A Soap Story…With Bears!

We love getting special request from our customers.  During the last holiday season we got a truly unique request.  We were asked to write a story about our soap that included, of all things, bears.  We thought about it for a while and finally sat down and penned the short story that you will find below.  The customer said she thoroughly enjoyed it and so we decided to share it with you.  Please enjoy!

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The night was crisp and clear. The air had a bite that hinted at the coming Winter. The three bears huddled close to the small fire that whose flames licked at the relentless chill. Silence, hung like a shroud on the group. The silence was broken when, Griz, the elder of the group coughed deeply.

“The cold air really gets in the lungs, doesn’t it?” The question drifted up and dissipated into the night. “Seems like the cold came a sooner this year than last.” Will was younger and still new to the pack and their traditions. He felt a close kinship with the small pack that had taken him in but their tendency to a silent kinship still made him uncomfortable. The silence was especially heavy tonight. It was the last night of the pack reunion before beginning their winter hibernation and Oliver had not yet arrived.

Griz looked up slowly at Will and smiled with a half chuckle. “Yeah kid, it came early this year”. Griz had found Will as a young cub, wandering and near starvation. He had convinced the pack to take Will in until he could return to find his home clan. That day never came as Will’s innocent youthfulness had grown on the others. “Looks like Oliver decided to skip the reunion and hit the caves early.” His voice was solemn as he turned to Sten, the third bear in the circle, with a tired gaze.

Sten let the words settle slowly and then nodded. “I suppose he did.”

“Well that’s kind of rude.” Will said flatly. “Seems like he could have let one of us know that he was going to skip the winter reunion.” The night and the silence yawned for a moment. “It just seems like the nice thing to do.”

Griz and Sten looked at Will and then at each other. They couldn’t help but smile at his naivete despite the dour implications of Oliver’s absence.

“Guess your right, kid. He should have let us…” Griz was stopped short by another deep and lingering coughing spell.

“Maybe we should go ahead and do the exchange. I’m tired and want to get a good nights rest. My cave is three days trek from here and I want to get an early start” Sten had always been a bit gruff. Will was learning that this didn’t mean he didn’t care about the pack, just that he wasn’t good at showing it.”

“That’s a good idea Sten.” Griz offered. “Why don’t you get us started. I think you were suppose to get something for Will weren’t you?”

“Yeah.” Sten responded. He reached behind him and pulled out a small box, that he held out to Will. “I got this from a campsite that was filled with a bunch of hipsters. I thought it might help you with your courting next year.”

Will took the box and opened it enthusiastically, shredding the paper and ribbon. A grin spread across his face as he held up a polka dotted bow tie. He turned to Sten, “Thanks, this is great. This will really catch Leah’s eye.” Sten almost smiled at Will’s enthusiasm. “But Sten, how did you know they were hipsters and would have a bow tie?”

“Oh, when I came up to the site all the cars were Volvo’s and everyone had solar chargers sitting around the campsite for their iPhones.” Griz and Will broke out into laughter and even Sten let out a little chuckle.

“Ok, my turn.” Griz said, glad that the mood had lifted. He held out a large plastic bag in Sten’s direction. Sten reached into the bag and carefully pulled out a ukulele. Will, had no idea what it was but he knew it was a great gift. In the eight months he had spent with the pack he had never seen Sten smile like he did as he stared at the small and strangely shaped item.

“Where did you find this?” Sten said with surprising enthusiasm.

Griz smiled. “It’s a funny story. I was nibbling on some berries near the Appalachian trail and heard someone strumming. I wandered over to the trail and caught a glimpse of a couple who were sitting at an overlook playing. It looked just like you had described it. I walked over to the trail when the couple noticed me. I put my paws in the air to show them I had no ill intentions and tried to explain that I just had a question about their ukulele. They started acting real nervous and yelling and finally just threw all their bags and gear at me and then ran off and just left the ukulele sitting on the ground.”

“So you got your hibernation gift and a meal out of the encounter.” Will asked.

“Well, sort of.” Griz responded. “All they had in their bags was some of that greek yogurt.”

“Ooohh, I think I’d rather go hungry!” Sten chuckled as he continued to examine his new prize. “Hey look, something is scribbled on the front of the ukulele.”

