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Archive for May, 2012

I’m a sucker for old farm trucks and spotted this on a family friend’s property; I sometimes forget how lush and green New England can be!

Okay, I’m doing my posts in reverse, but this is something I half wrote in Connecticut during my recent trip to visit family and I just finished editing the photos to accompany this post.

Every time I return to New England and I get out of my own head, schedule, daily routine…I am reminded of simple pleasures (many of which I took for granted when I lived there; funny how you sometimes have to leave a place to recognize its virtues).

While there I took absolute joy in things like:

A picnic on a beautiful day…

My sis, older niece and I at Lyman Orchard’s pond

Watching a high school sport from the sidelines and cheering for the home team…

That’s my younger niece getting ready to sprint off 2nd base

Witnessing the younger generation in my family reach milestones…

My younger niece again, this time all prettied up with her handsome date for the prom

Enjoying an iced coffee (from Dunkin Donuts which we don’t have in Colorado!) and deep conversations (as well as silly ones) with my sister…

My sis and I…she’s going through a major transition right now, so there were lots of tears and laughter shared…we had a great time together

Spending time with my older niece who is going away to college in Boston this summer…

Rolling around in the soft, lush grass with my “nephew” Buddy…

And trying to squeeze myself into my younger niece’s very busy social calendar…

Visiting my favorite orchard and country store…

“Would you like to try one of our fabulous marmalades?”

And driving along favorite routes…

Near Roger’s Orchards

Then finding a new farm/homestead/nursey/gift shop (and now favorite place to revisit each time I go back)…

Karabin Farms

Watching little families grow…

And many other things for which I didn’t capture photos of, like:

  • Seeing the sugar shack operation of family friends who make their own maple syrup (and then going home with a couple pints stowed in my suitcase, yum!)
  • Sharing the bed with my sister again, something we haven’t done in decades and like a grown up sleepover
  • My mom’s cooking and special treats like her famous chocolate pie
  • Nightly card games and lots of laughter with the family
  • Hearing crickets at night (we just don’t have them at our high altitude)
  • Doing simple tasks, like going to the grocery store, helping my sister run errands, escorting my niece to all her pre-prom activities, playing “hair-do” with my other niece…all because of the time spent together, the experience, the laughter and the chats that come with those activities

Oh, how the simplest things in life can bring such joy…

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Sorry I’ve been MIA…I have a post I’ve been meaning to publish about the simple pleasures enjoyed on my trip back to CT, but you know how it is when you return back from a week long trip: you hit the ground running once you return and this last week was no exception.

In addition to catching up on orders, I knew I needed to beef up my display at The Barn, so I spent some time this weekend making more magnets (strangely my most popular item there the past two weeks), creating new items and upcycling thrift store finds and painting/embellishing old goods to make them new again.  (Full disclosure, my photos are pretty awful, but I was either in a hurry, forgetting to take photos along the way or trying to dodge customers on a busy holiday, so please bear with my pitiful photos!).

So I painted over a bunch of thrift store frames with chalk paint (a great all-in-one, meaning no stripping/priming needed, paint that is great for distressing; and I painted inside because the huge wildfire in New Mexico made for a very smoky day that would have killed my lungs and eyes and this paint is non-toxic and doesn’t smell one bit)…

And for the large frame, I added strings of wire…

Which I then hung some vintage inspired magnets in my booth:

I made two new paper cone wreaths, including this star-shaped one (which I’m now not sure should be considered a wreath?)

Embellished simple ho-hum buckets with some paint, distressing and vintage hardware…

Painted some chicken wire baskets and whitewashed/embellished a birdhouse that was originally painted in hideous colors…and even painted and distressed this awful looking thrift store find:

Into this (wish I took more photos of the top but just got so busy and forgot…but the curves/lines and legs on this baby looked great painted over):

(Note I forgot to add the hardware knob prior to taking this picture!  Ay, it was a bad weekend for photos; will try to remember to take more before, during and after photos next time!)  This is my first piece of painted/distressed furniture (after spending a year reading/learning/following blogs and practicing on frames and smaller objects).  That’s it.  I’m addicted and can’t stop looking at furniture in thrift stores and imagining how I can turn pieces into something new!

