Saturday, September 18, 2010

A New Focus -- Jewelry, Education, and Finding a Balance

(This is long, so grab a coffee -- I'd love and appreciate your feedback at the end.)

Recent events in our lives here at home have made me take a good long look at my job as a jewelry designer.  How I operate my business, what hours I keep, even how I market my jewelry has all now come under scrutiny.

Being a jewelry designer is my full-time job.  Until now, though, the money that I've made has either been put back into the business or used to finance the extras in our household, like remodeling jobs and new appliances.  It's paid for my lampwork studio, workshops, and bead buying trips.  In other words, I haven't had too much stress over my bottom line.

my booth at an outdoor show
Now, however, things have changed.

My son, Zachary, is seven and just entered 2nd grade at our public school.  He's so smart -- and that's not just a proud mama talking.  Last year he was blessed with an amazing teacher who had a wonderful way of teaching, and the children learned about science and math using hands-on methods, and their reading levels were pushed to where Zack left 1st grade reading at an end-of-2nd-grade/beginning-of-3rd-grade level. 

Over the summer, his reading really sky-rocketed and we kept a summer reading list.  The kidlet read 21 chapter books (some were pretty big hardbacks, and many he read twice so he actually read more) and we worked on worksheets from a Summer Bridge Program I bought.  We've had him in museums since he was two, so he's naturally curious (his own word to describe himself) and he's just a sponge, ready to learn.

Zack, on the left, at Eco Camp
Now that he's entered 2nd grade, though, I've realized that what I saw in 1st grade was the drastic jump from the fun-and-play days of Kindergarten to the settle-down-to-business of 1st grade.  I also realized that teachers are only allowed to do what they're allowed to do.

Zack's 2nd grade teacher is a sweet, caring woman who has been nothing but kind.  Her communication with me has been exemplary.  I have no problems there whatsoever.  My problem is with the public school's education. 

To say that Zack is bored would be an understatement.  Part of Zack's "homework" (I put that in quotes because, well, if you saw the homework.....) is to read a book of his choice for 15 minutes each day.  I have to MAKE Zack turn out his bedroom light after he's been reading for two hours.

Zack at two and a half
Since Zack was in preschool, Rick and I have tossed around the idea of putting Zack in private school.  We were really, really torn.  We didn't have the first clue what to do.  We had friends who had children in all three schools -- the public school, the private but affordable Catholic school, and the expensive private school.  We finally decided to put him in public school because we figured Kindergarten was Kindergarten pretty much wherever you went.

But now, after loooong conversations and agonies between the choices (I even considered home schooling, something I *never* thought I'd be able to do), I made a phone call to the expensive private school.  My thought was to apply for 3rd grade.

Oh wait, the admissions office said.  We have one slot left for this year's 2nd grade.

And I took that as a sign.

So here we are, waiting for our first interview on Tuesday, with a child who is over the moon about the prospect of changing schools.  And herein lies the reason for the title, "A New Focus".

I will be the one paying the tuition.

At first blush, this is totally doable.  The timing is great, because I have four large craft shows coming up, and along with holiday web site sales, they will more than cover the cost.  But then the tuition bill comes around again in the spring, and there is only one show on the books for the spring, and that will in NO way cover the cost.

So for the past few nights, I've lain in bed rethinking how to run my business.  How to manage cash flow.  Where my customers are currently coming from, and where to gain new customers.  How many classes I can afford to take.  How many beads I can afford to buy.

Fortunately, I contracted with a web development company to make me a new web site (which I'm told will launch next week after we test the credit card processing unit), and this includes a new logo, so I'm primed for rebranding.  Included in the package was a ton of different sized logos, letterhead, postcards, and internet ads, along with a healthy course on SEO.  

