Monday, March 31, 2008

Vegetable Chowder




I've been trying to be good about using up everything I buy at the grocery store lately. Over the last week or so I've absent mindedly bought FARRR too many bell peppers, potatoes and milk (like, 3 cartons of milk, I have no idea why). This week I bought far too much cheese instead, cheese being more useful than milk! We'll see what I come up with for the cheese later in the week, but for this weeks excess, here's what I did:

Vegetable Chowder

6-8 cups water
Veggie stock powder/cubes/liquid to make 6-8 cups
1 qt milk
3 baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 green peppers, diced
4 carrots, sliced
1 1/2 big sweet onions, diced
6 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 a bag of frozen sweet corn
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tblsp parsley flakes
-2 tblsp butter
-big handful of shredded cheddar cheese
-shredded parmesan to garnish

-in a medium saucepan, boil potatoes by themselves with a bit of salt until tender
-meanwhile, assemble all other ingredients in a stock pot and simmer
-when potatoes are tender, mash them and add the mash to the stock pot
-continue simmering until all veggies are tender
-stir in cheddar until just melted
-garnish with parmesan

If I'd had them, which unfortunately I didn't, I'd have added TONS of fresh parsley instead of dried, some leeks, and a can of creamed corn. But hey, thats the point of soup . . . to use what you have and not to buy extra ingredients.

Its vegetable soup! But with cheese! And potatoes!!! How could anything be better than that? I had enough for a dinner and 4 portions to freeze. Just 2 quarts of milk left to use up now :)

Listening:  Brakes- "Beautific Visions"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Martha Stewart Probably Doesn't Do It Like That . . .


Thats what the boy said to me the other night when I was making cupcakes for our engagement party. He's probably right, since he was referring to the fact that I do my mixing seated on the kitchen floor with towels spread out under me. I find it impossible to make cupcake batter (or frosting) without getting cocoa powder finely misted all over every kitchen surface or lumps of frosting mysteriously stuck to the hallway walls (not joking).

I don't do a lot of things the right way. I have to put on a clean pair of socks before I do any mopping because I know I can't be trusted not to walk over the wet areas. I tend to do all of my laundry on cold because I can't be bothered to separate it. I refuse to replace burnt out lightbulbs until the situation becomes truly critical (ie: until all lightbulbs in all adjoining rooms are also burnt out).

Martha probably wouldn't approve. Its true. But honestly I don't really care. I watched the Martha Stewart show a grand total of once and I turned it off right after she announced that using raw eggs in eggnog is a risky proposition, but that she had nothing to fear because "these eggs came from my own chicken coop". I'd much rather engage in the silliness of mixing cupcake batter on the floor than the insanity of raising my own chickens for eggs. So, no thanks Martha, I'm happy for now to be messily, happily doing things my way.

Listening:  Jimmy Eat World- "Sweetness"

Monday, March 24, 2008

Finally, Bridal Magazines Prove Useful!!!




I have a few bridal magazines, purchased more out of thinking I should than anything, and I've found them to be utterly useless (although at times a bit comical). I'm planning a wedding at a Welsh castle with 7 guests . . I really don't need to read dozens of pages on thousand dollar centerpieces and cakes. I DO however need envelopes. Lots of them. For sending thank you notes.

I've bought tons of handmade envelopes on Etsy, but I thought trying my hand at making some from bridal magazines could be a fun little touch. I started by taking a smallish envelope (ripped off from the office, ssh . . .don't tell!) and carefully opening it up at the seams to make a template. Then I taped the template to a magazine page making sure that the image centered on the front of each envelope would be centered or off kilter and cool looking. I cut out the envelopes along the template lines and folded them using the original envelope as a guide. I pasted the seams together using a plain old gluestick and voila!

I've sent a few of these out and they mail just fine . . . they just need to be addressed using white address labels and stamped not metered (because you can't print metering ink on magazine paper). I think they're a fun, cute touch! They're eco friendly since I'm recycling used magazines, and they're just bridal enough without being so overly sweet and cloying that they aren't really 'me'. I'll be making lots more of these, I'm sure :)

Listening:  The Departure- "Be My Enemy"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Need a nap!!!

The engagement party went really well . . . but don't ask for pictures because nobody took any whatsoever. Not me, not the boy, not my dad . . . not one single solitary camera was turned on for the entire duration of the party. In a way I think that means everyone had a good time though.

The cupcakes tasted great but I wasn't 100% happy with the way they looked . . . my chocolate icing was too loose and my pink cream cheese icing was too stiff. The cookies though . . .truly spectacular. And the magnet party favors went over great, tons went home with new owners and I might have even picked up a custom party favor order from a friend of my mom's to boot. There are an ungodly number of sausage rolls left over, but I suppose when you order 8 dozen (and the bride is a vegetarian) thats to be expected.