After we reset my booth and added new items, we spent the rest of the day antique shopping and hitting up all the thrift stores on our path as many of them had 50% storewide sales because of the holiday.  Even ran into Mondo, the winner of Project Runway All Stars in a Denver thrift store!  Found a lot of great things and will share later in the week.

If you follow my artwork and are wondering why I haven’t posted anything recently, it’s because I haven’t painted in several weeks.  If you’ve followed me for a while you know that I’m not a paint-every-day kind of girl.  I have ebbs and flows…weeks of massive creation followed by sometimes long breaks.  I’m a creative girl and painting/collaging is just one of the many things I do to feed my creative inclinations (as evidenced above).  Sometimes I just feel like focusing on papercrafting, sometimes its painting things (rather than painting art), sometimes it’s cooking/baking; I try to follow my muse and wherever it takes me.  So my artwork will probably come back to me in a wave in the near future.  For now, I’m having fun going back to my roots and upcycling/making new uses out of old things.

Hope you all had a nice long weekend!

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The Barn

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Okay, I’m in the midst of running around with my sister, helping her daughter with prom, splitting time among family members and visiting favorite nostalgic spots…and the weather is fan-freakin-tastic so I’m a happy bird!

But…wanted to tell you about my *latest* endeavor!

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So a couple weeks ago I mentioned that I was pretty much collecting my eggs back from the proverbial baskets I had put them all into.  It was part of my New Year’s resolution to try different ventures for my business but I realized after the fact that I was going into the wrong ventures.  All things that didn’t feel right and were giving me that pit in my stomach.  I’m pretty big on listening to your gut so that’s what I did, even if it meant slowing things way down.

ImageHowever one of the ventures that I’ve been secretly hoping to get into was renting a booth out at a specialty kind of shop – one that features gifts and antiques, but those kind of places are hard to find.  Until I happened across the Barn.  I’ve spoken about it before in this post and the wonderful antique and handmade boutique feel it had.  I thought it would be a great fit for my stuff and left my info at the front desk for the owner in hopes of renting out the space.

When I never heard back I was a wee bit discouraged but now know that they don’t have much turnover and the wait list to get in is long (which is a good thing I now realize!).

ImageSo here’s my philosophical moment: I am a believer that when you clear clutter from your life (physical and emotional), you create space for good things (and things you’ve been wanting) to come into your life.

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Well wouldn’t you know that only a couple days after I terminated my art licensing agreement, I got an email from the owner of the place I was hoping to rent a booth, letting me know she had space.  I went to see it and it was the perfect sized space for my work.  I pay rent and a portion of sales and my booth operates like a permanent stall; there’s a central register, my work is tagged with my vendor number and I get paid weekly based on what I sell.  I really only need to visit weekly to spice up my booth and bring new material as needed.

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The day I went to see it was less than a week away from my trip to CT so I had to act FAST to set up before I left.  That means that for 4 days, David and I worked day and night to make, package and tag close to a thousand items (between cards, bookmarks, magnets and originals) – even on my birthday, we were working it!  Then we had to set it up and merchandise the space.

Here’s how it looked before…

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And here’s how it looks now:

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I’m really hoping it does well!  But I’m giving myself a pretty strict timeline to turn a profit (the fees aren’t cheap and neither is the gas to make the weekly 120 mile round trip drive) so if it works, then I’ll be a happy camper.  If it doesn’t, well, at least I’ve given it a shot in my never ending search to determine where I and my artwork fit in this world.  Though sometimes heartbreaking and always a lot of work, I’m learning so much with every venture I take on.

If ever you are in the Castle Rock area (situated right between Denver and Colorado Springs), hope you check out the great finds at The Barn!

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I’ll give a more thorough explanation later this week as I’m flying tomorrow morning to CT and have yet to pack, do laundry, etc.  But let’s just say that this girl just can’t sit on her hands and live a quiet life, no matter how much she tries to convince herself that’s what she wants!

More to come!

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…this is a fair amount of snow this late in the year!