“Yeah.” Griz sighed. “I tried to wash it off but it was apparently written in permanent marker. I guess it was the name of the owner or something. Can you read it?”

Sten squinted in the dim light. “It look’s like…” He paused and started slowly. “Jake Shi…ma…bu…kuro. Yeah, the guy probably put his name on it in case he lost it. Well, I tell you what; if I ever run into someone named Jake Shimawhatever I will give him his ukulele back. Until then, it is all mine.”

With that Sten started picking at the strings on the instrument carefully. Griz leaned back against a tree, closed his eyes and took in the music and the moment. Will, having never heard a ukulele, was amazed at the sound and the unexpected dexterity of Sten’s claws.

After Sten played a couple songs Griz turned to Will. “Well kid, I guess it’s your turn.”

Will slumped and looked a bit sheepish.

“What’s the matter kid, let’s see what you got for ‘ol Griz.” Sten was actually smiling by this point.

Will slowly pulled his gift out from behind the log he was sitting on, “I didn’t really know what to get. This is my first exchange.”

“Don’t worry about it kid. The exchange isn’t about the gifts, it’s about us being together. Let’s see what you got there.” Griz always had a way of making Will feel better.

Will held up two bars of soap strung on a lengthy piece of twine. “I was surprised when I stumbled onto a small campsite. I couldn’t smell the people or the site at all. The scent blended right in with the woods. They had these sitting out on their towels.”

Will held the gift out to Griz. “I was thinking you could either bathe with it or just wear it around your neck. When you are wondering through the woods you don’t have to worry about humans smelling you. “

Will was excited about his gift. He was sure it was quite clever. Griz and Sten looked at each other, trying to muffle the laughter that wanted to erupt. Neither one had the heart to tell Will that humans had the worst sense of smell of all the creatures in the woods. Griz examined the bars with a wide grin.

“I like the little wrapper on the soap.” He read slowly, “Whis…per…ing Wil….low. Pat..chou…li”. He looked at the next bar. “..In..to the Woods” He smelled the bars and smiled. “You’re right kid, this smells just like the woods. Very nice.” Griz turned and laid his paw on Will’s shoulder. “This is a great gift, Will. I’ll make sure I wear these everywhere I go.”

Griz glanced at Sten and smiled, “The humans will never smell me coming.” Sten smiled and nodded beginning to strum again on the ukulele.

Will was beaming. He had picked well for the exchange. He loved his new pack and felt like he had finally given back a little of what they had given him over the season.

As the fire waned so did Sten’s strumming until silence and the night enshrouded them. The trio nestled onto the ground for a good night’s rest. In the shadows, Will caught a glimpse of Griz gently stringing the bars of soap around his neck. A tear trickled down Will’s fur.

——

 

Hope you enjoyed the story.

Be Well,
Wayne & Julia

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Choosing a Charity – 2014

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It seems incredible that another year is upon us.  Last year ended up being a bit rough for us personally, so we’re looking forward to better things ahead.

As some of you may know, Julia was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October of last year.  It came as a huge shock to us. She had been experiencing some medical issues, but we thought we were working through them.  After a particularly long weekend, she woke up with no feeling in her left leg.  Over the next several days, that feeling slowly climbed higher and started causing difficulty with walking and functioning.  An MRI revealed lesions on her thoracic spine in the mid back area.  The result was a barrage of doctors visits, infusions, more tests, and ultimately seeing an MS Specialist.  We were grateful during this time period that Julia works for an incredible group of folks who gave her all the time she needed and that our little soap company was able to be flexible enough to allow me to be with her as much as possible.  Unfortunately, that meant cancelling a few of our planned shows for 2013 and re-evaluating our schedule for 2014.   Although we may not be attending as many shows in 2014 as we did in prior years, our little soap company is still growing strong and we are thankful to be refocusing on it again.

We are on the path to accepting our new “normal” and what it will mean for our lives now and moving forward.  With this in mind, we made the decision to choose our charity for 2014 rather than putting it up for a vote.  Whispering Willow will be contributing to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  They are immensely helpful to those newly diagnosed, providing education materials and support and, of course, they are working toward a cure.  No one says it better then the Society itself: The Society’s mission is to  “mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.”

