Going Short by Nancy Stohlman: A Mum Life Success Story

I must say I’m very excited about this particular Mum Life Success Story. I’ve had the pleasure of featuring some truly beautiful, amazing and inspiring Mums through these Mum Life Success Stories and each one of them has had a unique and special story to tell, but never have I featured someone as well-known and accomplished as Nancy Stohlman.

I have to admit that when I received an email from her publicity manager, about promoting her new book Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction I didn’t actually know who she was. That is due more to my lack of time to read and search out great authors (because I’m busy with work, family and this blog) than it is about Nancy’s reputation. Once I googled her name, and announced the upcoming interview on twitter etc, I realised that Nancy was fastly becoming a household name.

After just a little research I discovered that Nancy was not only a talented performer, writer and professor, but that she was juggling it all with motherhood and so naturally, I had to request an interview for the next ‘Mum Life Success Story’ feature. Nancy happily obliged and answered all my probing questions about life, success and family and how she navigates it all. I was truly inspired and knew without a doubt that all of you would be inspired too. If by some off-chance you don’t know who Nancy Stolman is, let’s start with a bit of backstory direct from her publicity manager.

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Who is Nancy Stohlman?

Nancy Stohlman

Nancy Stohlman is the author of four books of flash fiction including Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (a finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), and The Monster Opera (2013). She is the creator of The F-bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series and FlashNano in November. Her work has been anthologized in the W.W. Norton New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Macmillan’s The Practice of Fiction, and The Best Small Fictions 2019. Her craft book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction in 2020. She teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder.

When she is not writing flash fiction she straps on stilettos and becomes the lead
singer of the lounge metal jazz trio Kinky Mink.  She lives in Denver Colorado and dreams of one day becoming a pirate.

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction

Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction is Nancy’s latest contribution to the world of literature. Writer and Teacher Kathy Fish describes it as “The definitive, and appropriately concise book on the flash fiction form”. I have read some of the book myself and I can say Kathy is right, If you’re a writer (as many of my readers are) or want to start writing, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction is a resource you want to have on your bookshelf.


Mum Life Success Story

With Nancy being the seasoned writer that she is and needing no help from me to tell her story, I decided to publish this feature in interview format rather than the story form I usually employ. First I asked Nancy to tell us a little bit about her family.

Tell us a little about your family?

I have two kids—Maiya is 22 and just got her first apartment; Felix is 15 and just got his learner’s permit (yikes!). My partner Nick and I have been together almost a dozen years. We’re all creatives: Nick is a classical pianist and Maiya is a visual artist, so I’m proud to have passed down a family value of artistry. My own parents were also creative; I remember musical jam sessions, a lot of clowning in my household growing up.

When did your love for writing begin?

I remember I was 10 years old on the bleachers at a soccer game when I announced I was going to become an author. I was a voracious reader, of course. I grew up on military bases overseas, so books were my constant friends through all the moving and the various cultural and language barriers. After my author announcement my mother let me use her electric typewriter and I wrote a musical: Superman, The Musical (ala Christopher Reeve). I felt so important as I sat there clicking the keys, feeding in the paper. I don’t know what happened to the musical, but I still feel the magic when I sit down to write.

What inspired you to write your upcoming publication ‘Going Short’?

I was inspired to write Going Short about 10 years ago, when students and fellow writers kept asking me to recommend flash fiction craft books. I didn’t know what to recommend—there were almost no craft books aimed at this growing genre (nor by women). So I decided to take it on myself. I thought it would be easy, something I could write in a year or two. Ha. It took me almost 8 years! But I’m extremely proud of the result—I hope this book becomes a friend to the writers and readers who fall in love with flash fiction.

Are there any major obstacles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are now?

Oh yes. Self doubt. Fear. Creative deserts. Jealousy. Self-sabotage. It’s not easy to go for your dreams. There’s so much risk. Every step you think you might be crazy. Every step you expose yourself to…all of it. Not everyone is rooting for you, so you have to cheer yourself on no matter what. It’s not always easy. It takes courage and bravery, not just one time but every time. Over and over. So my challenge is to reach deeper and keep finding that courage. It’s either that or give up—which keeps me motivated on the hard days.

Are there any funny, intense, or inspiring stories you can tell us about your experiences in writing and/or publishing?