I've also been pushing myself creatively with my Cup of Bead Soup project, and I've decided that while I'm not ditching my tried-and-true style, slowly adding in my new style might garner new customers.  Actually, this is already happening, as six pieces have already sold when I've posted them on Pretty Things and on Facebook.  I don't think my new designs are that off-base from what I normally make, so I'm hoping they'll blend nicely.

necklace I made with ceramic by Spirited Earth
I may also have to apply to more craft shows.  This year was my "Artist's Year Off" because I drastically reduced the number of shows I participated in.  I don't know if I have that luxury anymore.  On the other hand, I don't know if my health issues will allow me to take on more shows, particularly if they're outdoors.  So I'm researching galleries, online venues, and wholesale opportunities.

The other thing that will change will be the crunch on my time.  The new school expects a certain amount of volunteer time, attendance of functions, serving on committees -- much more than what I'm used to.  I volunteered at the public school and I also volunteer at the humane society, but this is an entirely new level and type of volunteering.

This means I'll have less time at the torch, less time to make jewelry, less time to upload jewelry to my web site, and less time to do paperwork.  It's a Catch-22 -- a vicious circle because in order to pay for the school, I have to make the jewelry.

bracelet in my normal style made with my own lampwork beads
Ultimately, though, it's about my son.  I entered this business when my son was nearly a year old, getting hooked on beading when I was still pregnant with him.  I knew that this business would be what would eventually pay for his college, so I guess I'm just starting early.

I have a business plan, but it's going to have to change.  My advertising plan, for instance, will TOTALLY change.  My budget will also change.  But my main goals will stay the same -- make pretty things that last while being a hands on mom.

Zack at six months.  Photo by Jen Fariello

If you've lasted this long, I'd love to know if you've faced this sort of dilemma, and how you've made changes in your life to accommodate your craft.  How did you handle the added hours, or the change to your schedule?  Did it change how you looked at what you do?

Thanks, treasured readers, for listening.

Lori Anderson creates jewelry for Lori Anderson Designs and also writes the blog Pretty Things.  She's also a contributor to Art Bead Scene.


  1. prioritizing is a difficult task..especially if you are now having to meet a certain dollar amount seach term for school.
    i wonder what is the most flexible volunteer position at the school..
    a friend sold bus passes each term as her duty..just a big chunk of one day, then done.
    i really like your new designs..they are so creative and still very wearable.

  2. Wow Lori, what a scary but awesome change for you and your son. That is great that he is excited about changing schools and pushing his learning capabilities. You will do great at this new change coming your way, because change is always good!
    Mom and I don't live off what we make from our shows or any sales, but we do put what money we have back into the business so we can buy propane/oxygen, glass, enamels, gemstones, wire, books, etc...It can be scary sometimes having this type of business, espeically when mom was out of work for about six months and then she took a major pay cut when she finally got a job. A lot of our supplies have been put on our credit cards (which I almost had mine paid off-oh well) for the last year.
    There are times when I have been so discouraged, but mom was there to pick me up and we kept trucking along. Plus this is our first year of doing art shows and I think we have done awesome so far.
    Lori, you have a plan and you have your goals, you are going to do awesome!
    Take care,

  3. Well, it sounds like you know where you want to tuition. It also sounds like you've thought about all the steps needed to get there. The only thing you really need to formulate is the ENTIRE PLAN - the road map to your goal.

    I don't know what your health issues are, but do take care of yourself and work around them. Not being able to work outside, to me, sounds as if you have allergies and asthma. Maybe it sounds that way, because I have them and I know how I feel about being outside.

    Your goal is to be applauded. Seeing that your son is an exceptional boy and getting him into private school to further prepare him for adulthood great!

    I never had to pay for my child's expenses. Our children went to public school and they paid for whatever additional schooling they went to after High school.

    But, I have had my own business(es). I am an almost retired Interior Designer - who had her own Bridal business for 3 years. During the time I was a full time Interior Designer and owned my own bridal business, I was single. I had to pay all of my own bills one around to help. And I worked solely on commission or what I made in my business. Thus, I know the need to SET a GOAL - KNOW the STEPS to the GOAL and MAKE A ROADMAP to it.

    After 25 years of living on my own, I can say it wasn't always easy...but it certainly taught me alot - about life and about myself.

    I am certain that you will learn alot about yourself and what you're capable of doing, too.

