Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

I watched the movie The Help last night. I don't know if I can find the words to express how that movie made me feel, but I'll try.

The story all the way around is wonderful and touching, but what got me was the very end when Aibileen hugged Mae Mobley, the two-year-old little girl she'd been taking care of, and walked out the door. I sat there in the theater and cried my eyes out.

First of all, I have to say seeing this movie in a crowded theater and listening to other people cry and sniffle is a powerful thing. I had tears falling down my cheeks on and off throughout the film, and found myself laughing and crying at the same time in many places. As a woman, my own journey has been fraught with challenges, especially around my writing, so I identified with that part of the movie.

But second, and more deeply felt for me, was the mother aspect of this movie. These black women raised other people's children and loved them so very much. I think in a way, they were hoping if they raised those children to be loving, caring and compassionate adults, they would in turn grow up to adulthood and treat their maids (the very same women who raised them) with that same compassion. After all, during the time period of the movie the Civil Rights movement was just a pipe dream. No one thought that in just a few short years so much about white/black life in the South would change.

Which brings me to the last few mintues of the movie. At the very end Aibileen goes to work as usual and is called to the carpet, by her white bosses and fired for stealing silver, and rather than fight it, which she certainly could have, she gets ready to leave. She bends down to Mae Mobley and gives her a hugs and says, "Do you remember what I taught you?" Mae Mobley nods and says "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." But in her little girl world, Aibileen is her mom, and her own birth mother is a stranger to her. She doesn't want Aibileen to leave her, but Aibileen explains that she has to. She has to go.

And she does. She walks out the door to her new life and a freedom she's never known before, and poor Mae Mobley bangs on the window screaming for her "Mama Aibi." It took everything I had not to break down in the theater. I was frozen in sadness at my own loss, my own child who I had been separated from and I just wanted to see Aibileen turn around and run back to the house and scoop up Mae Mobley and promise to stay.

As a mother to three wonderful, almost-grown children, parenting has been the hardest thing I've ever done. Watching them grow and get jobs and drive cars and move into their own apartments (my oldest), has been difficult, because in some way, I always think of them as my little kids. But like Aibileen, I've had to let go. And I've had to let go much sooner than I thought I would.

I count my blessings that my daughter is back in my life. We still have things to talk about and things to catch up on, but the loss doesn't sting as much. There will always be the almost four years that we missed, and I can never get back her 16th birthday or her first prom or her first day of high school, but we can begin to heal.

And I think that loss was why I cried so much at this movie. My loss, Aibileen's loss, and every mother out there who's had to say goodbye to a child they love so very much.

Monday, August 15, 2011

My experiment in another cash-flow business and income automation

Since I restarted this blog, I've decided to change some things. I will still blog about life, choices, people, etc, but with more care, because real-life people I know will read this, and I will also post about the business, work, automated income, travel, web development things I have going on in my life. I love writing, and I love writing about personal things and issues, but I also feel that there is so much going on in my life that it doesn't make sense not to write about the more functional, practical things I do with my life.

With that prelude in mind:

About 18 months ago, My Baby B and I started reading the book, The 4-Hour Workweek, and we were blown away. It has pretty much changed how we work, how we answer our email, how we travel, and how we look at money and our businesses.

Right now we have three businesses: One makes money, one is in development, and one was an experiment in cash-flow business that was not successful. The unsuccessful business is however, built on a fully functioning web site with payment processing. So eventually it will be recycled with a new idea.

The first business:

My Baby B owns a small niche business that he started on eBay as a hobby over six years ago and three years ago he turned it into a small business corporation. The trouble is that even though it meets the niche criteria for a cash-flow business, there are time-consuming aspects of the work that need to be "hands on." We have to pick orders, package them and ship them and when new product comes in, we have to break it down, tag it, photograph it, list it on the web site and put it in the warehouse. Thanks to travel tips from lots of different books, we travel more now, but we have to have people run the business while we're gone.

So with that said, My Baby B and I have been brainstorming other cash-flow businesses that can be automated.

The second business in development:

We have one we've recently started and with the right advertising and networking, it could bring in some high dollars. We'll just have to wait and see. It is a niche business and though I have to create the web site and set up the product listings, once that is done, another company processes payments, prints the products on demand, ships them out, emails the customers and handles the customer service.