Getting Green With French Paper

Lately we’ve been getting in an eco groovy mood and have been looking through our ingredients and supplies to see if we can get a little greener.  This is a fun exercise we do several times a year because we just don’t think its a good idea to rest on our environmentally conscientious laurels.

So, you may be wondering what little gem our search uncovered?  Only a sixth-generation, family owned paper company that has been making paper in the USA for 140 years.  Hold on, it gets better!  In 1922 the French Paper company installed hydroelectric generators on the St. Joseph River which flows by their mills in Niles, Michigan.  Since that year, they have been generating all the power they needed, and a little extra for the rest of us!

Here is an old school post card with a pic of the French Paper mills next to the river

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The environmental impact of producing all that power on site is huge.  They have saved the equivalent of one million barrels of fossil fuel and have avoided the release of more than 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (the equivalent to the use of over 4,878,049 lbs of coal).  While we are big fans of carbon credits and support companies buying these to offset their carbon footprint, credits just can’t beat this type of onsite, renewable energy!  Way to go French Paper!

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So you are probably reading this thinking, Wayne, this is really cool but what does a paper mill in Michigan have to do with  Whispering Willow , a little soap company in North Carolina. Well, it just so happens that we use thousands of sheets of paper annually labeling bar soap, neck & eye pillows and more.  So, in the coming weeks you will notice that the labels will look a little different.  We are transitioning to French Paper’s Speckletone kraft paper.   Speckletone is French Paper’s line of recycled paper which they have been making since 1955 (talk about being ahead of the trend)! Our labels will be a little lighter in color and you will see more natural flecks and shives.    We will also eventually start using French’s standard copy paper for our office use and are working on some ideas that may be perfect for some of French Paper’s other lines of great paper.

So this is how I (known for being a little wordy) like to announce that we are changing our paper supplier.  Whoever said ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, just didn’t get it!

Be Well,

The Bearded Soap Guy

From the Road: Forsythia & Fried Green Tomatoes

Forsyth Georgia is a quaint town midway between Atlanta & Macon.  Every year, on the second weekend in March,  the good folks of Forsyth celebrate the coming of Spring with the aptly named Forsythia festival.  Artist and crafters setup around the beautiful downtown courthouse as folks from the surrounding area come out to enjoy food, fun and hopefully some good weather (this year was picture perfect!).

 

Pets weren’t allowed but somehow this little fella slipped in (yes, that is a pet goat)!

 

 

If you know us at all, you know that we like to seek out good food wherever we go.  While Forsyth isn’t necessarily a culinary mecca (no dissin’ here, they do have a couple of nice restaurants downtown) I did stumble on an interesting eatery in the small town of Juliette, a few miles away.  For anyone who remembers the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, you will recall the central role that the Whistle Stop cafe played in the film.  The building had actually been a general store that was converted just for the movie. After the movie was made, the owner decided to keep the cafe and to serve up the southern favorites made famous in the movie.

 

 

Here is a basket of the famous fried green tomatoes with the obligatory mason jar of sweet tea!

 

 

Here is the pit where the “special ingredient” was added to the bone sauce (and yes, he totally deserved it!).

 

 

The rest of Juliette is an homage to the movie with numerous shops dedicated to Idgie & Ruth.  If you enjoyed Fried Green Tomatoes and you enjoy good southern food, it is worth a little detour to check out this piece of cinematic history.

 

 

Update: We received an email from a customer that the original Whistlestop Cafe that was the inspiration for the book is actually the Irondale Cafe in Alabama.  “They’ve been serving up fried green tomatoes for decades, and the cafe sits right by the railroad tracks. Fannie Flagg wrote the book, and she is from Alabama.”  Thanks for sharing!

Booth Evolution

This year is shaping up to be another big festival year for us.  With the purchase of bubbles (our soapy van) we have the ability for the first time to transport proper furniture to our multi-day shows.  It was a huge change for us and came with some trepidation as we tried to decide what to buy/build to move forward.  Of course, any change like this requires collecting of inspiration via Pinterest (a favorite pastime).