    Be patient, be alert, love, laugh and live. Take care of yourself and you'll be a huge success!!

    ~Blessings & Prayers,

  4. Lori, I understand what you are going through.My son was the same way, lucky for us he was in a fabulous school system. When he was in second grade his teachers called me and said he already knew everything they were going to teach him for that year, they got him a tutor that helped him with advanced studies. Being an only child he needed to be with kids his own age so I did not want him to jump a grade. I volunteered a lot back then and was visible at the school and had a highly successful wholesale business. Learning to play an instrument is another activity that is great for advanced children. Nick learned to play the trumpet, played soccer and tae-kwondo. It all seemed to work just fine. Jump forward a bunch of years now he is a sophomore at Lipscomb University in Nashville.

    Go with your instincts...they are always right.

  5. Lori-
    I haven't had to face the business decisions that you are facing. But I do have health issues (Lupus) and so I know, that adds a whole different dimension to the demands of being a good mom and a creative artist. Not only do you have to balance what your son needs, and the demands of your work, but also you can’t push yourself too far physically or there will be a price to pay. It’s hard to keep it all in balance! I admire you for being so reflective about this and for caring do deeply for your son’s well-being. My best wishes go with you.

  6. We're sending our son to a private high school, but so far the demands on my time are minimal, outside of the longer drive.

  7. Dear Lori,

    You give me so much courage and enthusiasm. Here I am knocked down with my sciatica thing, it is getting better by I can hardly sit down to make jewelry, while you have so many issues and still doing so good.

    I rather would like to know from you how you make bus plan and marketing strategies.

    I was a Montessori teacher for 20 years. Did you check out such options? Or like the philosophy?

    Much of the learning happens at home so Zach would be fine. He is sooo cute!

    The same had happened with my daughters. One is an astronomer now! but there is a lot to learn from common people and that happened in good old mediocre public school.

    By the way I loved your Snow man story that you had in you tube:)- Dita.

  8. Sounds like it was meant to be. And sometimes having a need/reason is the best motivator for a person (well for me anyway, lol).

  9. First off I have to say that is a really precious pic of Zach btw you and your husband when he was a baby! What to say..your blog is really chock full to the brim. Your health really is something you must pay attention to first off. You have so much on your plate and only you know what you can project to take on. Maybe some very small tokens of some school things will surfice Im sure you can speak to them about that. You will have to bear thru all of these demands as Best as you can. I see you as quite strong Lori and determined. Take one day at a time and do the very best you can and Im sure things will fall into place. But remember you must take good care of you! I Rejoice at your Son what alittle genius he is!! Hang in there! When I have so much on my plate and I often take it to the Lord and ask Him to take over and give me the Rest I need. Maybe in some way Ive helped..I hope so..ox
    Take good care <3

  10. I'm just so relieved you are amping up your business, rather than closing it, which crossed my mind when I read, "however, things have changed"!

    I don't have any experience or advice to share but my strong opinion is if anyone can do this, it's you! You are doing everything right, you have a plan, you're motivated and supremely talented!

    Go Lori!

  11. Hi Lori,
    It really saddens me that women with all the liberating that has gone on have been forced into the work world when we already have the most important job of our lives, raising our children. My husband and I lived in apartments until my oldest entered 9th grade. We both gave up almost all the material things that all the people around us felt were necessary before they had a family. I stayed home until my two girls were both in school and loved it. When I went to work full-time it really became apparent that I was needed even more during those years and as I call it "The Blur" of the next 20 years I worked at work, at home and tried to stay awake to help my children with their homework. I always felt like it was wrong for all the students I had all day to get the best of me and what I had to share and my own children had to shake me and say- "Mom, wake up you didn't finish reading that page." We all survived and the love is there but I still wonder how did my world get so focused on profit making, thing gathering.. and you know where I am going with that.
    My personal opinion is that we have to put our children first, spend the time to really know and teach them what we think is really important, not expect the schools to do it all. That is our most important job. If we are too exhausted for that then what is the point. So find your own personal balance that works for you. If you have to spend more time on something or someone, what is most important to you. Start there and let the rest fall into place. If it doesn't then it probably was not supposed to.

