Saturday, July 30, 2011

While The Cat's Away

It's my big day at Boston today. While I'm out, I thought I'd share with you some recent batches of my Art House soaps.

All logged up and waiting to be hand cut into big 5oz slices. From top to bottom: Bella Coconut, Beached, Dunes, and Patriot.

They smell so truly divine. Enjoy!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Oh, To Cool My Heels

I'm still dreaming of the ideal day away from it all. I'm packing order boxes right now, and I have to say... it's not a bad second choice to being barefoot on the swing. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nunzio of Your Business

On Tuesday, I filled you in about Alfonso Santaniello, the first of two very special guests that will be appearing with me this Saturday July 30th at the Boston Indie Summer Sizzle.

The other guest I wanted to talk about is Nunzio Bruno, the man behind Financially Digital (not just another financial and tech blog) out of the Greater Springfield Area. In addition to his ultra-informative blog, and his duties as professor of economics at Bay Path College, Nunzio Bruno is a financial coach. I will let him describe what he can do for you in his own words:
I take my education and experience and coach those who need that little extra push. Not just your everyday budgets and expense charts, each experience is a dynamic one and focused on making lifestyle changes. How many times have you heard about people crash dieting only to see them eating terribly again after they lose a few pounds, that’s not what happens here. Whether you’re looking to get a second opinion on that portfolio that used to make sense or someone to hold your hand while you’re considering life changing purchases or plans, we take the time to evaluate the situation and create real strategies to get you there. Over the last few years I have successfully put the worries of retirees to rest and started fresh college graduates on paths to financial freedom. It’s not a chore, it’s a lifestyle.
If you'd like to learn more about the valuable help Nunzio offers (including Business Coaching and Sales Coaching), check out his other offerings on his consulting page.

On top of all this, Nunzio has just launched a show called Uconomy over on the Businews Channel, where he and co-host Thomas J. Fox dispense everyday economic advice in easily digestible bite sized morsels for us regular non-economic folk to understand.

I'm thrilled that Nunzio will be at the Summer Sizzle in person to conduct a workshop on creating a Business Plan. Okay, so nobody likes doing them, but they keep your business on track, banks and investors generally require them for loans, and there is a right and a wrong way to do them. Nunzio is going to be there to talk about how to do them right.

So won't you join me, Nunzio and Alfonso at Maggiano's Restaurant in Boston on Saturday? The registration details are here. It's going to be a fantastic time and I really can't wait to meet you there!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Really Bringing It Home

Yesterday afternoon at around 4.20pm, we got battered again by another angry storm. It seems tornado activity was indicated on the weather radar/scanner thingies that they use to confirm these things. It didn't touch down though, but oh my giddy aunt... it blew through our little part of Springfield at what I swear was a complete horizontal, taking trees, debris, and branch missiles along with it.

Power, after flickering on and off wildly, went out with a bang... causing me and The Barbara to jump out of our little skins! Hail was the size that hail has no right to be, and after a crazy three to four minutes of if all... I got to go outside. My neighbor's pine tree was down across another neighbor's garage. My garden looked like no one had tended it for months, and the street was littered like some truck had whizzed through there spilling its load of forestry waste! On the corner was a gathering of folk, and we walked over to see if everyone was okay. They were. Just a few folk badly shaken up. Oh... and also a big tree with many big limbs was sitting there across someone's lawn having picked a fight with the overhead power lines and lost!

You know what? Community spirit was fantastic. It reminded me of the old days back home in England, where the elderly mixed freely with the young, offering sage advice and wisdom. There must have been four generations of us all out there, if not five. Many had never met before, even though we've all lived in the same proximity for years.

Power didn't return til this morning at around 10.30am. But Me, Jason and The Barbara sat around our little house in candlelight playing charades, and talking many memories of years gone by. I don't think I could have bought a night like that if I'd have had a million dollars to spend. It was such a feeling of home, and what home actually means. Sometimes, we need reminders of what family and community is all about. It's just a shame that it all too often needs a serious bolt of weather to bring it forth.

And the picture I'm leading with today? Nothing to do with yesterday's storm... but in today's aftermath, I so wish I could be at my quiet out of season beach with only me and the wildlife. The seagull enjoyed many fingers of food that I held out to him that day. It's a genuine pic.

