Behind the Scenes - Soap Kitchen Tour

soap kitchen This is it! This is the main area of our soap kitchen. It was designed with the help of our contractor who did an excellent job building everything for me. (if you need a recommendation in Northern VA, I'll send you his info!)

I still need a few more shelves to help control all of the oils I use. You see those brown bottles on the shelves and the far right counter? Those are our fragrances and essential oils. Once you start collecting them....it is very hard to stop!

We've almost had this new kitchen a year now. I'm learning what works and what needs a bit more improving. You can never have enough lights and I'm in desperate need of a paper towel dispenser. Details, right? I'd also like some of those shock absorbing mats they use in professional kitchens. A few hours of standing on tile and you feel it in your back!

Next time I'll show you our soon-to-be-built shelves in the drying room. My husband is supposed to be making them for me as my birthday present. My birthday was in September...Maybe I'll get them by December? I hope. I really don't want to learn how to build shelves.

Cheap Toothpaste Recipe


Have you noticed the blogs talking about oil pulling lately? If you don't know what that is, check out this helpful piece. While we have tried oil pulling, it is super helpful in keeping bad breath (read: coffee breath) at bay, we prefer something a little easier and a lot less time consuming. We make our own toothpaste and have been doing so for over a year. It is SUPER simple. Your ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil (cheapest is at Trader Joe's)
  • 3 Tablespoons Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Packet of Stevia (optional)
  • 20-25 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil (at your health food store)

To make mixing easier, I measure out my coconut oil into my small glass container that I'll be storing the paste in and melt the oil slightly in the microwave. It only takes 3-5 seconds. Coconut oil melts at 76 degrees so it really doesn't take much. Then I mix in the baking soda, stevia and essential oil.

After I adjusted to making my own toothpaste I stop using stevia. Try using it with and without to figure out your preference. Not a fan of peppermint? Try a different essential oil! Maybe you are a cinnamon fan so see how you like that in your new toothpaste - or better yet, create your own personaled combination of oils.

After the first few times using the toothpaste you'll notice whiter teeth and healthier gums. We do recommend not sharing the container of paste; instead make ones for each family member who will be using it. Since you are dipping your brush in, you might not want to share that many germs.

Behind the Scenes of Old Town Suds - 2.5 Years in the Making


Owning my own business isn't something that I grew up wanting to do. In fact, it was quiet the opposite. Watching my parents (both entrepreneurs) was more than eye opening. I saw the rise and fall of businesses first hand. I saw the high growth potential of a local business and the pride that comes with it - all to be over taken by a corporate conglomerate. Granted, my father was able to retire before he hit 50, but I've also witnessed what happens when your life IS your work and to suddenly have it taken away.

That's not at all how I pictured it.

But, this big ol brain of mine had different ideas. Facing what could be your last meal changes you. I still don't know if it is for the better - just shy of three years later, I can't decide. This is what I do know after falling into owning my own small business the past 2.5 years.

Being the CEO rocks AND sucks at the same time

Making decisions, being in charge, finally having the final say is fantastic. Not having anyone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off of and just have a friendship with stinks. There have been nights where I've asked the dog for an opinion. Learning to fully trust your gut is hard - especially when your gut is rather scared of a big leap.

Forget the Business Plan

When I set out to create Old Town Suds the plan was to dominate the green cleaning world. Now, I've slowly been transitioning away from my originally products. It isn't because I don't believe in them, it's because that isn't where the company is growing.

At first, it was difficult to accept this. How could I let go of the products that I became known for? Items that I use every day and that people love? BUT our fans love certain products more. I had to accept that. What is going to cause us to double our revenue again in 2014 isn't by sticking with our cleaning line. I've learned how to sunset projects and investing gains in new product development.

My business plan? It's a few words. It's based on numbers. It's based on where I can see Old Town Suds excelling.

Finding the Right People

Lately I've been talking about my Small Business Group. I <3 them, seriously. I couldn't do what I do without them. This past year, more so than in year 1, I've learned how much from them and myself. It's amazing how much you already know, sometimes you just need to talk it out.

If I could go back and do this all over again, the first thing I would do is get a group of smart entrepreneurs together to talk to. I would also try to find a few that fit my ideal customer, it makes getting some entry feedback easier.

Remember to Relax

Not working is super hard for me at times. I'm even writing this post somewhere between DCA and Indianapolis, IN. I'm flying home for the weekend, but I hate to waste the 1.45 hours I have before I need to sleep. That being said, this is all I am doing for the weekend. I'll be enjoying time with my family back home. It's important to have fun, play, remember your friends, and just let your brain relax. Even when you aren't thinking directly about your business, your subconscious is. I bet you'll find your best ideas come when you aren't even trying. (don't forget to keep something handy to write them down!)

What are your questions about starting your own business ? Are there things you wish you had known when you started?

Laser Launch blog party (part deux) is a collection of behind the scenes stories of other online business owners. Check out the other links here.

#sbww14 pt 2

If you missed part 1, catch up here.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that every small business owner is in search of great wine. - SH

Joel, my mom and pretty much the other half of every person I've brought to the small business meetings thinks we get together to enjoy some fine wine. I'm not going to say that is wrong, it is just concealing the full truth. Our meeting do being with opening a bottle or two or three and an obscene amount of cheese; but it's the conversation that follows that matters.