  12. Oh dear Lori...I feel your pain. You have come to a crossroad in your life and a decision needs to be made that effects both your life as well as the life of your precious baby.

    We also faced this decision a few years ago whether to send our son (and daughter) to private school or continue in the public school system. It was a difficult decision. But we felt like we needed to be able to provide our children with the best possible education...that we could afford.

    It sounds like your son is much like mine...and he thrives on a well structured setting, being challenged in class, and absorbes information that he is interested in like a sponge. Don't get me wrong, there are things about private school that I don't like but they have nothing to do with the quality of education mainly the politics...but that's a whole other topic.

    Talk it over with you son after the interview. Find out his feelings...this is what my husband and I did with our son. I know that they are really too young to understand, but get his thoughts. Talk to other parents, who have children who attend the school. Private school is not a good fit for every child but you'll never know if you don't try. We love it! I'm not knocking public just isn't what it was when we went to school.

    As far as the business seems like things always have a work of working if it's meant to be. It may be a sacrifice...but what parent wouldn't be willing to sacrifice to have what they feel is the best for their child.

    My thoughts are with you during this difficult decision:)

  13. One day I sat down to make a list of priorities and rank them. #1-husband #2-children. #8 or maybe even lower was my business. Our children are with us such a short amount of time. I am stunned that my oldest, the one I still think of as my baby boy is 12 and just a smidge shorter than me! You need to keep your priorities in mind while making your plans because at the end of the day if you are too exhausted or your health deteriorates and you can't enjoy your son or husband, would it really be worth the price you paid? No one can answer that question for you, but everytime I start getting stressed about this or that and how to do it all, I organize my priorities in my head and that short simple exercise always makes the final decision for me.

  14. Hi Lori-
    Sorry I missed this post!
    I would say that you already have a clear path marked in front of you. You have goals. You have a plan. You have a tried and true method. And you have support (very key). Our children are very similar. We have always had our children in the local private Catholic Schools. It was a decision we have never regretted nor thought twice about. We are blessed that we have Blue Ribbon schools in our Catholic district. They are the only two in our Central WI area that have that distinction and it is a great honor. Plus I used to teach in the same system and my husband and I are both products of it. My kids are getting the best education but that doesn't mean I don't support the local public schools in their quest to be the best.

    I think that you have the beginnings of the start. You can do it! I need to do that myself. Get myself to a place where I can pull back or remove myself from this situation so that I can focus on growing my business. I think that you have what it takes, the drive, the personality, the mad designing skillz. I just wish you weren't so far away as I would be right there helping you out at your shows and whatever else you need.

    Keep a positive attitude. Keep innovating and creating. Keep your eyes on that prize. It is so worth it.

    Enjoy the day!

  15. Wow Lori, this is huge. I agree that you need to go with your instincts.

    Did you know that it's pretty normal for a kid to make a huge leap like that in first to second grade? My son did, too. That being said -- my son is also very gifted, but I know many other kids that are average in school who also made great leaps in these years, especially in reading, so don't let this be your biggest reason for moving him.

    My son has been in public school but this is because of other issues, such as me not wanting to "commute" him into town to a private school, spending all that time on the road, especially in bad weather, and also questioning the value of that education now vs. saving that money for his higher education. It is a tough choice. I agree, though, they are little sponges at your son's age so you hate to see them not challenged.

    My input is that if you decide after your meeting that you're not completely sold on private school, look into virtual academies. My son's school district allows him to supplement his education by signing up for advanced classes online. They keep track of the classes and he receives credit for completing them. For example, he's taking Geometry now but we don't want him to forget his Algebra (plus he loves math) so we're going to sign him up for the next Algebra class.

    I think supplemental learning like that is awesome because it gives you such flexibility to do stuff is "short spurts" that might be a good idea given your health concerns.

    If you decide in favor of the private school, remember to factor in all the extra homework time in addition to the volunteer commitment. I can't believe the homework they have!