I took a look at our huge pine tree this morning. It's split vertically. It really was a nasty thing that blew through here yesterday, and the big old tree has to be taken down. I don't know how many years it's seen, or how many squirrels and birds are gonna be without their homes once it's gone. I hope a good community spirit will prevail among the wildlife whose trees are gonna be gatecrashed by the displaced cuties that need to rebuild their nests and dreys. I'm hopeful.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Santaniello's Coming to Town

If you're an avid reader of this blog, you will know that this Saturday, July 30th is the first Boston Region meetup of the Indie Beauty Network. At this lunch and mini-conference, along with yours truly, there are going to be other very special guests. I'd like to take this post to tell you a little about one of them.

Alfonso Santaniello, social entrepreneur, started the Creative Strategy Agency in 2009 at the age of 25, an innovative marketing agency offering marketing, video marketing, web marketing, branding, public relations, advertising and more. Clients included: Agway, LTW Custom Cosmetics, The Love, Mich Collection, Capri Pizza,, The Still Bar and Grill and many more.

He has just launched his second business, The Businews Channel, a business web channel airing 25 original business web shows sharing business insight the way it should be - fun and entertaining. The channel, coincidentally enough, launched on July 18th.

He is a member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield and sits on the marketing committee, a member of BNI, Board Member and Director of Marketing for The Agawam Small Business Assistance Center which offers free monthly seminars and workshops for businesses and professionals. He adds that if he has free time, he enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, and running.

With his expertise in business and marketing, I am extremely excited to have Al there as a guest, speaking on the topic of "What You Can Do Today to Earn Holiday Sales Tomorrow".

Saturday is really going to be an excellent day, where hopefully we can all do a lot of learning, sharing and growing. A professional marketer like Al sharing his tips and insight will be an invaluable addition, and I am really looking forward to his presentation and to the workshops that follow!

If you'd like to attend and meet Al, you can read more about the event and register here.

Little Darlings

Monday morning, and the base oils are in the pans. I love my soap making. Later today I'll be playing around looking for a way to package these little cuties. Yes, new samplers are on their way. Do I bag them, box them, or tie and tag them?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Wonderful Oil That Is Olive

The olive tree has a commanding tenacity. No matter how harsh the winter, or burning dry the summer, it still grows strong and upright in stoic resolution to bring us a fruit renowned for its nourishment and salve. A very emollient oil, it has been used for thousands of years on the skin to calm, to cleanse and to moisturize.

The olive is very high in polyphenols. These are a broad class of antioxidants that include flavonoids and catechins, common also to red wine, chocolate, grape juice and tea. Antioxidants are useful in the aging process... they help slow it down.

But antioxidants also hold other qualities of importance to us. The phenols found in olive oil have an antifungal and antibacterial action. Phenols also prevent "Oxidative Stress", a highly oxidized environment within cells where there is an overflow of free radicals and a lack of antioxidant support. Oxidative Stress always leads to inflammation, a common aggravator in dermatitis and other similar skin conditions.

Olive oil is a great humectant. Attracting external moisture to the skin, it still allows normal function to take place such as shedding, sweating and sebum release. Olive oil doesn't clog pores, It is gentle, and hypoallergenic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Place Like Home

Yes... the launch day happened. Seven months in the making, a project followed to the letter, and a very successful conclusion.

It's hard getting a make-over. And just like the makeovers you do on any room in your house, you end up with a different look... yet the house you happily moved into once upon a time, is still the same house. Solid foundations, a sturdy roof, and a welcoming front door.

I do hope you enjoy exploring the new website. It still has the solid foundations, the sturdy roof, and the welcoming front door that has always been my Manor Hall. Please, step inside and make yourself at home. I'll just put the kettle on for you...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Barbara in Pic

So... it's 8.00am now, and I'm sitting here waiting for The Barbara to wake up. She ain't no morning person, and I so want to spill to her about the website home page that I woke up to early this morning.

She's making the drive today. Yes... I shall be silly dancing to 70's and oldies songs with my Sally mom until Thursday. The workshop will be alive like you wouldn't know. I mention The Barbara often in my postings. She's a real right hand man for me. I've been waiting eleven years for her to moan about some of the tasks and duties she does in the name of family. I've yet to hear anything resembling misery or griping from her. She truly is a rare gem. You can't miss us whenever we're out together. We're an odd couple from different sides of the Atlantic, yet we've so much in common. You know... sometimes odd is just the right place to be.

Spot the pair of us in this pic taken by Jason last summer along the beautifully scenic cliff walk in Newport, Rhode island. Click on the pic to see closer. I doubt you'll miss which one I am. The Barbara is right next to me in her shades, grinning her head off. Cool mom dude or what?

The What???