So you get an idea of how far we’ve come, we went digging through old photos and found our very first farmer’s market booth at the Hickory Farmer’s Market when we were still known as Belle Terre (8/2010):

 

Next was our revised booth at Atherton (1/2012):

 

And our more permanent booth build out at Atherton (5/2012):

 

As we started doing more traveling shows in 2012, we added a few furniture pieces and the result was a variation on this booth (10/2012):

 

We really wanted to achieve more of a boutique-like feeling.  With that in mind, here is our most recent booth post Wayne’s furniture build out (3/2013):

 

Although we know that it will continue to evolve, we’ve come a long way and we’re pretty proud of the progress.  We are anxious and excited to hear feedback from customers and fellow artists alike.

Choosing a Charity

As most of you know, we donate 10% of profits to charity every year.  We’re proud to say that our donations have grown from $200 in 2010 (our first year business) to over $2000 last year.  We know it isn’t a huge amount, but every little bit counts.  Our hope is that Whispering Willow will continue to grow and that growth will allow us to have a bigger and bigger impact each year.

Our past charities include:

2010 – The Nature Conservancy

2011 – Safe Alliance (formerly United Family Services)

2012 – The Humane Society of Charlotte

All that to say that it’s time to make our choice for 2013.  Our two options are:

Heifer International – Instead of sending money abroad, Heifer International provides those in need with animals in order to assist them in providing for themselves.  The charity started in 1944 with cows sent throughout Europe and has now expanded to provide 30 types of animals including goats, geese, bees, and water buffalo.  From their site: “Our animals don’t just provide project partners with a reliable source of food, but also a reliable source of income. Extra agricultural products, such as milk from cows or goats, honey from bees or eggs from chickens, can be both shared within the community and sold at market. This new income, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that our partners receive, allows partners to clothe their families, provide them with medical care and send their children to school.”

charity: water – It is startling to read the statistics on charity: water’s site.  Did you know that one in nine people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water?  As someone who can simply drink out of our tap, it is disturbing to consider.  This charity aims to help those in developing nations with simple solutions.  From their site: “We’re not offering grand solutions and billion dollar schemes, but instead, simple things that work. Things like freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters. For about $20 a person, we know how to help millions.”

Please kindly vote in the comments below.  Voting deadline is 3/31/13.  Have a charity you would like us to consider in future? Email us – we’d love to hear about it.  Thanks ever so much!

Update: Voting is complete, and charity:water was chosen as our charity for 2013.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

Wrap Up: The Maker’s Summit

Wayne and I were terribly excited to have the opportunity to attend the Maker’s Summit put on by Indie Craft Parade in Greenville, SC this past weekend.  The sold out event was held at a gorgeous space downtown and was filled with an amazing array of creative folks.

The speaker list itself was awesome and included Stephen Fraser from Spoonflower, Grace Kang from Pink Olive, and Kimm Alfonso from Etsy.  Plus there were two seperate discussion panels that provided the audience the opportunity to ask questions.

Throughout the day there were also experts set up in a side room to offer 10 minute one-on-one consultations.  We took advantage of the lawyer (because really?  free legal advice?) as well as a shop critique with Kimm.  Both provided great advice that we were grateful to receive.

I loved Kimm’s slide pictured below.  Really, it is remarkably easy sometimes to get so swamped in the minutia of the business that you forget the most important part.

As if all that wasn’t good enough, Finkelstein’s Center brought Barnum.  ‘Cause really, what’s a conference without a giant squid?

We came home with a fun bag of goodies and a new book purchased from Amy Flurry.  Wayne was particularly happy with his new monkey hat courtesy of Mailchimp.  He didn’t want to take it off.  At all.  Like all day.

The space had two long tables that were used for lunch and dinner.  Down the middle were black cards, white pencils, and stands – all the requirements for make your own centerpieces.  As Wayne and I are try-to-be-creative types with no artistic ability at all, we were in awe of all the cards folks were drawing at the tables and we had to take some pictures.  We’ve posted a few on facebook and instagram, but here’s a small selection that we had to share:

     

So we learned a ton, met some wonderful new people, and got to spend time in Greenville.  A pretty amazing weekend.  We’re hopeful that they hold the event again next year and would highly encourage any small business owners to take advantage of it.