holds true yet in different ways. I sense a certain exhaustion, an anxiety and even a bit too much of ‘We can do this’ and ‘I’m fine’ going on. Dare I say it? How do we sustain this current crisis? It  sounds good to try to ‘maintain a work/life balance’. Still. I’m sensing that folks are keeping a stiff upper lip, whistlin’ in the dark and are downright weary. Frenetic. Worried. Overwhelmed.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve got brain fog. And! In danger of getting cataracts from looking for hours at whatever our favorite ‘screens‘ are.  I have to say it, many are making the mistake of- Posting too much and too often.

Now, you know I don’t have all the answers. I’m looking for answers just like you are. If you are a local or retail business, these are very stressful times. Protect your home plate too. Please keep your loyal customers up to date with your information and hours of operation.

After years in retail, even owning my own business- here’s what I know for sure..

  • Keep your information clear and easy to understand.
  • Please don’t overwhelm your loyal customer base or new contacts.
  • Post the most pertinent information on the social media platform where your highest following resides.
  • And keep the information fresh and up to date.

Now. This may go against conventional wisdom, yet I do know this is true- Don’t Overwhelm!

  • The more often you call, email, post on social media- the more likely it is that folks will stop seeing it, ignore it and ultimately stop following or unsubscribe.
  • Once a day may actually be too often, more than once? A surefire way to lose customers.
  • The same is true for whatever ongoing interest you may have, especially on social media.
  • Folks get information overload in normal times, now? When they are doing more essential business, helping their family or working online- believe me- less is more.
  • Think of it as preparing a garden, planting seed, giving it time to grow…
    • If you you have a loyal customer base that follows your social media sites– now is the time to develop personal contacts. Social Media has taken on increased importance- So here’s a few suggestions:
    • Follow them- leave appropriate non-sales-y comments.
    • You can even discover their interests and offer an encouraging word or phrase.
    • If you have a product or service – the conventional wisdom is to post every third or fifth post. In between, share something about yourself, a quote that keeps you going and tell them how important or amazing they are!
    • Building connections now actually is protecting your own home base.

    Appropriate interest in your customers now, is like planting seeds for a future harvest.

    Knowing your customers will help you form a business plan for meeting their ongoing needs, later. Folks have been trending toward more personalized shopping experiences for years now. This is your chance to develop those skills. And while you may be near panic over your profits, remember the principles in this post.

    If you tailor what you offer to their needs, and in their price range you will have more sales. Find that perfect place where their needs, your product or service overlap into what they’re willing to pay for Support + Service = Sales. The most successful folks I’ve ever known-

    • 1. Have portable dreams and..
    • 2. Make adjustments as quickly as possible.

    Jane Goodall, had a long standing career observing chimpanzees. Did she set out to make a huge impact on the world? Probably not and yet she did. The small things she did everyday educated, informed and endeared her to the world. Here’s what she said:

    Do what you can to protect Home Plate. Then, expand your circle of influence. Believe that you make a difference. Believe me, you will impact your world. It’s up to you how you choose to use your influence. Here’s wishing you, all the best and as always-

    Love y’all, Brenda

    Growth…

    Growth, we all want it. Whether it’s in our gardens, our knowledge, wisdom, in our businesses or our bank accounts. Maybe you want to grow your circle of friends, your following on your blog or social media sites. We feel better when we are growing in all of the good ways. So how can we do it? And just how much growth would it take for you to feel good about it all?

    The best lessons I’ve learned about growth has come from gardening. Real growth takes time, attention and appreciation. Whether it’s growing your business, your following on social media- personal growth or expanding your influence, there’s no real magic formula.  Here’s one ‘Don’t’ for growing your business or influence. Don’t just stay with folks who do what you do or have the same perspective you do. It’s far more interesting to follow folks who are like some of my favorite herbs.

    • Take common Oregano, I picked a big armful, it was full of Joy and Happiness, had a lovely light scent. Find folks who bring you Joy, believe me they will make your day!
    • Or those sweet silly Violas– they’re a baker’s decorating friend, a spring tonic maker, an artist’s inspiration- Now please tell me- you want Inspiration around regularly. Right?
    • Thyme the herb of courage, the Greek symbol of elegance and style and dare I mention: Some set aside a bed of Thyme for the wee fairies. It elevates my mood and lifts the spirits- oh my yes! I want  Courage, Elegance, Style and a bit of Whimsy and more… the scent of lemon and thyme is surely one of the most scrumptious anywhere. Add folks who bring these things into your circle.
    • Water, we all know we need an Oasis Add refreshing Mint and Lemon- well, you have a fragrant, refreshing moment. Yes, I want those types to be part of my day.
    • Sweet Lamb’s Ears is nature’s fuzzy bandaid, has healing properties- not I ask you, what would life be without those who offer healing to the mind, body and soul? That’s circle of Influence. Each adding something to the other’s life.
    • Ah yes! we must have some folks who spice up our lives, any place they’re invited- tend to ease frustration, anxiety and these Hot Peppers generally grow where it’s hot- why? We need this spice to cool us down, even make us laugh- oh yes, you want the spice of peppers!
    • Along with the Love and Good Wishes of Sweet Basil, there’s never enough of that!
    • We want folks who come back often, like Garlic Chives. From leaves to blossom- they re-seed, not trouble at all.
    • Last, yet certainly not all- I can always use some Sage advice. Wisdom.