It's 5.30 am and I have just missed my mouth with my morning cuppa. I was checking on the countdown clock getting ready to post, and it's gone. I'm hoping this isn't a joke, but take a look at the home page!!! The what??? I am totally shocked!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Just a reminder that all the "buy me" buttons on the website will be disabled at midnight tonight as the prep begins for the launch of the brand spanking new... website! Countdown clock is reading: 3 days, 5 hours, 3 minutes. Deep breath!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Avoiding Burnout

I've been so headlong into 18 hour days this past three weeks that I'm fast approaching burnout. I'm tired... my skin is breaking out... I'm eating on the wing... and a whole host of other things that are just not good for anyone's general health or personal well-being.

Jason to the rescue! He suggested I start a Manor Hall garden and enjoy time outdoors, where I get to have some separation from work and play while still being Mrs Manor Hall. You know what? He sure knows me inside and out. There's no way I would sit on the sofa and take time out, or be cajoled into chilling with a hobby.

It's been years since I last enjoyed any kind of gardening. All Ive been doing is living and breathing soap and letting Jason whizz over the gardens at breakneck speed with the lawnmower. I'm already relishing the thought of beautiful lavender plants... herbs... and flower after flower after flower!!!

So, meet the first project in the Manor Hall garden. It's the neglected area under my huge acorn tree. It's been left to just grow as it wants to, season after season for a good few years. That's gonna change. I'm planning on creating a peaceful place, where the wildlife can bring me much joy again. All in the name of Manor Hall of course. I mean... I can't be caught slacking now, can I?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oh, Hurry Up Already

Only five days remaining. This is what you call really gathering speed. Oh, how to convey how I feel?

It's like... waiting for Santa when you're five years old. It's like... getting parental permission to have your best friend along on the family vacation. It's like... that first kiss. It's like... acceptance to the college you prayed for. It's like... catching the bouquet. It's like... the bended knee proposal you thought would never come. It's like... the birth of your first child. Heck... it's like the birth of your first grandchild! All. Rolled. Together.

Just to give you the heads up - as if you need it. Work on the website will be happening over this coming weekend. Jason will be disabling the buy me button on Friday to avoid confusion for those who may arrive at the website via a bookmark or search engine link.

It's gonna be a great weekend here for me. I dunno about you, but... I am officially giddy with it all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From The Archives: Blast From The Past

One week to go to the launch of the new website. Well, 6 days, 13 hours and 50 minutes according to the countdown clock. I've been putting the new labels onto the Art House soaps, and they look great!

In a week's time the future beckons, and I'm feeling rather wistful as I approach my seventh birthday of soapy stuff. I thought I'd share with you a re-post from the blog archives. It's about where it all began, and what's behind the name of Manor Hall Soap. Enjoy:

Monday, February 22, 2010: Blast From The Past

This was me, back in July 2004 full of the excitement of embarking on my new venture. I was Susan Mann. I'd been living permanently in America for two whole years, and I was a soapmaker. This was going to be my office. It was going to be my workspace. This was my Manor Hall. In my hand is my hang tag. Oh, I was so proud, but it would be another nine months before I settled on the real identity that would become Manor Hall.

Back home in England, manor houses were grand. They were a picture of great british establishment, standing on land passed down through generations and dating way back to the 1200's. Where knights carried off ladies on the back of their horses, and the Lord and Lady of the manor reigned supreme.

My Manor Hall was originally intended to be a black and white affair. Modelled after the Tudor homes that so grandly stand with huge black beams, interspaced with white facings. I was ordinary folk, but setting up my little soap empire afforded me the opportunity to be the Lady of my own Manor. Being Susan Mann, it also played off my name nicely, and the thought of my grown up children being able to tell all their friends that mother owns a Manor Hall amused me greatly.

So, for a while, my fairy tale Manor Hall Soap Company was black on white...

...until Jason gave me the splash. You can even see it in the corner of the original design. I fell in love with it straight away, and as those first few months of the development stage passed we came up with many designs in search of the right glass slipper for our Cinderella of soap.

Every year since 2004, we've taken a break over the Christmas holidays. We use this to sit and reflect on our past year, and chew the fat over what's to come for the new year ahead. This year things were delayed a little due to him needing major surgery, but that didn't stop us plotting and planning and setting our goals while he was in the hospital.

My little soap company has grown every year since it began, and although this year has started a little late for us, new growth is planned. The office is having a much needed makeover, and the new flatpack furniture we bought back in November from IKEA, will finally be opened. But first comes the painting. The room in the photo above, once more finds itself empty. The computer and other office essentials have been moved temporarily into the shipping and stock room, so as not to interrupt the flow of day to day soapy business. By the weekend, I should be doing the happy dance once again.