For years I fantasized of spending “three weeks on an island all by myself just writing.” Sounds magical, right? Then, last year, I decided to do it. I was already in Italy co-hosting a flash fiction retreat (so amazing), and when it was over I found a super remote island in the Adriatic, rented a renovated wine cellar for $150 a week, and went on my own sabbatical. And I wrote every day. Every blissful day. I mean, I woke up, I wrote, I walked to get coffee, I wrote. I ate gelato, I walked to the empty beach. I wrote. It was magical, and I discovered what I call Holy Boredom. And because of it, I finished this book.

What would you say is your biggest challenge with balancing family life with your career? How do you find balance (if you do)?

Funny, but I think this question is part of the challenge—if I were a man I would likely never be asked this question. Because I’m a woman, there’s an expectation (even from myself) that I can and will do it all: be a loving mother, chef, teacher, partner, friend, housekeeper, nurture all my relationships…oh, AND write books, teach on campus, run retreats, and attempt to dream my own inspiration into being. And, because all women are amazing, we do it. All of it. But I like to envision a world where men are asked this question, too.

The short answer of how I balance it all? I fail. I succeed. Then I fail. I do my best. And sometimes I schedule a weekend to myself and that’s important, too.

How does your experience as a Mother help with your writing and vice versa?

Once I had kids I knew the luxury of waiting for the muse, was over. If I really wanted to be a writer, I had to begin now—there was a little person watching me. So I wrote during nap time and in the evenings after bedtimes. I mean, I wrote entire books during nap times, during pre-school. Later I wrote on trains and buses while commuting to campus. I learned to seize THIS moment, imperfect but available, because the perfect moment is just an illusion. So in a very real way my children forced me to get serious and make it happen.

And writing makes me a better mother, too, because I’m honoring that creative part of myself. I’m more present for my family when I’m present for myself. Put on your own oxygen mask before you help others.

What advice can you give to other women (mothers in particular) wanting to chase their dreams of becoming a professional writer?

Just begin. The perfect time, the perfect location, the perfect idea—you could be waiting forever. The real day-to-day of writing is messy—there is nothing idealized about it. And yet, allowing yourself to be creative is amazingly, imperfectly perfect. On a good day, it’s still just as magical to me as that first time at my mom’s electric typewriter.

Plus, the very best thing you can do for your children is to show them what it looks like to not give up on yourself. They will be watching and learning from your actions far more than from your words.


More Mum Life Success Stories…

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HURD & CO – A Mum Life Success Story

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Hey everyone, I’m finally back. 3 weeks of sick kids, sleep deprivation and no time for anything has finally ended and I have a day off to get some writing done. Procrastination has stolen my morning but my determination to bring you this months Mum Life Success Story has finally won out and here I am typing, typing, typing with a thousand thoughts running through my head about what I need to get done for Christmas and my sons second birthday on the weekend.

Isn’t that just a typical Mum Life Story though? I mean, there’s always so many things to do and to organise, it’s a never ending juggling act of priorities and responsibilities that go through seasonal ups and downs where we sometimes have it all together and perfectly balanced and other times we have to put some priorities on pause while we attend to the most important responsibilities in our lives.

What’s important is that we don’t let those momentary deviations reroute us, but we get back on the horse so to speak and get back to juggling and balancing our butts off! Perseverance is the key if we want to succeed in those goals we have, to make our dreams a reality. Perseverance and hard work, nothing can beat it!

One lady who’s perseverance and hard work has seen her, in her own words, evolve from a table top scarf seller to an influential ethical fashion brand, is Dawn Hurd, founder of Hurd & Co.  Dawn is basically a one-woman fashion store. The designer, the maker, the marketing department, admin department, finance department, etc, etc and her hand-made products are winning awards and getting her noticed in the world of ethical business.


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About Dawn

79006369_2395247054058059_4218456173063438336_nDawn Hurd lives in Somerset, England with her husband, affectionately known as Mr. H,  (whom she started dating when she was 17) and their 3 children, Joshua 16, Jake 11 and Olivia 10. She is 46, a wife, a mum, a part time admin assistant for her husbands construction business and a mumtrepreneur.