    The other thing I would say to you is this: consider waiting until he's middle school age. Everyone I've talked to has said that, in retrospect, these are the years that kids expect a change anyway, so it's a good time for making that change to a new school.

    I know you'll make it work, whatever you decide.

  16. Oh Lori~
    We have Derek in private pre school right now and while I love the environment for him and would love him to stay Shelby with be starting College in the fall of next year and that has to come first for us. In your sons case this is the best step for him and you will find a way to make it work! You have my support and I am so glad you shared this.


  17. Go for it. As the old cliche goes, you never know til you try.

  18. Go for it. As the old cliche goes, you never know til you try.

  19. mentioned homeschool, I have home schooled all 4 of my children at one time or another, but never all 4 at the same time. The best part of home school is chosing the curriculum that your child will like, however, homeschooling is very very VERY labor intensive and time consuming. Our school systems here in NC have a gifted program in the elementary schools. In classes that the child excels in, such as reading, they visit another class in a higher grade or with a special teacher instead of staying back with their regular class. And, two of my children attended private church schools, and the education they received there was way beyond anything that public school offered. I will be thinking about you as you make your choice. I am sure Zach will bloom anywhere you plant him!!! Denise Wright

  20. Lori--

    While reading all that you wrote, I couldn't help but think that change is good. You are incredibly talented, and I believe that is one of those things/signs that will push you to the next stage of your business. I see it as a positive thing, but I do agree that there is some stress associated with it. The good news here is that you have a tried and true business mind, you're the smartest girl I know, you are tenacious, and you make *amazing* jewelry.

    I believe the stars are aligning for both you and for Zack, things are falling into place as they only do when you know you're on the right path. Take hold girl!!! (your loving but often absent friend, Kristin)

  21. I work full time at my jewellery making business but I only make a part time income. However, it makes a significant contribution to the household budget and we couldn't manage without me earning some kind of realistic income.

    We are at the time of life where as a couple without children, we don't need me to be earning as much as I did during my twenties and thirties with a mortgage to pay and furniture to buy. I therefore no longer need to have a "proper" job.

    My husband is a fantastic support to me.

    I can't advise on what you should do as I don't have children but you could bear in mind that as an artist, I have found I am at my least creative and do my worst work when I feel pressured. For example, I had a commission recently which totally paralysed me for a whole week. I felt I had to get it done before I could get on with the things I wanted to do. I haven't taken on a commission since.

    I'm not sure what the pressure of having to raise a set sum of money every month/term/quarter would do to me BUT my health issues are slightly different from your own. I get headaches though they are far less frequent now I'm in my forties than when I was your age.

    I found holding down a proper job difficult when I became depressed. I got very anxious about pretty much everything leading to panic attacks. Since I started my jewellery business where I make and sell my creations at a weekly craft market, my depression evaporated and the panic attacks stopped.

    Now I always make sure I am making things that I want to - I compromised slightly this week to fulfil a web order and it ruined yesterday's beadmaking. I am realising that I have to start only offering items for sale on my website that are already made.

    I have a weekly budget with which to buy supplies which I stick to RIGIDLY. I can only spend 25% of the week's takings on lovely things to make jewellery with.

    Good luck, whatever you decide.

  22. Lori, I have been where you are, several times, trying to decide what was best for our children. When my daughter started school, we took her to Maryland, PAID for public school because it was far superior to what we had here in VA. But then when she was in 4th grade she physically had to be in the middle school and we didn't like what was happening there. I used to have to drive her and pick her up each day too. At about the same time my son was ready for kindergarden so we made the agonizing decision and put them in private school here in VA. The school was 45 minutes away, they used to spend over an hour each way with stops so it made for very long days and we too were expected to be very involved. My daughter wanted to come out and attend the local high school which we did and also let our son come out in 8th grade. There are pros and cons to everything, I am glad we gave them a good start, the early grades are so important. High school offered activities that the private school could not ie an internship at NASA for my son's senior year which was incredible and opened the door for the job he just got. My daughter has just made the decision to put her oldest son who is in 1st grade into a private church school in Md. and they had to figure their finances very carefully too. Even though we had the restaurant as income, my artwork helped out always but I didn't have to rely solely on my work to pay tuition. We did without fancy vacations and a lot of extras during those years and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's just a shame that this country can't get it together where education is concerned, because everyone suffers as a result. You have the best interest of your son at heart and so it will all work out in the end, but I feel for you. It isn't easy. Laura

