Pay It Forward

In 2005 my web programmers told me to start a blog. I told them that I did not have anything interesting to say and I was far from "hip"...which is what I have always felt was needed to be an expert blogger! I can't spell and on some days I feel so busy that I barely get to see my husband and kids.

Well, after much thought and coaxing by my programmers...I am here....still not hip...but with my oldest daughter by my side....embarking on a new adventure.

"Pay it forward" is unexpectedly doing good things for unrelated people.

In 1997 I experienced a "Pay It Forward" event...that was life changing. My second daughter was born disabled and visually impaired and I needed to unexpectedly take a family leave from work to get her to her therapy appointments. Life was hectic, stressed and at times plain sad.

It was autumn when I realized that it would be a lean Christmas because money was low. My husband was a poorly paid private school teacher and we were on food stamps. There happened to be a county fair nearby and I went to look for something I could make during the week and sell at weekend craftshows. I went directly to the exit and asked the woman monitoring the door, "What is the hot thing this year....the one thing everyone is walking out of here with." She told me it was soap. I walked the show and eventually found the soap table. I found this soapmakers product delightful. I was immediately moved by the fragrance. I bought three bars of her soap and then took a deep breath, gulped.....and told her my story. She was the kindest person. She told me how to make melt and pour soap and where to buy supplies. She talked to me for over 30 minutes and encouraged me. To this day, I remember her face but not her name. All I know is that she was from Pennsylvania.

This woman changed my life. If it was not for her, I would have never made soap. I would have never found this passion. I would have never sold soap at craftshows. I would have never started a supply business. Without this woman, I would not have had the chance to help thousands of customers start their own home business.

If you are reading this and you were this soapmaker at the Berea Fairgrounds in Cuyahoga, County in the fall of 1997...thank you!

Please look at this site as my way of "Paying it Forward". My goal is that I can, in some small way, help you reach your dreams!

Debbie May

What is Autism?

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Today, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite sever.

Identify the Signs

A child or adult with an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) might:

• not playing "pretend" games
• not pointing at objects to show interest
• not looking at objects when another person points at them
• having trouble relating to others or no interest in other people at all
• avoiding eye contact and want to be alone
• having trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own
• preferring not to be held or cuddled or might cuddle only when they want to
• appearing to be unaware when people talk to them but respond to other sounds
• be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
• repeating or echo words or phrases said to them repeat words
• repeating phrases in place of normal language (echolalia)
• having trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
• repeating actions over and over again
• having trouble adapting when a routine changes
• having unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
• losing skills they once had (for instance, stop saying words they were once using)

* Note: Contact your child’s doctor or nurse if your child experiences a dramatic loss of skills at any age.

What if you suspect autism?

If you or your doctor think there could be a problem, ask for a referral to see a developmental pediatrician or other specialist, and you can contact your local early intervention agency (for children under 3) or public school (for children 3 and older).

To find out who to speak to in your area, you can contact the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities by logging on to or calling 1-800-695-0285.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has links to information for families on their Autism Information Center Web page

Right now, the main research-based treatment for ASDs is intensive structured teaching of skills, often called behavioral intervention. Some of the most common interventions are Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Floor time Therapy, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Sensory Integration Therapy, Relationship Development Intervention, Verbal Behavior Intervention, and the school-based TEAACH method. It is very important to begin this intervention as early as possible in order to help your child reach his or her full potential. Acting early can make a real difference!

Pet Artisans Are Taking a Bite Out of the Economy

Pet Artisans Are Taking a Bite Out of the Economy

By: Charlene Davisphoto

Although we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression, the booming pet industry is blissfully unaware that everyone around them is pinching pennies. Recently, the American Pet Products Association reported that Americans spent $43.2 billion on their pets in 2008, and estimates that figure will rise to $45.4 billion this year.

Pet lovers cross all economic spectrums, but even cash-strapped consumers are still managing to find ways to spend money on their favorite canines and kitties. This means while the rest of us are snacking on Ramen noodles, Fido and FiFi are noshing on organic pet vittles and sporting trendy collars with bling.

Teri Voss and Tracey d'Ouville, co-founders of Barkey Barkerson (, felt that in spite of the current economy now was an ideal time to launch a new business. "We've yet to experience tighter credit or lack of consumer spending," says Voss. "In fact, we've found every company we've sourced to be more than willing to do what it took to earn our business. Guess that's the upside of the economy, right?"

Barkey Barkerson specializes in pet and people gear: more specifically, dog collars and leashes and apparel for pet 'parents'. "We source all of the materials for our collars and leashes in the US, and then design and make them literally in our kitchen," says Voss. "My business partner, Tracey, does all the sewing and assembly." The apparel (t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats for men, women, and kids) are all original designs that are sourced out to local decorators, with Voss and d'Ouville collaborating with them on materials and layouts.