Dawn didn’t always know what her business would be one day but she always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She says “I grew up in a small village in Somerset surrounded by family and open fields. I scrumped apples, played in hay barns, scuffed my knees and rode horses. I started my first business when I was 13 making and selling jewellery to holiday makers from the local pub.”

After leaving school, she couldn’t settle “I worked in a yoghurt factory, I picked peas, I drove a 7 ½ tonne lorry for parcel force, I worked as a cashier, a cleaner and a barmaid before settling as a lifeguard, then Gym Manager and eventually started a successful Fitness & Lifestyle Consultancy.”

Dawn loved the fitness side of her business and business was booming with 3 local council contracts as a GP Referral Coordinator. “I worked as a link between the GP’s, referring patients with medical conditions like asthma, angina, arthritis, diabetes, etc. I worked to educate them and increase their confidence so they could get into mainstream gyms. I did a bit of cardiac rehabilitation work also, which I loved.”




A Change of Trajectory

Things were going really well, but sometimes life can throw us a curveball and we are forced to change our trajectory in a completely different direction.  “Due to 8 miscarriages, I was advised to stop exercising as my doctor felt I was over doing it. We have since discovered, due to a bone fracture, that I have Coeliac Disease causing malnutrition which caused the miscarriages as well as Osteoporosis.”

So the fitness side of things had to be scaled right down, but just three months later she was pregnant again, this time with her son who is now sixteen years old. Dawn turned her attention toward her family and became a stay-at-home mum, but the entrepreneur in her could not be silenced and she ended up running a craft business called Ribbons and Rosebuds.

But it wasn’t until 2016 and three beautiful children later, that the opportunity would present itself for her now successful, ethically sustainable business. “In early 2016 a friend popped in for lunch. She spotted a scarf I had made and asked me to make fifteen scarves for an upcoming fashion show she was assisting with. They sold out. This was the beginning of Hurd & Co. I managed to convince my husband this was a good idea, he gave me £400 which I have since paid him back…….with interest.”

As most mums know, juggling a family, work and a life is no easy task and finding the dreaded ‘B’ word can sometimes be an exercise in futility. I always ask my interviewee’s how they find balance and the answers are always different. For Dawn, balance takes the form of ‘self care’.  “I ‘attempt’ to dress in workout gear every morning for the school run so that when I return I have no distractions from getting onto my mountain bike and cycling every morning straight from school……However this does take second, third, fourth place more than it should. On days where I need head space I head to the nearest woodland. I cannot describe how at peace I feel when I’m surrounded by trees and nature, it’s a good place for me to be. I also feel a huge amount of pressure to inspire my children, especially my daughter, I want them to see that hard work really pays off. They are the Co. in Hurd & Co and they help me whenever they can.”

Three years later, Dawn has a whole range of products and her business is championing conscious fashion. On her website, you’ll see that Hurd & Co are committed to providing a sustainable, ethical business model in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. So not only is her business becoming more successful, but it is playing a huge role in reducing the environmental footprint of the production industry.

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This success is now being recognised by the industry.

“In early September this year I headed up to the NEC in Birmingham to the Spring Fair to receive an award for Fashion Accessory of the Year ‘Made in Britain’ category, from the BTAA (British Travel goods Handbags & Accessories Association). It is the greatest highlight for the business so far. I still catch myself smiling in disbelief that I actually won, I am thrilled to bits.”

 


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Obstacles

I asked Dawn what the biggest obstacle was in moving forward in the business and how she overcomes it and she said “My biggest obstacle is lack of funds, however, this has always been my largest hurdle and up to now through determination, creativity, collaboration and hard work I have managed, on a shoestring, to grow the business. I shall continue with the belief that if I work hard enough for it I will achieve it and although it may take me a little longer to get to the point where I have a large enough budget to invest in my business I am under no illusion that there will ever be enough money in the budget because there will always be opportunities requiring cash investment. Sales equal income, so for now I need to get my head down and keep knitting.

I believe Dawn is an awesome example of how perseverance and determination can turn opportunities into successes. Dawn didn’t get where she is because of a university degree, or lot’s of cash or a huge following on social media. She is where she is because she believed it could happen and she took the opportunity when it came and worked hard to make it happen.