I took a half day from work on Monday to go dress shopping with my mom and the boy's mom and sister. Never in a million years did I expect to actually BUY a dress but you know what? I did! I found exactly what I wanted for a price that I was really happy with, so I went for it! They boy has seen the coat I'm going to wear over my dress so he's already in on how that looks, but I've somehow managed to be convinced that he shouldn't know too much about the acutal dress part, so I'll refrain from giving too many details here. I can say though (cause he knows this much) that its very simple, no beading or lace, long, true white and strapless. It also makes me look like a princess, which is nice :)

Thank goodness for a half day at work this Friday . . . the party business has me exhausted!

Friday, March 14, 2008

What good are . . .


. . . .handmade thank you cards without handmade envelopes? I swear . . . I've been on a crafty papergoods RAMPAGE lately. The envelope obsession was spurred when I saw these SPECTACULAR Sleeping Beauty envelopes in Beach Mama's Etsy shop. My inner 5 year old was clamoring for them, just psychotically insisting on having them. Sleeping Beauty is my favorite princess (and I say that without any trace of irony). However, sadly, these envelopes were smaller than what I needed for my cards . . . too small to mail in fact. So, I shut the inner 5 year old up with a bunch of cookies and bought these Little Mermaid envelopes instead. I also bought a set of lovely, slightly more grown up fan printed envelopes from Those Greathouse Women. At this point, having spent nearly $50 on stationery in three days, I'm sadly going to have to cut myself off. Or learn to make cards and envelopes myself . . . now there's an idea!

The big engagement party is tomorrow night . . .yikes!!! I spent all night last night making 2 batches of cookies then scrubbing every surface of my kitchen and bathroom in last minute terror that the boy's mom would be over and think that I was a shoddy housekeeper. Where the heck did that come from?!?! (I am not . . . for the record). The cookies came out spectacularly though . . . I've got 2 batches of cupcakes to make tonight then all the pre party crafty/baking preparations will be done. I made 57 (yep) glass marble magnets w/ various photos the boy and I took on our last trip to Conwy Castle (where we're getting married!) as party favors for the grown ups. We're also going to have 4 guests under the age of 7 so I put together KILLER goodie bags for them . . . the boys are getting pirate themed bags and the girls princess themed ones.

And, in other wedding news, everything fell spectacularly into place this week! I have wedding and public liability insurance. I signed my agreement with the castle. I booked rooms in Conwy. I even have a photographer! The thing about the wedding is, its in Wales. And people in Wales rarely respond to emails, apparently. So I've had a bit of a struggle trying to line things like insurance up . . . but emails started rolling in this week and in the last 2 days I've gotten TONS of things checked off my list. Which is nice, since the boy's family will be in town this week and instead of saying "wedding . . .er, yeah . . . Wales" i can say with confidence that its almost entirely booked now and we can all go about making our travel arrangements and thinking about fun things, like dresses. :D

Hooray!

Listening:  Evan Voytas

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thanks!



The boy and I are having an engagement party on Saturday and despite insisting that we don't want gifts until we have a house (we didn't even register!) I know for a fact that we'll be getting a few. So, I trolled around on Etsy looking for cute thank you cards and OH MY GOODNESS there are TONS out there! I made two orders for about 25 cards total so I'll have a nice supply for our engagement.



First I placed an order with Time2Cre8 . . .she's a fellow Sampler contributor and I got one of her AWESOME raven notecards in my February package. I picked up a full set of 5 raven cards along with sets of Alice in Wonderland cards and elephant cards (elephants are going to be HOT this year . . . they're the new owls :) )

Then I stumbled on an awesome Belgian shop, Enfin, La voila!. . . I picked up two more sets of notecards in whimsical, antique inspired patterns: Knight In Shining Armour and The Mysterious Letter.

I've got my eye on a few other cards too . . . like Pressa Russa's mini button notecards, Lizardpress' graphic letterpress thank yous and Bluebird Lane's crown and teapot cards.

I'm sitting here (wearing a necklace I traded for on Etsy, a cuff bracelet that I bought on Etsy, and a purse that I made for myself) ordering handmade thank you cards on Etsy for my engagement party . . . that makes me happy :)

Listening:  A Place To Bury Strangers

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

petrified wood . . . my new favorite thing!!!



I got my hands on some gorgeous petrified wood slab beads (from the fabulous fire mountain gems, of course!) and I just love them. I've used them alone as earrings. Mixed with coins in assemblage style necklaces. And even with gemstone beads in safari-inspired wooden chokers.

Petrified wood isn't at all what I expected . . . I was thinking these beads would feel something like 'regular' wood, light and slightly rough. But they don't at all!! They're smooth, glossy, almost like glass. They're a bit heavier than you would expect wood to be, but still lighter than most gemstones or quartzes. They've got all the stripey, tonal qualities of wood though, they're just beautiful!

Listening:  Cut Copy- "Time Stands Still"

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Opposite of Crafting



I've been on a cleaning BINGE lately . . . like, whoa. Maybe cleaning out the boy's condo in preparation to sell it has been inspiring me? Maybe something to do with the warmer weather? I have no clue . . . but I've been cleaning out closets and drawers like its going out of style (I'm not pregnant, don't worry mom)

My latest project was tearing apart a bunch of necklaces that didn't sell in my Etsy shop, or that I made for myself and never wore, to reclaim not only the beads but more importantly the keys and coins! I spent a good two hours on the phone w/ a friend, sitting on the floor with a pair of pliers and a pair of wire cutters hacking about 2 dozen pieces to bits.