The conversation is energizing. It's motivating. It encourages each of us to push our comfort zones.  It helps each one of us look at our business with a different lens. Through our conversations several of us have questioned why we do what we do, decided to go full-time with our business and have started working on plans to take our plans to the next level.

SBWW14 covered many of these favorite topics. But instead of just hearing our own voices, we had guest speakers, coaches and new faces that were added to the group. We talked about the hardships of working for yourself. The difficulties that we will face or are facing. How do you stay relevant? How do you recognize plateaus and when you need fresh ideas? Then we moved onto marketing.

Oh, marketing. The deadly M word. I work in the marketing field in my day job, but marketing your own business is a touchy subject. You are attached. You are full of emotions. You see things completely differently than your customers. So how do you move behind these hurtles? Each of us came up with a different strategy with action times that we are going to act on in the very near future.

I'm not sure what I would do without my business group. I love hearing about how the other ladies in the group are doing. I love seeing how their businesses grow, stumble and exceed all expectations. We cheer each other on and are a fantastic support system.

SBWW14 was a fantastic event for me. I can't wait to see what happens in the next year and where our next retreat takes us.

#sbww14 part 1

A few years ago, actually, not that long after my surgery; I met this blogger named Jane. I'd been following her blog somehow. (I really can't tell you HOW I found out about her.) Fast forward to the weekend of the Super Bowl, and there was this blogger meet upScreen Shot 2014-02-10 at 9.09.14 PM I had just started working on taking Old Town Suds to market so it was a good time to test out some selling points. I met a few other bloggers and we have all stayed in touch in carrying degrees. But - what spawned from that informal meeting at Caffee Amouri surrounded by uber delicious coffee, was a small business group.

Over the next few months our meeting grew from every so often to monthly to "omg I need a relief from the show schedule let's get wine after the show".  We've become known for our coffee and wine habits. Which later turned into coffee, wine and detox on scrumptious juice habits.

This past summer, our meetings included our husbands. They started to wonder what we actually accomplished at our meetings. Was it just to hangout? (yes) Just to cheer each other on? (yes) Consume mass amounts of cheese? (hell, yes) But from weddings, births of first babies, unexpected loss (be prepared to ugly cry), and huge business wins - we've been there to support each other as we grow our businesses.

This past weekend, we gathered for our first overnight retreat. We'd always talked about doing something but understanding the handbag pockets only go so deep (and I'm rather picky about hotels), we ended up a Housman B&B, otherwise known as my dining room and guest rooms.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 9.50.47 PM

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Behind the Scenes

This past Friday was a little different that usual. Instead of relying on my photograph skills, which are rather unique, all of our soaps, scrubs, lip balms, and a few new products made their way over to a professional photo studio! Luckily on this sleeting, icy, rainy and in vernal no good weather day, our photographers just happened to be in our neighborhood. The 30 second drive was speedy. IMG_7140

It was fantastic seeing our soaps in a totally different light. Plus, how awesome is it that this felt like a model photo shoot! Do you see how the camera is connect straight to the laptop! We were able to make adjustments as we went and tried out several different angles.


I can't wait until we get our final photos back. Everything, from the website to promotional materials will be getting a rather needed facelift.


If you want to see some adorable photos, check out our photographers, Matt & Erika Photography. Plus, when you decide to do a photo shoot with them, you can pop on by for a soap class!

How to get a Virginia Driver's License

Update: This post was originally set to publish on January 8th. Needless to say, I got caught up in the day's events and just haven't pushed the publish button till now. To put this post into perspective, I decided I couldn't put off legally changing my name on my identification card thanks to my November ER visit and the procedures all of my doctors were starting to talk about. The week before my temporary permit expired was the week I started googling brain surgery because my doctor called me (not her nurse or her assistant) and asked me to go to a place where I could talk to her.

Also, late on January 8th - My Virginia Driver's License arrived. It was the only happy moment of the day.


Well, I guess I need to change that title because that would mean I actually possessed a driver's license. Let me back up a few months:

One lovely day in March, I decided to get married. My new husband really wanted me to change my name, so many months and many business trips later, I finally had the time to make the switch. I thoroughly researched everything I needed to do to change my name. Based on blog posts I had read, I thought the Social Security Administration was going to be a pain. Walked in and 10 minutes later, I walked out. The new card arrived in the mail 3 days later. Score! Same with my banks. Super easy! The guy at my bank even gave me new checks for free as a wedding present. I'll take it for the 12 rent checks I write a year.

Then, November 24, 2010 I went in to change my driver's license. It took 10 minutes at the DMV to update my record, show them my marriage license and new fresh-off-the-presses social (not required for Virginia, but I had it just to be safe). But, instead of being handed a new license, I was given a printed temporary permit. Virginia now mails you your license via USPS. The paper permit is good for 30 days from the stamped date. In my case, my temp expires on December 24th, 2010 - Christmas Eve.