I’ve seen snow year round in Colorado (the mountaintops can be covered in July and I’ve been caught in an August storm on the top of Mt. Evans once), and it snows at our house up until the middle of May (usually always on my birthday!) but usually just a dusting.

And we’ve never had our trees bloom before June before and they were sprouted in April (one branch actually sprouted the last week of March which is 2 months too early!).

And by the look of the bending branches, I’m just hoping they’ll pull through!  So while the rest of you are probably in Tee’s and flipflops drinking iced coffee,  I think it’ll be a hot cocoa day here!

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Actually, it doesn’t come that easy to me…

I was never a doodler in school…never doodled in the margins or around my note-taking while listening to teachers or professors lecture.  I was actually the orderly girl who kept her notes super neat, in the margins, certain parts highlighted with color coordinated highlighters.  My thinking was linear, symmetrical and organized.  In other words, I strived to be a perfectionist.

And I think that’s why I like mixed media art so much…it’s pushed me beyond my comfort zone and has forced me to be messy, un-calculated and spontaneous.  It’s helped me to loosen up.  But doodling does not come naturally…I’m actually having to learn how to doodle, as crazy as that sounds.  Swirls, checkers, patterns, flowers, hearts…feels very elementary, but also very fun and freeing.

Since I’ve been feeling a little funky with all that was going on and because I recently made the decision to leave art licensing altogether (as it unfortunately changed my style of artwork as I was being conditioned to create commercial artwork for a mass market – one of many reasons I determined that I wasn’t suited for art licensing), I felt like I needed to take some art workshops.  It was goal to not only learn new techniques, but also open up my creative portal once again create from the heart (rather than what I thought would sell or work in the licensing world).

As such, two of the classes I’ve signed up for are an art journaling class and a lettering class.  I’ve just started, but am really enjoying the process so far…especially the use of watercolors!

I’m hoping that art journaling will allow me to freely create and express myself in a journal that incorporates all sorts of mixed media, just freestyling…no pressure or expectations.

It’s been about 2 years since I last took a class, and I tell you, I love being a student and exploring.  Have you thought about taking a class, either local (adult ed., community college, through your parks and rec. dept, etc.) or online?  When it’s something you love doing or want to learn about, it’s that much more exciting and meaningful.  So what is it that you want to learn?

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It’s no surprise I have a sweet tooth.  I concede…I’m French Canadian.  Maple runs in my blood.  I’m just meant to crave the delightfully sinful stuff.

And I haphazardly bake despite my high altitude restrictions.  They don’t need to look pretty, they just need to taste good!

And this plate of goodies would have you thinking that I went on a baking spree, right?  Actually, this is a result of my cumulative baking efforts over the past 2 months.  Since it’s just the two of us, we always have too much to consume, so I always freeze about 3/4 of my batches after I make them.  That way, we get to enjoy the treats when they are fresh, but have only enough to satisfy our cravings before we get sick of them.  And then we get to enjoy them again at a later date without any effort put forth (and I swear they taste just as good…that’s if you use them up within in a couple months…I wouldn’t push it too much).

I find the best way is to put each muffin, cupcake or bar on a cookie sheet (fruit/cookie bars should be individually cut up and place on a sheet of wax paper atop the cookie sheet) and into the freezer for several hours or even overnight (a deep freezer/chest freezer is best as it will help to flash freeze the product).  I then take my frozen treats and place them into freezer ziploc bags and release as much air from the bag as possible.

Then all I’d have to do is take a sweet out of the freezer and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so (if I planned ahead) or throw in the microwave for a few seconds if I was impatient or didn’t plan ahead.  But now with the accumulation of baked goods over time, I now have an assortment of goodies for us to enjoy over the next couple of days.  It’s brilliant I tell ya!

Now, I just have to share with you the best jam recipe…and it’s so stinkin’ easy.  No cooking, no canning.  And you don’t even need fresh fruit!  It’s called freezer jam and you literally stir your ingredients, pour into jars and stick in the freezer for up to a year (or keep in your fridge for up to a month).