    A huge following isn’t as important as the level of Engagement, the need meeting need, the inspiration- the likes, comments- taking time to engage, inspire and be inspired. This is what community has always been about. If everyone was just alike, who would need anyone else? You may have or offer just what someone who does something different from you needs. Build a business based on trust, a good relationship, a friendship- appreciate what they do- not just by hitting ‘like’ but leaving a short meaningful comment. That’s why it’s so important to actually be inspired by others- not for the sake of more followers- that’s not authentic. It’s being real and ultimately- your business won’t flourish long unless you take the time, pay attention and show appreciation. That’s how to Grow the right way. Wait for it, true growth will happen. Here’s wishing you all the best!

    Love y’all, Brenda

    *This is a continuing series for helping small business, during these unprecedented times. I guess you could Camellia is becoming a Cottage Industry!

    Stop, Look and Listen…

    Stop. Look. Listen. Those street crossing instructions not only kept us safe, they also sent us across the street and on our way. In our continuing series of ‘What will I do with this Time?’ There are design tips, there are inspirational tips and there are marketing tips, which we hope to include as well. Creating streams of income in these challenging times is certain to be important. In a recent Instagram postBlue Doors, a series of doors were matched up with amusing human characteristics. ( Look for the opening photo of the Blue Door on my IG grid) If you hope to sell a service or product, you must Look at the individual needs, hopes and dreams of potential customers. It’s not enough to figure out a way to sell them what you hope to sell- your job is:

    • to figure out their lifestyles,
    • their means to purchase or
    • if what you’re offering is even relevant to their lives.
  • If it is, then this post will help you in your marketing efforts. It’s mostly, Listen and Stop. Here are a few examples:
  • You: ‘Throw out those old spices, make potpourri bags or something.’ * When actually – ‘I was hoping you could help me organize and plan new shelves.’ *If you’d stopped long enough before advising and just listened.
  • You: ‘Why in the world would you put a chair out here?’ ‘Oh, I thought it would be fun to have our coffee out here, while we talk about that new addition.’ *Yikes, if you’d just stopped and listened…
  • Take this dark linen closet- You: ‘Let’s get this cleared out, lighten it up, put in some shelves…’ Stop. Listen. ‘No, I wanted to step into my little home office first- am really interested in…’ *What you saw, wasn’t what she wanted you to look at!’
  • Or listen in on this exchange- You: ‘Mary Beth, the sewing circle would love to have all of this! Then you could have a guest room!’ No, no no. ‘Actually, I was hoping you could design a craft room for me.’ *I hope you didn’t dampen her enthusiasm or talk yourself right out of a job!
  • Look at this all white kitchen- You- ‘We need to get you some color in here, liven things up!’ Really? Here’s what was said- ‘Well we like it, I just need a sisal rug and was hoping you could tell me what size to get.’ *Stop. While you’re ahead.
  • What about those lovely old windows? You: ‘We can get you some shades or curtains in here to cut the glare.’ Um no. ‘I love the light coming in here.’ *Listen. You just lost that job. Full stop.
  • Take this lovely old plant room… You: ‘Let’s replace these rickety doors, get you some metal shelves you can wash down.’ * Really, you just said that? ‘Well, I wanted to give you a plant before we talk about replacing the bathroom wallpaper.’ Thud. Just stop. Listen.
  • And this gorgeous flower room? Please don’t say- ‘Let’s clear it of all the clutter, make it easier to clean…then see where we are!’ Uh NO. ‘Actually, I’m hosting a flower arranging workshops- I really needed help with my son’s room.’ *Please stop while you’re ahead.
  • Doors of opportunity will open if you’ll focus on the customer. The best sales happen when you Stop Selling and Start Listening. Give compliments, not unsolicited advice. And. Listen to this – which applies to anything in life- ‘The cry of the human heart is to be heard.’
  • Marketing today is about making connections, building friendships and gaining trust. Stop. Look. and Listen – first.
  • Love y’all, Brenda
  • Abundance…

    As much as I admire simple, curated space – there’s a case to be made for abundance. Let me ask a question first- which organ of the body uses the most energy, the Heart or the Brain? The brain uses a full 20% of the human body’s energy. Sight, sound, scent and taste – these senses originate in the brain, That’s why visual images are so important in design.

    The same brain that loves order also enjoys abundance. Half full or mostly empty are generally unattractive. In any type of brand or campaign for products- balance is key. A product page needs to be simple and curated. A special display benefits from negative space. Your physical store, the cover of a catalog, a travelogue or business blog even newsletter are the perfect places for abundance. And don’t get me started on our homes and gardens.

    Abundance -without looking cluttered, stuffy or just plain messy- which is universally unappealing. Where to use it? Abundance is a design principle and when selectively, the human eye finds it appealing. Abundance is that satisfying sensation we feel when we see a good harvest, a basketful in fact!

    Set an abundant bowl of fruit on a simple table and it immediately becomes more attractive. Common food displayed in rustic basket or a bundle of garlic on burlap speaks abundance to the eye. A well stocked store is far more appealing than empty shelves.

    In the landscape, abundance is what we enjoy seeing. An ornate bench is a type of abundance. Used in just the right setting or proportion is beautiful. Generous bouquets are always a welcome sight and tends to warm a simple space up. Green plants generously added to even the most curated space, have a calm, cooling effect in an overly sunny space. Fresh flowers and plants always add to the experience of a home or an event.

    I’m convinced one reason grazing boards are so popular is we like a generous spread and selection of food.

    Coco Chanel loved her many ropes ..and ropes of pearls- her simple designs were often set off with generous strands of pearls.

    And isn’t that what we really want? Generosity? Without saying a word- abundance is generous, satisfying and ‘no worries there’s enough to go around’.

    Yes, abundance as a design principle is amazing. You can do this! I know you can- finding the right balance is key -with a bit of practice you’ll find other folks will appreciate it too!

    Love y’all, Brenda