Thanksgiving passes and we are now into December; still, without a valid driver's license. I start investigating the poorly designed DMV site. It said I had to wait two weeks from your renewal date to call. Since I went in right before Thanksgiving, I gave them two extra days. I was being nice.

I called the main DMV number that their website gives you on December 13th wanting to see where the hold up was. My license was returned to the DMV and they didn't know why. I was told, by the DMV staff, to call the USPS main office and make sure they had my new name on file in their database.

The DMV didn't know which number to call.

Google told me.

I called the help line for the USPS to only be LAUGHED at. I was told there is no such database. I've never felt more like an idiot.

I called the DMV back. I should mention that each call takes about 10-15 minutes to be connected to a live person, on top of the time they spend putting you on hold while they check their computers. I explained to the DMV that their instructions regarding the USPS database are incorrect and that I was just laughed at. The DMV employee's attitude toward this was uncaring.] DMV says they will put my license back in the mail. I wait a few more days but my license never showed up in the mail. Now, we have to leave to visit our families for the holidays. We drove to visit our parents; I've been looking forward to being home for months. Thank goodness we didn't book flights and instead decided to drive. It would have taken me HOURS to get through security without a valid picture ID. We drove from Alexandria, VA to Smith Mountain Lake, VA (5 hours - Joel's parents were cat sitting for us) then to Lafayette, IN (11 hours). Basically, we spent 16 hours in the car to get to Indiana.

Yay! It's Christmas! But, my temporary permit is EXPIRED now. I can no longer legally drive and we are in Indiana, 11 hours away from Virginia. So, my husband has to drive the entire 11 hour trip back to Southern Virginia and then, a few days later, drive us to Alexandria which is 5 hours away. The entire time, I am hoping my driver's license has made it to my mailbox.

It is now 2011! But, no New Years parties for me because I didn't bring my passport with me. Sadness. Thank goodness my wine club sends shipments regardless of my current license status so we still had a bottle of bubbly. See, not only can I not drive, but I also can't purchase any alcohol because my old license has a big invalid stamp going right through it. I have to bring my passport to prove my age.

The first Monday of the year was January 3rd; I promptly called the DMV 10 times. Why 10 times? Because the telephone system HUNG UP on me 9 times. On the 10th time, I finally got to talk to Misty. She works at the DMV. She is the only nice person I actually ever got to speak with. She listened to my 40+ day saga of attempting to get my license. She checked on my license, it turns out they NEVER put it back in the mail after my first call! At this point, I am beyond frustrated. Misty offered to call me back after she could confirm my license has been put in the mail. Misty did leave me a voice mail on my work phone and said it would be sent by mail on January 4th.

So, you were hoping for a happy ending right? I wish I could give you that. Instead, my passport and I are going to a birthday dinner on King Street tonight. As of today, Jan 8th, I am now on day 45 without my driver's license. I've given up hope on ever getting it. I'm starting to think we need to move into DC. I would rather spend all day in line and have a license than have to continue to deal with the Virginia DMV.

In my double-digit years of driving, I have had one ticket. (Plus a few parking tickets for parking in the professor's lot at my undergraduate university) All of which have been paid on time. I've never let my driver's license expire. I've always followed what I am suppose to do. So, I don't understand why I don't have my license. Why is this SO hard to get? I've asked for it to be sent via another method, but the DMV refuses. I can get a social security card, a passport, bank cards, credit cards, checks, updated voter registration and legal documents sent to me at my address but not a driver's license. We live in an apartment building with a staffed front desk that can sign for packages, confirm that I live here, and has a record of my name change. Can someone please explain why I don't have a license?

To make this even sweeter, I spoke to our mail man. He says he doesn't even check the names on mail he delivers. As long as the address matches, that is all he cares about.

Virginia: I give up.

Alexandria Events About D-Day

For the last year I have been involved with the Alexandria Sister City Committee - Caen, France. This year, we are holding a few events I thought a few readers might be interested in.

Join us for two exciting events commemorating D-Day! Both events are FREE to the public but reservations are required. Please call 703-824-1186 to reserve a space.

Thursday Night Movie

A film, D-Day: Down to Earth – Return of the 507th, will be shown Thursday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m. in the Goodwin Hall Auditorium. The documentary recounts the history of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment through remarkable battles in World War II and the inspiring culmination of its story 60 years later to reconnect for one final mission – to honor their fallen brothers and establish a legacy for future generations. The running time is 56 minutes.

The documentary includes a first-hand account by Colonel John Marr of the D-day events and is a precursor to the upcoming Saturday morning program on June 4.

Saturday Morning Lecture

Please join us on June 4 at 10:00 a.m. in the Goodwin House Auditorium as Goodwin House Alexandria and the Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee bring a special event to the Goodwin House community in recognition of D-Day. Colonel John Marr will be speaking about his experience as a Lieutenant in Company “G” of the untested 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborn Division, when they descended into Normandy, France on D-Day. This is a follow up to the showing of the film D-Day: Down to Earth. Also present will be The Sister’s Cities Committee members, along with Alexandria City Mayor, William Euille.

We hope to see you at one or both of the events. Just don't forget to RSVP to: 703-824-1186.