The Future

Dawns business is already involved in some great causes, she is an official supporter for the Campaign for Wool, she supports the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and 10% of her customers purchases are directly donated to the mental health charity MIND. When I asked her where she saw herself and the business in 5 years, she said that in 5 years she will:

  1. Have set up community Sit & Knit sessions for elderly people living in rural communities who are suffering with loneliness, isolation or depression issues. Welcoming them to gather together to drink tea, eat cake, knit and natter in a safe environment where they can share any worries, concerns laughs and tears all funded by Hurd & Co.
  2. Have donated a minimum of £1000 to charities dealing with loneliness, isolation and depression.
  3. I will have a team, a group of women employees knitting my collections allowing me the time to develop the business.
  4. I will be mentoring other women hoping to start their journey to running their own successful business.

I can’t wait to interview her again in 5 years and see if she has indeed reached all these goals but I am sure that she will have not only reached them but far exceeded them.

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Advice

Dawn‘s advice for anyone looking at delving into the world of mumtrepreneurship (should definitely be a word) is “Download the Youtube app. Being a mumtrepreneur can be an extremely lonely place where ‘Imposter Syndrome’ creeps into my head daily. I am constantly listening to motivational speakers, podcasts, ‘how to’ tutorials etc.
My time, like yours, is so very precious, so if whilst I’m making beds or hoovering I can have my earphones on with Tony Robbins motivating me to believe in my abilities, to work for my goals or Jasmine Star explaining how to nail social media or an SEO ‘how to’ tutorial to educate myself to take the business further, I come away feeling I have been super productive with my time and I feel inspired to give the business my all for another day. I have had some huge failures which have eventually resulted in lots of lessons of what not to do, so that eventually I can learn from my mistakes and start again. Having the school of You Tube behind me assists me in learning for free.”

When it comes down to it, no one’s story is exactly the same. We all have obstacles to overcome, failures to learn from, fear to fight and losses to recoup, but if we stay the course, learn from our experiences and never give up, we can accomplish anything.

If you’d like to see Dawn’s work, you can visit her website www.hurdandco.com or follow her on Instagram.

 “Failure doesn’t bother me, fear and regret do.” ~ Dawn Hurd

Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog, if you’d like to have your story featured just like Dawn’s, please email us at mumlifestories@gmail.com

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Cassy’s Cafe: A Mum Life Success Story

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If there is one thing I love about the invention of the internet, it’s that I can interview someone on the other side of the world and write a story about them without even leaving my own house. Heck, I don’t even have to talk to them on the phone, I simply do what I do best and write to them, and they write back. How amazing is that? I love that it’s so easy to connect with new people, people that I wouldn’t otherwise ever have a chance to meet or get to know. 

Through the stories that I’ve been privileged to write in the last several months, I’ve met some amazing women, women who are pushing past the obstacles and setbacks that life inevitably throws their way and chasing those elusive dreams that so many people talk about but so little achieve. These women have inspired me and I hope inspired you also.

One such lady who’s positive attitude to life caught my attention on Instagram (@lifeofcassy2019) is Cassandra Sojka.

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Immigration of Cassy

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This months ‘Mum Life Success Story’ Mum, comes all the way from The Gambia (otherwise known as ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’). Cassandra Sojka, originally from Stockholm Sweden, moved to The Gambia in 2013 where she now owns and runs a successful Cafe/Restaurant (Cassy’s Cafe) with her Husband Ladislav. They have two children, Aiden (5) and Mio (3).

If you’re asking the question ‘where the heck is The Gambia?’ your not alone. Cassy admitted to me that she needed to check a map before going on a family holiday there in 2011 because she had no idea where this country was.  I myself had to google it and discovered that it’s actually the smallest country within mainland Africa.  It occupies a small sliver of land around the Gambia River and is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal with the exception of its western coastline along the Atlantic Ocean (Wikipedia 2019). It’s best known for it’s subtropical climate, pristine beaches, and abundant birdlife, drawing tourists all-year-round. 


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So why the Gambia?

Cassandra says “Ever since I was young I wanted to move from Sweden to another county. I didn’t know where to, when or how but it was just always my dream.”  It was during her family holiday in 2011 that she fell in love with the country and didn’t want to go home when the two weeks were up. “My sister and I booked a single ticket back to the Gambia only a few days after we got home. During our 1, 5-month stay we met a lot of new people and my sister got a job offer. I convinced her to stay as she could just return home to Sweden if she didn’t like it.” It was obviously some good advice as she still lives in the Gambia now.