I had made freezer jam last year when I had a huge amount of blueberries on hand and we were getting tired of eating them.  David, having a former career in microbiology and fearing botulism, was weary of my canning anything.  Plus, I didn’t want to mess with the process.  I’m all about easy-peasy!

So I found a recipe somewhere (can’t recall where) and it came out pretty good…and sure enough, the batch lasted us almost a year.  But this time of year, we still don’t have lots of fresh fruit to pull from and I knew I had a bunch of bags of frozen fruit in the freezer that were once destined to get into healthful fruit smoothies, but alas were succumbing to freezer burn if I let them sit in there any longer.

Whenever I get the “I-wonder-if-I-can do…” moments, I start googling.  Google is my friend and has really helped me to be resourceful over the years.  So I started googling freezer jam with frozen fruit and everything required pectin.  So I picked some up at the grocery store and even found one by Ball specifically made for freezer jam.

Here is the their online recipe…I love it because it’s not too sweet, the addition of lemon zest imparts a wonderful clean/tangy flavor and it could not be easier.

For my recipe, I had two bags of frozen mixed berries and one bag of raspberries on hand, so that’s what I used; (I’m not sure exact size, but I’m thinking 10 oz?  Whatever the standard size is in the grocery store).  This amount was perfect to reach the 4 cups of fruit required.  I defrosted them a bit then gave them a whirl in my food processor to make it less chunky.  Added in the water/sugar/pectin mix and that’s it.  Done.

David and I were shocked at how good it was and have already polished one 8oz. jar.  A couple days later, I brought one jar to a friend with some scones and she, leaving the next day for a week long trip, sent me home with all the leftovers, except for the jam which she demanded to keep (to which I happily obliged!).  Seriously good, folks…you gotta try!

Have I mentioned I’m a really messy cook/baker?  It’s pretty bad.  But I’m good to clean it all up once I’m done…just don’t have the “use it and put it right away” mentality.

Finally, I checked out my favorite bread book – from which my homemade bread recipe is from – out of the library again, for like the 3rd time!  Each time I plan to make more recipes but end up running out of time.  Now that things have slowed down, I have it flagged with recipes I’m hoping to try and share with you in the next couple weeks before it’s due back (which means I should just break down and purchase it since there are always a ton of holds on it and I can’t renew).  More good stuff…

Food is good and I’m getting too fat.  Is there such a thing as happy fat?  ;)

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Evaluating

It’s been a couple weeks since I last posted, but I felt I needed to take a break and do an evaluation.

Truth is, I’ve been feeling a little melancholy…typically these emotional shifts last a day or two, but this one has hit harder and longer and it really started once we finished taxes.  Why, you might ask?  Well, although I had an idea all year long what my sales were, it was tricky to know my profit when I had yet to calculate all my purchases/expenses, taxes, inventory on hand and knowing that I sell a lot of different things with varying margins.  However, when the final calculation came in, it was determined that last year, I made $9,000 in profit.  That’s it.  And though “lucky” (relative term) to work from home, not have to deal with getting ready for work or having the right clothes to wear or making the commute, etc., it still comes out to a paltry $3-$4/hour with the average 50-60 hours a week I was working, most weeks 6-7 days a week.

And when I asked myself if I would repeat last year (all the hours put into building a business) over knowing all of this (how much I would make), would I do it again?

The answer, sadly, was no.  And that was pretty profound for me.

Yes, there are romantic notions about doing what you love (sure I love to paint and love to create new things) but those make up about 10% of the work week…the rest is all administrative (photographing, editing, listing, promoting, self-educating, taking care of small business tasks, answering inquiries, providing quotes that often go nowhere) and the manufacturing/distributing (ordering supplies, mini mass producing, creating promotional material to go with goods, packaging, wrapping, mailing), etc.  There’s so much more to it than I have even highlighted.  I always nod in agreement when I see new Etsy sellers comment on how much work it is to start your own business.  Grandeur notions of working less hours while working for yourself is quickly replaced with the reality that you work more, and for much, much less.