  23. Whew I have been looking forward to finally having all the kids in school this year so I could focus more on jewelry. Right now I make the bulk of my money teaching classes at the local parks and rec and it has finally taken off. I just started doing shows. So I am finally starting to actually make a little money. I still have the luxury to just put it all back into the business. My issue is that my kids struggle at school between being slow learners, having add intentive and friend drama. Now I am having to look seriously at homeschooling them. I homeschooled for 4 years and jewelry making took up that space when they all went to school 3 years ago. I can understand the struggle in balancing all parts of life and I also have lots of headaches and fibromyalgia. So somedays nothing gets done.

    hoping you luck in paying for his schooling and still having time to play.

    krista french

  24. Lori,
    Only my experience. Kat has ADD without hyperactivity and school has not been as easy for her as it should be. She was tested early on and scored in the very superior range but could not produce. She was in public school (I had worked in public schools forever as a school psychologist and special ed teacher) and was very committed to public school. We moved to the Twin Cities and chose an area largely because of the school, which has a high rate of parent volunteers (a small school with ninety in each week.)

    Well, things changed (the economy) and she was all of a sudden in a class of thirty-five in the third grade. She was totally getting lost. We talked to the teacher and she told us that we expected too much of her...that she was a nice little girl and a good "C" student. We knew this was not the case...that she was capable of performing much more.

    We really struggled with this. The financial issues weren't a huge crisis, though we knew we would do without a lot of extras. We found a school that specialized in a more 'hands on" approach and teachers that loved to teach. She was there from fourth grade to her senior year in high school. She learned so much and she learned how to learn and better organize herself. She went to Sarah Lawrence College because of the very low teacher-student ratio and got a degree in film studies and drama. Not terribly useful but we always thought she would go on. She then went to a year of fashion school and then dropped out. Here it became a little scary. She floundered a bit then decided she wanted to do some form of psychology with her music and drama skills. We made her pay for all her prerequisite junior college credits which took two years. She is now finishing her Clinical MSW in Social Work, and will then get a certificate in Expressive Therapy. She is as happy as can be and loves what she is doing. She gets to use both her head and her hands!

    The story is a bit different but the personal care we got at private school were excellent. I have to say that I liked her teachers more than the students. There were a lot of wealthy kids with significant "spoiling" and later significant drug problems. Kat found a nice little group but always felt hurt by this group, who really were not terribly nice. She still feels that this was the best choice and wonders if she would have graduated from high school if she had continued in public school.

    We are still paying college bills and, like I said, it make a big difference in things we could do, changes to our house and other "fun" things. I would never exchange that for the education she got.

    So...just a word on private schools. It can be a trade-off but for her it meant a productive life.

    Wishing you the best in this decision, Lori!


  25. Lori, In reading all the wonderful comments people have made to you, one thing is clear. As parents, we will keep searching until we find what is the best for our child. I have 3, and have homeschooled them all from the very beginning. It has been a wonderful journey, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. We chose to homeschool because we wanted God in all aspects of our children's lives, not just on Sunday. I have since added a lot of other reasons to my list. Many of the people commenting have expressed frustration with our education system. I totally agree. Our teachers are way underpaid, are allowed very little authority, and are told to teach to the test, not for comprehension.
    I do beadwork while my children are doing "seatwork" I am right there to answer any questions. Both of my boys have made pieces, as well as my daughter. Anything in life you are passionate about can be used to teach a child. All the planning and developing of your business can be used to teach your child about so many subjects.
    I don't have the health issues to work around, so I can't give any suggestions on that part. As I said in my earlier email, you do amazing work, and I will pray for your decision for your family and your business.


Thanks so much for commenting!