It's strange how things sometimes come full circle. There I was back in 2004 with a black on white vision for my Tudor styled soap company. That soon gave way to a splash of color, and here I am all these years later looking around that empty room again where it all began. I'm painting a nice modern neutral, and guess what I'm filling it with? Yes, I'm filling it with a chic look of black furniture. And you just know that it'll be accessorized with... a splash of color. All from IKEA of course. For although I may dream of being titled English gentry... I'm just ordinary folk. And ordinary folk can't afford Chippendale stuff.

P.S. - Chippendale is antique English furniture dating back to the mid-18th century. My husband just read this and told me what "Chippendales" is in America. :D

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Four Musketeers

Meet the boardroom table. I've spent more time around it this last seven days than I have around any table in my whole seven years of soap making. Morning, afternoon, early evening... and late night. Some days, sleep has been so short that I've considered throwing a nice fluffy pillow onto it and kipping there for the night.

I currently have four projects on the go and I'm at the helm of each and every one of them. All of them are big and will complete the journey to take Manor Hall Soap into the next chapter. All will be reaching conclusion before the last day of July. I thought I'd share a little of life as it is behind the scenes right now for me, so here are my four musketeers:

Project Splash.
Project Storm.
Project Slice.
Project Cheese.

Yes... even round the boardroom table I can't resist being myself in keeping things light and fun where possible. Project Splash is the new website launch, and if you've seen "The Journey" video through to the final frames, you'll know why it has that name. With only 8 days remaining, the heat is on in bringing everything together for a smooth July 18th launch.

At 10.30 this morning, I'll be round the table again checking up on some final details, chasing up on errant details, and bringing into play a few new details which are only just becoming relevant across the four projects as this new week approaches. As for Project Storm and Project Slice? Well, there goes that tease mode of mine again. But with only three more weeks of July left to go, it's not gonna be too long before you'll be finding out.

Oh, and Project Cheese? Don't take the name too seriously... I am not gonna be making Stilton - or selling it! ;)

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Classic Special Weekend

So, here we are into the birthday month. In two more weeks, my Manor Hall will soon be seven years old. Like... wow!

While we're all eagerly awaiting the reveal of the new website in 9 days time, I thought I'd get a great soap bar special going over the weekend. So, from now until Sunday the 10th at midnight, buy two of the classic soap bars and I'll give you a third one for free. Simply enter 2 in the quantity box when making your Classic soap bar purchase, and I'll throw a third one of the same product in your order box... for free. For every two you buy, I'll give you a third.

Please remember that this special is for the regular classic style 4oz soap bars only, and not the big 5oz Art House style. With the regular order box freebies waiting in the wings as well, you can really make it a soap bar special to remember. Happy weekend shopping, and roll on July 18th!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Come One, Come All

OMG it really has been an exciting week. It seems right now like it's just one good thing happening after another.

Anyone who has followed Manor Hall for a while has probably heard of Donna Maria Coles Johnson, the CEO of the Indie Beauty Network, mainly because I'm always talking about her. If you have followed along, you'll know that she has been a huge inspiration to me and many others. Donna Maria leads a 7,000 member network of small business owners, bringing us together and helping us all improve our daily grind.

One of the latest brainstorms from Donna Maria is splitting the U.S. up into Indie regions so that her members can get together and bring our power together locally. I have had the great honor of being named the representative for the Boston region, and I'm really excited to announce that the first meetup is going to be on Saturday, July 30th, at the Indie Business Summer Sizzle Networking Luncheon in Boston.

I recommend that if you have any kind of small business and you think you can get to Boston on July 30th, you go and get more info over at Indie Business Blog. This is a great opportunity you absolutely don't want to miss.

In addition to meeting yours truly and Donna Maria, you'll also get the chance to make contact with two others. Speaking first is the amazing business coach, financial analyst and professor, Nunzio Bruno (catch him at his informative financial blog, Financially Digital). And speaking second will be the wonderful marketing strategist Al Santaniello, host of the awesome Businews Channel (launching on July 18th!). I will be posting a little more about those two as the day approaches.

One of Donna Maria's favorite sayings is that "a rising tide lifts all ships". Well, Donna Maria is that tide, and she has helped lift me up, along with thousands of others. This is going to be a really great event and I can't wait for it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red, White and Blue To You

Our office is currently closed for the Independence Day Holiday Weekend and will reopen on Tuesday, July 6th. You can still place an order through the web site during this time. All Fourth of July sale orders will begin shipping on Tuesday when we reopen. Our estimated shipping time remains at 3-5 business days from when orders are placed. Happy Fourth of July!

Of course, the office may be closed, but I'm still going to be working today. Some of it will be fun, as we thrash out new Fall scents and products.