As a child I loved to tear the paper off of crayons in tiny shreds. The act of ripping apart necklaces and sorting the beads had a similar, calming effect and when I was done I felt oddly accomplished (odd seeing as I'd just undone work rather than having done any). And, for the moment at least, my jewelry boxes are a lot less cluttered!

The boy and I are going out to dinner and to see Cut Copy tonight to celebrate our -1 Anniversary! Our wedding is 1 year from today . . . in fact, with the time difference, I expect to be getting married EXACTLY 1 year from now. :)


Listening:  Cut Copy- "Future"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Etsy Success Tips

Now, I'm not a "power seller". I don't make a living off of my Etsy shop. In fact, I only as of December started turning any profit whatsoever. I have, however, moved 210 items to date, and I'm pretty proud of that number. I have a great feedback rating. And I genuinely LIKE my shop and the items in it. I've learned a bunch of things along the way, some obvious and some not so obvious. The not so obvious ones I thought it might be worth sharing here, so here it goes:

1) Make what you like, but try to keep your ego out of it once your items are listed. Neckwarmers are one of my most popular items. I made my first one completely on a whim as a way to use up some extra buttons. I never expected them to take off the way they did, but once I saw that they were I started cranking out more. Your shop will tell you what buyers want by what moves or what gets hearted or viewed a lot, go with those indicators to the extent you can. Some items I've made and LOVED but haven't sold many of (pretty much my entire purse line for example!). Invest more of your time and supply budget into whats actually moving for you and your shop will be more successful. This might sound like an obvious one, but believe me, slowing down my purse production when I LOVE making those things was hard for me. In the end though, it freed up my time to make more neckwarmers and jewelry and since those items have been selling really well, that was the right move to make for my shop.

2) Always try to give your buyers what you'd want as a customer. For example, I'm a REALLY impatient buyer when it comes to waiting for packages, so I always try to ship within 24 hours. Judging from the feedback I've received, my buyers really do appreciate that.

3) Collect as much online real estate as you can. The more places online that link to your shop, the better!! Post on Craftster and list your shop URL in your footer. Donate to The Sampler!!! Not only will your samples end up in potential buyers' hands but photos of your samples and a link to your shop will be on their VERY cool and very popular website. Blog! Join Etsy street teams (I'm a member of CCCOE and EtsyVeg). Use Etsymini on your personal Myspace account or start a Myspace account for your shop. Post photos of your work on Flickr. Post ads on Craigslist. Take advantage of all the great free ways you can advertise your shop, I've never once paid for advertising.

4) Be unique. Lots of people on Etsy sell jewelry. And frankly, lots of us get our beads from the same sources. Thats why I incorporate antique or vintage elements into my pieces, to make them stand out. You're not so much selling your items on Etsy as you are selling your aesthetic and point of view . . . bring your own personal ideas and touches into your items and they will move for you.

5) Budgeting and bookkeeping are very important, but understand that most businesses will lose money at first and its OK if you do. Save every receipt and keep your books as accurately as you can (you don't need fancy computer programs for this, I do my books on Excel and could probably just as easily do them on graph paper with a calculator). You'll only ever be able to make smart, informed budget decisions if you've got a true and accurate record of what you've spent and what you've made. Keep those books and you'll see patterns start to emerge . . . where you could cut back on spending and where you should be putting more money . . . Its OK to let your budget develop organically, but make sure you're mindful of what you're spending. You can't ever turn that corner and run your shop profitably if you aren't watching your expenses (no matter how tempting it might be to screw your eyes shut and just cough up the cash at the craft store!)

6) List daily. There's no substitute. If you can't list daily, renew items. And change out your featured items often, you want to give the impression to buyers that your shop always has something new going on.

I hope that was helpful (and not harp-y!). Honestly, I'm lucky. I've done well and I'm lucky. But I have also worked hard and I've listened to my customers and my own instincts. The six items above have been really instrumental in my success and hopefully, if anyone reading this has a shop or is planning to open one, they can be helpful to them as well.

Listening:  Division Day- "Tigers" (Show tomorrow night at Spaceland! YEA!!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Etsy Home Ec

The boy and I will be officially house hunting soon (crosses fingers!!!) and I've started to think about what kind of decor we'll end up with. I'm into things that are historic, vaguely medieval or goth feeling, and dark (like the black damask curtains in my living room!). The boy, on the other hand, reads Dwell magazine, likes modern design and clean lines.
One would think we're going to be pretty much screwed, but there's a surprisingly large convergence between what I like and what he likes . . . the poster above, for example. Now, I haven't run this one specifically by him yet but I'd venture to say he'd like it. Its clean, only one color printing, and modern looking. It also has a cool crown and a cheeky slogan to keep me happy.
Consider this one officially added to my favorites :)