Other pet artisans who are continuing to thrive during these difficult times are:

• Robert Semrow, a/k/a The Pawtographer™ (, widely known in the South Coast Metro area of Southern California for his creative animal themed portraiture and products. "I create elaborate themes and then immerse the pets (mostly dogs) into the scene which become heirloom portraits," says Semrow. "I also paint them on a variety of unique products, from jewelry to blankets and almost anything else you can imagine."

• I See Spot ( is a fashion house for discerning pet owners. This amazing dog apparel, designed by Sharon Bolger and Sandy Maroney, offers an eclectic line for pets in keeping with current fashion trends. Dani Caouette is a huge fan of theirs and says these are two very creative women and talented designers. "I have a Chihuahua and although I was never that girl who dressed up dogs, when I met Sandy and Sharon, I couldn't resist," says Caouette. "The clothing is as functional as it is adorable. My dog doesn't mind wearing the outfits because they help keep her warm and comfortable." The I See Spot collection includes hand-embellished tanks, tees, dresses and jackets using premium materials such as custom appliqu├ęs, ribbons, Swarovski crystals and pearl accents.

• Sharon Hartnett, owner of Wool and Kashmir (, designs hand-knit couture sweaters, beds and blankets for cats and dogs which are sold to high-end pet boutiques and spas, as well as individuals. "I take my cue from the runways of Milan, Paris, Tokyo, and NY when designing my couture sweaters," says Hartnett. "I want to give my clients couture designs for their pets without sacrificing comfort and functionality." Hartnett's designs are knit in the USA with eco-friendly yarns from natural, renewable resources.

• Folk artist, Natalie Timm, makes Nat's Pet Mats™ ( that are personalized folk art mats for dogs, cats, ferrets, and bunnies that can be customized with the pet's portrait and lettering. Not only are they available on Timm's website, but she also sells them at select pet and feed stores along the West Coast. These uniquely designed, eco-friendly mats are made with repurposed, unused vinyl flooring that are hand-cut and painted on the back so the vinyl side faces down. This means no new flooring is manufactured and remnants are kept out of the landfill.

Five years ago, 64 million households owned at least one pet. Today that number has increased to 71 million homes. And with baby boomers becoming empty nesters and turning their attention, time, and money to their beloved pets, this trend will continue to rise which will keep pet artisans barking all the way to the bank!


About the author:

CHARLENE DAVIS ( is a nationally published writer specializing in business, e-commerce, parenting, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.

Fall and Winter Trends for Artisans

Fall and Winter Trends for Artisans

By: Charlene Davisphoto

It is official: summer is over. Pumpkin patches are sprouting up along the roadside, the leaves are changing, and Canadian geese are flying south for the winter. As the nation slowly emerges from an economic depression the fall and winter season of 2009 will be a defining one for fellow artisans.

Carolyn Osborne (, an artist who creates one-of-a-kind jewelry, charcoals, watercolors, cremation jewelry and custom gift baskets, generally only has two shows a year: one in June and again in November. However, this year she is adding two more shows in October and may decide to participate in others. Osborne says her custom gift baskets are usually in big demand this time of year, so it will be interesting to see what people decide to do in light of the economy. "I've also made a bigger effort to make art and jewelry pieces that are less expensive and affordable," she says. "This has been good because it has opened my work to a wider array of customers."

For many artists and crafters, the fall and winter months are the busiest time of the year as people begin stocking up on items for gifts and holiday entertaining. Denise Greenwood-Loveless ( says this is the best time for her art business. "I am meeting myself coming and going by putting in 70 to 80 hour weeks in the studio to prepare for my fall and winter shows," she says. "I consider myself extremely fortunate to be making a good living with my art."

Ron Anderson and his sons, Benjamin and Sean, are also exceedingly busy this time of year with art shows lined up through the end of the year. And, like most artists, they prefer to set new trends rather than follow them. "As artists it is our goal to set new trends, to present new ideas that will interest and inspire others," says Susie Anderson, wife, mom, and manager to Anderson ART Collective ( "Artists have to live to create art that communicates; to create things that are unique."

In addition to the creative side of the artisan industry, there is also the business side. Consider using some of these strategies to enhance your own business and increase sales during the fall and winter season:

• Create clothing and accessories that are more versatile, which makes them more economical;
• Create a new trend or product by giving new purpose to an old item such as turning old sweaters into stuffed toys or vinyl records into coasters;
• Create and produce art and/or crafts on a smaller, more affordable scale to increase the number of sales;
• Consider teaching a workshop or class to local individuals;
• Participate in more shows and festivals for added exposure;
• Hold an open house during the holidays to showcase your work;
• Send out press releases letting the public know where and when you will be exhibiting;
• Spotlight your work by donating one of your products to a charitable auction during the holidays;
• Join a professional organization such as the Association of Artisan Businesses (

Greenwood-Loveless says that every year with the coming of fall she feels like she is right where she needs to be. "I can look back and see the evolution of my artwork," she says. "I think it will always be this way. It's sort of like being a midwife for the process, and in the fall there's this rebirth that happens." Such a poignant way of looking at the season ahead as artisans across the country indulge in their own artistic evolutions.


CHARLENE DAVIS ( is a nationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (, an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.