Cassy travelled back and forth, as much as she could, at times working 6 jobs in Sweden in order to save for the trips. “My sister was there and also the man that would become my husband. We were not in a relationship yet but we loved spending time together. In 2013 we decided to give our relationship a real try and I decided to move down to the Gambia permanently.”

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They got engaged and Cassy got pregnant just 6 months after they decided. 3 years and 2 kids later they started thinking about how they could make an income without leaving the kids for long hours and making next to nothing because in the Gambia, salaries are bad and working hours are long. “The only thing that made sense with two young kids, was to open something of our own. We went back and forth on what we could do, what would work in this small, developing, beautiful country. A café and a restaurant were closing down in a complex and we decided to jump on the opportunity. We believed it was something the Gambia was missing. We had to act quick, so within two months after we decided, we were open.”

Obstacles

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Cassandra says she still doesn’t know how they did it, without savings and so fast, but it just goes to show that it’s possible to do so much more than you think. “Both my husband and I are very spontaneous people. I’m also very positive so thinking that we would fail or that it wouldn’t work is nothing I remember even having in my mind.” 

That’s not to say that there were no obstacles. Every huge life decision, especially when you have a family, comes with a certain amount of hurdles that need to be cleared before the race can be won. The 10 foot hurdles some people may see however, can seem more like 10mm if approached with a positive attitude and a determination to overcome.

“There were two obstacles when we were about to open the café. The first one was to leave the kids with a babysitter. To find someone to trust and to spend more time away from them. We just had to get used to the idea like anyone else that is going back to work. I brought the kids with the babysitter to the café a lot in the beginning.” 

The second issue was money. For a while, they weren’t sure how they would be able to pay for everything they needed to open a café. “We asked a friend to help a bit and the rest just worked out” and they did make it work “after two months we expanded and after only a few months open we climbed up to number 1 on TripAdvisor and still remain there.” 

After 2 years in operation, Cassy’s Cafè is a thriving business “it’s a hangout spot for a lot of different people, from local celebrities to teenagers and families. Coming to work makes me happy.” 

Balance

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That elusive question of “how do you find balance?” is always my favourite, probably because I struggle in this area and I’m always interested to hear how successful Mums manage it. “How do I balance life, kids, and business? Do I get tired? For sure! Is it worth it? Yes! I make sure to spend a lot of quality time with the kids both at home and out, I make sure we do a lot of fun things together.” Cassy admits that her energy isn’t always enough for the beach after work but it makes her happy. Seeing the kids happy, makes her happy.

I believe that scheduling quality time for relationships is an important aspect of finding balance between work and life. Cassy says “We have a babysitter two times a week so that my husband and I can have dinner and spend time together, even if it’s at work. What also works for me is to not have too many routines or too many plans. I like being spontaneous. I like being able to pick up the kids from school and together decide where we should go and how we should spend the afternoon. It’s the small things that make life good. Too many plans tend to stress me.”





The Future

When asked where she could see herself in 5 years, she replied “I hope the café is still as popular as today, if not more. I hope that we continue to grow and have one or two more businesses. I know it sounds like a lot but I believe it’s possible! I believe positive thinking really helps with whatever you want in life.”

Her advice to anyone thinking of starting their own business is to “Have a good partner. Especially if there are kids in the picture. It has to be someone you trust, that has the same goals as you. Someone that’s willing to work hard. For me, that’s my husband and that’s the biggest reason I manage the life I do and managed to stay happy. If it weren’t for him, I would have wanted to quit many times. We can believe that we can do it all on our own, but it’s also ok to admit we can’t!”

Whilst it’s not always possible to find that loving supportive partner, I agree that it’s a great idea to surround ourselves with positive people who are on board with our vision. Having someone there to lift us up when we stumble can sometimes be the difference between persevering and giving up.

What’s your dream for the future? Do you believe it’s possible? If not, why not? Drop a comment in the comment section below 🙂

If you’d like to follow Cassy’s family adventures, you can visit her account on instagram @lifeofcassy2019 or follow the success of her cafe @cassyscafe.


Going Short book coverGoing Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman


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If you’d like us to share your Mum Life Success Story, please e-mail me at mumlifestories@gmail.com


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