And going into my 3rd year of business, I’m starting to re-evaluate.  David and I made major shifts in our finances and spending so that I could leave the corporate world and spend time at home, with him and the dogs and live more simply.  Although it started that way, I soon got pulled back in to my old ambitious cycle of trying to one-up myself, grow big and quickly and unfortunately, use money/earnings as my metric for happiness.  But all I was doing was replicating the rat race from my previous life, but in my own home.  Work never left – if I wasn’t working on an order, I was creating something new or had my nose in my laptop trying to create more listings and do more work in the evenings up until I went to bed.  David was supportive of my endeavors, but I could see in his face he was disappointed that I was never present with him.  Life was once again centered around work.  And for only $9,000 a year.  Just.  not.  worth it.

So I’ve taken these couple of weeks to think and evaluate how I move forward at this point.  As it just happens, my skyrocketing sales in Feb/March have completely tanked in the last 4 weeks so things have been really quiet.  It’s hard not to let that affect your self-esteem when you equate sales with people liking your work.  So I’m trying to pull myself off of the money trail and back on the happiness trail (something I’ve struggled with a lot over the past couple years since leaving the corporate world) and use this extra free time to pursue the things that I do love and have lost in my busy-ness over the past year.  It’s hard because as much as I hate to admit it, money can mess with your head.  My heart is happy with the pace of life now but my ego is not, and I just need to learn to talk my ego down.

So instead I’ve been making a lot of food…fresh bread, oatmeal bars, jam, strudel topped banana muffins, soup, pasta, marinated/grilled anything and everything…and it’s been so very cathartic.  I’m making something that is enjoyed by others and isn’t tied to making money.  And I’m in a domestic mood…I’m actually enjoying doing dishes, laundry (there’s something about hanging clothes on the line that feels so grounding), spring cleaning, organizing, sorting…it’s like I’m nesting without being pregnant.  Something about doing such simple tasks that can make you feel so rooted, so grounded to the Earth, and for me, so happy.  I love going through my mental to-do list and checking off things that have been there for months.  And I even read a book!  Haven’t done that in over a year.

Although my days now are essentially what I’ve always wanted – a little bit of work (comparable to a part-time job) and a lot of time for myself and with David and the dogs, I still can’t help but feel a little bit of disappointment that my business isn’t taking off or yielding the results I had hoped.  I believe time is one of the most valuable commodities in this world, so I hate wasting it on something doesn’t bring me joy or that doesn’t pay off in the end.  And in many regards, I feel like I wasted an entire year trying to chase after a dream and build a small business.

I guess that’s what’s great about life…the opportunity to do-over, to change things up.  And while I’m not dropping my business/closing shop, I’m not going to spend time growing it, promoting it, and trying to make it uber profitable.  I’m going to just sit and be comfortable with a small level of activity, reaping the rewards of the hard work done before to get a customer base and a spot in the large Etsy community.  But I won’t do anymore to grow it beyond that.  It is what it is, and if orders come in…great, I’ll happily work on them.  And if they don’t I won’t have to worry about my self-esteem tanking and I won’t have to spend countless hours trying to pull business in.  Because that’s where I lost the majority of my hourly wage – not from the sales of items.

I’m glad we made lifestyle changes years ago that allowed us to live, save and invest with David’s income alone (which is a non-managerial, government job…in other words, not lofty by any means).  The choices we made then and continue to follow allow me to make this shift in my business without affecting our finances thankfully.  Starting my lil’ business was always a way for me to earn a little something doing what I love while we simplified our lives and clearly I lost sight of that.

And so I’m not sure what that means for this blog…part of me thinks I’ll blog less as this served as a platform to promote my business…but part of me thinks I’ll continue to blog the same though content will likely shift to more lifestyle-inspired posts, with artwork peppered in.  I just don’t think I’ll do scheduled posts because I want to blog because I feel inspired to, not because I feel I have to stick to a schedule (and thank you for understanding that).

So that’s where I’m at…I never realized that a blog I started 3 years ago for my friends and family would turn into such a personal diary and exploration of heart and ego…much of which has been examined quite a bit in the last year.  But that’s the thing about growing…it doesn’t necessarily have to mean bigger and better but often is richer when it is done with depth and bredth.

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