Years ago, Dan and I sat in our car on the ferry, little Lucy asleep in her car seat behind us. We talked about the day, where we were headed, what we might eat. We looked up to see a minivan parked in front of us, its back door open. Inside, a woman moving a bit frantically, her hands flying from the piles of boxes jammed in the back to the clipboard perched on one of the boxes to her hair. I stared at her for a moment, puzzled, then realized she was looking for a pen. She looked up to see me and I held my gaze. I wrote an imaginary line in the air with a question mark in my mind. She clambered out of the minivan and came to our car. Dan rolled down the window and she asked us, “You wouldn’t have a Sharpie on you, by any chance, would you?”
I opened the glove compartment and reached for a black Sharpie. I always seemed to have them in the car at that time, for book signings. “Here you go,” I said. “Of course.”
She looked near tears in gratitude. “Thank you. You’ve saved me, for the moment.”
We asked her what she was doing. She explained that she ran a small business, making and bottling medical tea with THC, which she then drove around to every store in the Seattle area that stocked it. She was on a delivery and her printer at home had run out of ink. So she was hand-writing the company information on the last of the boxes before she delivered. And she couldn’t find a pen.
We both told her, at the same time, “Oh, keep ours! We don’t need it.” She waved and smiled and returned to the box-stuffed back of the minivan to work until the ferry docked.
Afterward, Dan and I looked at each other and said, “Promise me we’ll never do that.”
The other day, as he was buckling Desmond into his car seat and asking Lu once again to stop dancing and get into the car for the trip to school, and I was running the heater in our other battered island car before driving to the post office again, I paused before I closed the trunk. “Hey honey, look at this,” I told him.
He glanced over at the trunk full of boxes, some of them with handwritten labels because our printer had broken again. And grimaced.
“Remember the lady on the ferry?” I told him.
“Yep,” he said.
“Yep,” I said.
We gave each other a kiss and drove off to work.
A few months ago, a friend of mine who coaches people trying to start their own businesses said to me, “Oh, don’t you know? You’re not a real entrepreneur if you haven’t been on the floor in a fetal position, crying, at least twice.”
If only she had told me that before I started.
Over the last two years of running our gluten-free flour business, there have been many, many wrenching moments where I have wondered, exhausted, if running it is the right path for us.
It isn’t, in the end.
I have so much I could say here about what it has been like to run a small business, the hours of packing boxes and long nights of anxiety over the bank account. There have been so many high hopes and crashed expectations. We could do another run of the flour and try harder, sleep less, bring on investors, and do it better this time.
I will say more about this time, someday. Probably in another space. But suffice it to say that recently Dan and I both made the hard decision that brings relief. In the past few years, we veered away from what fuels us, our greatest passions, the places where we feel like we’re most alive in the world. Dan loves to cook and feed people. I do too. But mostly, I love to write.
There is so little time to do what we love in the lives we are living now.
The internet has changed so drastically since 2005, when I started this site. Then, it was a place of connection, of people sharing and not all of it about money. Now? Oh, now I spend most of my days doing things I’m not good at, actions that aren’t my passion (learn how to use Snapchat! do more SEO work! figure out how to compensate for the changes in the Facebook algorithms that mean only 3% of our followers see our posts! start another YouTube channel! wait, now it’s not Snapchat, it’s Instagram stories! find more followers!) to ensure that we can earn a living for our family. I can’t compete with shirtless hunky 23-year-old male bakers. I don’t want to compete in that world. I don’t want to compete at all.
(I seem to have been singing this song for months. “You know I’d go back there tomorrow but for the work I have taken on, stoking the starmaker machinery…”)
So we’re going out of business. Dan is cooking in a restaurant on the island and catering too. I’m working part-time at our grocery store — bless a union job and the health insurance benefits for our family — and creating recipes for other places and writing freelance pieces. And we can feel the relief in between our shoulders, the ease coming more clearly now. We want to do our work on the island where we live, in our community, not on the internet.
We’re not leaving this space entirely — we have a new recipe tomorrow, a few more sponsored posts we want to share with you— but after this month we’re backing away for a bit. I’m working on a new book of essays, one that has nothing to do with food, and I need time to write the proposal. I’ve been trying to wake up at 5 to write for an hour before the kids wake up and I still need more time. I need to give my writing more attention. Along with my family and friends, writing is where my heart lies.
Besides, I can share recipes on Instagram photos and find the same joy of knowing we are helping you cook.
All of this has been percolating in us for months. Years, really. But it all came boiling up a couple of weeks ago.
If you ordered gluten-free flour from us between October 25th and December 1st, can you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org? Turns out we received your orders and sent them out but no one’s credit card was processed, thanks to a technical glitch in the commerce site we were using. As you can imagine, this was a big loss for our business.
We’d like to find a way to recoup the thousands of dollars lost somehow. But we’re also weirdly grateful. It’s all clear now.
So. We only have a small amount of our gluten-free flour left. This is your chance to buy it up before it’s gone. I’d say we have enough flour for 2 weeks of sales. You’ll need flour for all your holiday baking. We’re here to help.
We’re going out of business. This is our final sale.
One thing is clear to me, however. I will always be deeply deeply grateful for everything I have learned from trying to be an entrepreneur. It has changed the way I look at everything in the world. Dan and I have honestly said thank you to the name of every label we have affixed on nearly 10,000 boxes of flour the past two years. Thank you for having our flour in your kitchen.