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Finding a New Normal

I did not expect to glean confirmation for my life direction at the farmer's market. Local honey? Sure. Ripe tomatoes? Maybe. But I did not expect the experience to shed light on how to move forward post-pandemic. But that is exactly what happened! Nearly two months ago, the call for vendors went out from our very tiny farmer's market. I had always wanted to participate, but not alone - so I called a like-minded friend and we hatched an ambitious plan. Two weeks later, we were sweltering in the Texas summer sun with a beautiful table full of hand-crafted items, visiting with tourists, and selling...not much. When the day ended, I earned pennies for every hour I spent preparing, never mind the money invested in materials! But it was an absolutely fantastic day (and we are going back this week). Best of all, as I've reflected on the experience over the last several weeks, it's helped me sort out a few things about what my new normal is going to look like going forward.

Even before the market, I've had a lot of time at home to reevaluate many of the things I once thought of as essentials to our "normal life." During shortages, we found that we could actually go without many "essential" things. And, perhaps more importantly, during this time spent within our walls, just the four of us, we realized how much of our time before the pandemic was spent on things that don't really serve any meaningful purpose. People begin to move about more, "normal" life resumes, but I find myself really questioning what pieces of that we want to invite back into our lives. We remain fortunate in that our area has a high vaccination rate, a low rate of spread, hospitalizations and deaths are dropping. Social events are popping up, artist events are in the works, and the invitations are trickling in once again for clubs and activities. We have a lot of decisions to make and they feel weighty. It isn't just, "Do we really want to go to this supper?" or "Do I want to join this club?" It feels more like, "What kind of life will you build now on this bare foundation?"

I know that I have a tendancy to think in broad terms and to give little things big import. I can be ridiculously grandiose and hobble myself with anxiety. Fortunately, I also know from life experience (and a great therapist once upon a time), that the decisions I make now aren't necessarily permanent ones. We are allowed room to try new things, do things differently, move slowly and carefully, and change our minds. But for right now, there are some things I will be doing differently, and I wanted to share them here.

No More Creating Under Pressure. Creating under pressure does not serve me - or you - well. I found it very hard to create during the pandemic. The stress and anxiety just killed my creative juices. (Or maybe they were just invested in things like figuring out how to make do without bath tissue or keep morale high in a stressed-out household?) I gave myself permission, as did many of you, to create more slowly (or not at all), and found that when inspiration did finally strike, it was effortless and almost magical. I'm going to be doing things that way going forward. Of course, I will finish the projects promised and purchased, but I will not be creating a release calendar and holding myself to it this year. Instead, as things are completed, I'll post them and tell you about it. But the imaginary and mostly self-imposed grindstone is gone.

Eclectic Homeschooling Helps. I'm shifting my overt focus to creating helps for the eclectic homeschooler - not primarily the Waldorf- or Waldorf-inspired homeschooler. Whereas we continue to be Waldorf-inspired ourselves, I do dip into other pedagogies and philosophies for things that serve our family well. This shift has been happening for quite some time and is already reflected in the blocks I've written over the past year. They are blocks my family enjoyed in whole or in part with elements that aren't purely Waldorf. Going forward, I will focus even less on the elements my kids don't enjoy and even more on what they do. My kids hate handwork. My kids love the occasional worksheet. They also love documentaries, popular movies, and web quests. (They even love video games!) And whereas I totally appreciate that many of my customers have no interest in things like that, may even feel like I'm doing something terribly wrong in letting my kids indulge and admitting it here, I know that there are people out there who can and do appreciate Waldorf and "unorthodox" things. They love wet-on-wet painting and the occasional worksheet. They love form drawing and documentaries and feature films. They are families who would love to fully embrace a Waldorf path and it just isn't a realistic option for the resources of time and energy the adults in the home truly have. I know that this will disappoint some folks. But what I invest my time in has to reflect what we truly are - and we truly are an eclectic homeschooling family.

More of What We Enjoy. It's also time to focus much less on what I think the market wants. I know - that's crazy talk, but let me explain. I was completely at peace about the farmer's market disaster because I decided at the beginning to only create things that I enjoyed creating. I only made items whose creation process is a delight to me - and things that I myself would use or give to like-minded friends if I didn't sell them. In the past, when someone asked for a particular type of thing, I tried to accommodate and create that. But going forward, even if it is a great idea with a ready market, if it isn't something that is going to be a truly joyful process to create or do, I'm going to pass on that idea. I'm going to be encouraging the creatives who will be contributing here soon to do the same. That means that some of the things I put out into the world going forward won't sell as well as the things before, and I'm okay with that. I want to invest my energy creating things I and my kids love entirely and trust that somewhere out there, there are other families who will love them, too. If not a single soul buys it ever...I can be okay with that because it will have been something that served our little family well in the doing and the creating.

Lower Prices. The farmer's market experience also strengthened my resolve to do something kind of radical, perhaps even foolish: June 15, I'm slashing prices for the forseeable future. When I began this site and business, it was out of necessity. Music Unfolds needed a home dedicated to promoting it and I needed to generate income for my family. H&G became moderately financially successful, especially once I began creating other items that really took off. I'm not making a fortune, but I am able to cover my costs and usually make a little extra beside. I even lost money on the farmer's market - and we were still okay. I realize more deeply how privileged our family is - we have always had enough and usually some to share. I believe that those with more are morally obligated to share with others. What I have to share with you are my creations and I can share them with you at a lower price point and (I hope!) still cover the expenses of running a business. I'm willing to try it and find out. Many families are struggling - they were before the pandemic and now things are worse for the forseeable future. People are newly homeschooling - abruptly - on one income or an unsteady income. I can't fix that, but if they want to use my materials, I can make it easier for them to do so. I know that not every creative can do that right now. I'm judging no one. And I know that I'm not taking my own advice to other creatives which is to not undersell your own products. But the truth is that I care less about getting what things are actually worth than I do getting things to people that need them. Business savvy folks will realize that this means bumping my prices back up if needed will be really difficult, might even spell disaster, but I'm okay with that. In my new normal, it's a risk I'm willing to take.

So, no more creating under pressure, look for more eclectic homeschooling resources, and by June 30, I will have made all my price changes. That's part of Hearth & Gnome's new normal (at least for now). Questions? Send me a message.

And finally, I want to acknowledge the privilege I have simply because of where I live. The past 18 months have been filled with stressors for us, some pandemic-related and many not, but none as severe as those facing many others around the world. I know that I am very fortunate and I am grateful. Many places, too many places, are still suffering greatly from this pandemic. I have clients on five of the seven continents and I think of those still in the throes of major outbreaks every day. I hope and pray for your health, safety, courage, and provision. The pandemic is far from over and you are not forgotten.

Change is always happening, we don't know what tomorrow might bring, but this moment can be an opportunity to step back, reevaluate, and be mindful about how we want to do things going forward. What might be different for you going forward? I would love to hear about it.

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