One of the tips to creating a cash-flow business is that it's easier to create a new product than to resell another product. With this business, the products are ours, and we've found someone to make them on demand, meaning the product is made when someone orders it. We don't need a warehouse and we don't need to spend thousands of dollars up front to order products.

Ultimately, this business will come down to the right niche marketing and getting the web site URL out to the right potential customers. I'll post more on this when the web site is up. You'll understand more about this niche marketing when you can see the products.

The failed third business:

I created an auto-income business last year that has had zero sales. In theory it was a great niche business idea and the products were warehoused somewhere else and shipping, customer service, and emails were handled by the outsourced company. My problem was that I knew nothing about the niche.

I knew enough to create the web site, list the product and hope for the best, but without a knowledge base and the ability to relate to potential customers on their level, I couldn't market the product on forum boards, on Craigslist, or via email. I can still try paying for marketing on Google or Facebook or StumbleUpon, but this niche product was better marketed via forum boards, which is free marketing.

Lesson learned. Tim Ferriss says you have to position yourself as an expert and I was certainly no expert at this niche industry.

So now My Baby B and I are on to brainstorming a new idea. We know a lot about a lot, so we just have to do some research on our ideas, find out if it can be automated and once again, I can build the web site and set up the back end. By the way, my web development skills have saved us thousands of dollars already, because I can create a web site and ordering system for our ideas without spending a penny.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sometimes I need to vent and today, Alaska Airlines is getting the short end of my blog

First, we had an amazing honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii (more on that in later posts). And it's a shame it ended on a sour note, but Alaska Airlines and the customer service people I came into contact with today were nasty, demeaning people, and if they represent Alaska Airlines and just how much they *care (insert sarcasm here) for their customers, then it'll be a cold day in hell when I willingly fly Alaska again.

The main problem: We bought our plane tickets together, paid with the same credit card, and when we checked into our flight 21 hours before, using the online Alaska web site, we were given seats apart from each other. When I tried to change seats, there were no seats together. Now first of all, I find it hard to believe that everyone but me and My Baby B checked in online to select every single seat on the plane. And second, shouldn't an airline just knowingly put people who paid together and are part of the same traveling group seated together on the plane? Can't someone write a computer program to make that happen? If not, I'm currently looking for web development work. Hint Hint Alaska.

The reason this irritates me so much is that it keeps happening to us over and over again. And every time we get the same story ... "the computer just randomly assigns seats" .... "we have no control" .... "you can ask people on the plane to switch."

And asking someone to switch usually has worked, but not today, even though my husband was wearing his "Groom" t-shirt. Our problem this time was that he and I were assigned middle seats. And the guy we asked to switch with us said no, because he didn't want to sit in the middle. Nice. And for the entire six hour flight, he glared at me every chance he got. With his beady little eyes.

So when we landed in Seattle, I went and talked to an Alaska Airlines person and asked why people who buy tickets together, don't get seated together. And he proceeded to tell me that when I buy a plane ticket, I'm not actually paying for a seat! Really! If I'm not paying for a seat on the plane, then pardon me, but just what am I paying for?

His reply: "The air I breathe on the plane and the gas to fly it!" So My Baby B and I paid $1100 to breathe on the plane and helped Alaska Airlines fuel up the engine, but we didn't actually pay for two seats on the plane. We should be lucky we got seats, I was told. So on the rare chance that we do get to sit together, well that's just a bonus.

It just floors me that in this day and age of the internet and instant feedback, that customer service, and I mean good old-fashioned customer service just "flies" out the window. I've already Tweeted Alaska Airlines, now I'm blogging and I'm going to seek out other fellow disgruntled travelers and comment on their blogs. Like I said .... instant feedback.

Airline ticket prices are outrageously high, we have to pay for in-flight entertainment, we have to pay for food, and we have to pay for our bags now. And with all those fees, fellow travelers, we aren't even paying for seats. Next thing you know, they'll start charging for oxygen masks and weather proof suits and sell less expensive outside seating. They'll strap you to the underbelly of the plane and give you a blanket to stay warm.

But don't worry, when you pay that extra $25 for your luggage, it isn't guaranteed a place on the plane either.