Monday, April 29, 2013

I Get By with a Little Help (from my friends)

Hey guys,

Happy Monday, I hope everyone enjoyed a nice weekend with your loved ones. If you noticed my lack-of-posting last Monday...well, I'm about to tell ya why. :)

Whew, it's been a long week. Last Sunday my poor husband was rushed to the ER. We soon discovered his gall bladder needed to come out immediately.  After emergency surgery and days of recovery (with some extra days that included minor complications) he is finally home, resting, and on his way to wellness.

What I'd like to talk about today is gratitude. I was once again reminded just how thankful I am for modern medicine and having the access to it. May everyone all over the world be just as fortunate, someday very very soon.

I am so very grateful for my family, my sweet husband and all the love he gives to us, my mom for dropping everything and rushing over to watch the kids, and the rest of our clan for checking in periodically to make sure we are all being taken care of.

Of course, our friends. Oh where would I be without the endless support and help from my chosen comrades? After hearing of our emergency and the dilemma of just what to do when visiting papa in the hospital with a 1 1/2 year old who loves pulling cords and running endlessly, our friends snapped to attention with offers of babysitting, meals, and soft shoulders in which to lay. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And I am so extremely thankful for kindness. The kindness of everyone from the ER staff, my husband's amazing surgeon, and each and every one of the compassionate, hard working, sweet, funny, tireless nurses who helped us every moment we both needed it. I was impressed and will be forever grateful to you for making our stay so much easier.

I wish everyone a wonderful week full of kindness & compassion, both given and received.

gratitude, kindness, compassion
2 of my loves

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bunny toys and homes

More about bunnies today, yay!
I mentioned before that I make my bunnies toys to play with and chew on. This is true; I've knit and crocheted them balls and other shapes out of twine, rafia, even actual hay. I've also made some cool rattles, barbells, and fun contraptions out of cardboard and wood.

But bunnies are pretty easy to please. Their favorite go-to toy? A toilet paper tube. They love it. They toss it around and chew on it and kick it. I score major bonus points if I stuff some hay inside before handing it over. Another huge hit, though it can require a bit of clean up, is a couple of ice cubes in a dish. Like I said; bunnies are easy to please.

And a big empty cardboard box? Forget it! They're even more in love with those than little kids! A week or two ago we got a nice big box in the mail. The packing material of choice was crumpled newspaper. This meant we had a giant box of crumpled newspaper when we were done. So last night when the bunnies were out playing we pulled out the box and dropped a bunny in. Otter was not as pleased as I thought he would be; he jumped out pretty quick.

Max decided I was just going about it wrong, and he was right! Max dumped the giant pile of newspaper on the floor and we sat back to watch. Otter and Zoey were tentative at first, but bunnies are insatiably curious critters. Soon they were in the pile. They chewed, nosed, dug, pushed the balls around, hid in it, pounced on each other. It was totally adorable. Of course, they also spread it across the whole room, but it was totally worth the clean up.

Here's the first few minutes:

And some still shots:

I've also had people ask about their cage. It's actually amazingly easy and cheap to build an awesome bunny palace like the one you see here. This pen/cage combo is made from 2 packages of modular wire shelving and one big bag of zip ties. Plus some cheapo cotton mats for the flooring. It's really easy; you just zip tie the wire squares one at a time into a big hollow box the size you want then add floors of more wire squares. Ours is fancy in that it has a full length hinged door to make cleaning out each floor easier and in case we need to snag a bunny from a corner.

Then the pen is just more wire squares, zip-tied into a wall. The wall splits in the middle so the pen can open wide for them to come out and play or me to go in and clean. Then the floor is just our floor with a bunch of towels thrown down. This makes clean up easy; I shake out the towels and toss them in the washer. Plus, bunnies like to be able to arrange their house, so having a bunch of towels means they can redecorate how they see fit. Add a couple of big potties, food, water, hay, and you're done! Bunny palace!

The 3-story cage

The open pen
Ok, hope you enjoyed the bunny-fix!


Saturday, April 20, 2013


Elephant Family sent Aria a thank you card.  It made her day.  I loved reading the card to her and watching as her smile grew wider.  It now sits by her bed as a reminder that every person, no matter how small, is capable of great things.  <3


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grab Bag of Awesomeness

I don't have anything profound to say today. It's just not been that sort of week. Between life busy-ness and more horror in the news I'm feeling a little emotionally spent. Instead, this week, I'm just going to share some awesome stuff with you. No particular theme; no particular order. I hope you find something here to make you smile. :)

Have you heard about the bus stop swing set that plays music? It's seriously amazing and I really want one. The mathematician in me gets all giddy thinking about the period of motion, harmonics, scale, etc that these play with. Check it out.

Ever seen a sand art video? Here's one of my favorites:
 So beautiful!

And here's a great song with its story told by toast.

I love OK Go. One of my other favorite videos by them is their Rube Goldberg Machine one. But here's another fabulous RG machine to watch and smile about:

And finally, a genius idea. I'm seriously thinking of having about a million of these printed up.

I can't claim to have come up with this idea. I've seen this all over the web, so I'm not sure who the original source is, but here's where I found it. Whoever you are; hat's off - brilliant idea.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Handmade Business Meeting Mondays - Craft Fair Tips

Happy Monday guys!

I'm staying on topic - how to grow your handmade business - woo hoo! Can you tell I'm proud of myself? hah.

So this week I just put in an application for our first craft fair of the season and I thought a nice post with some craft fair survival tips would be nice to share. Craft fairs are a great way to expose new potential customers to your awesome crafts and have fun to boot. Here's some general tips as well as a supply list for the big day:

1. Figure out the right fit for you.
When we first started showing at craft fairs last year it became very apparent that sales were great at schools and child-centered events (especially Waldorf Schools) and pretty dismal at hipper/adult-centric fairs. Originally, I had thought, well I'm hip and I love our dolls so there's going to be some cool parents/aunts/uncles out there that bring home our dolls as gifts, right? And of course there were - but not nearly as many as the crowds that attend events geared specifically for children. Duh, right? hah. Live and learn.
So, do your homework, go to the fairs yourself, see what fairs other crafty people in your area that sell to the same demographic like to show at. You will be paying $$ to have a booth, not to mention your time and effort - so choose wisely. And, you know, sometimes a Fair just won't be the right fit for one reason or another. That's okay. Just make a note of it, and move on to find the fairs that become successful for you and your products.

2. The Application
Well, ya can't expect to be included if ya don't apply. My big tip, apply often and early, very early. Most Fairs start accepting applications 3-5 months before the Fair date. So, even though you're packing up the rest of your winter holiday orders, some springtime craft fair deadlines may have passed you by. My advice: keep a running list of the fairs you like and their general app due dates. Also joining a fb craft fair group or discussion board for your area is super helpful to stay on top of it and be introduced to new fairs you may not have heard of.
When you apply, make sure you do as instructed - don't leave anything blank. The point is to be accepted, so make your application shine. This is the first introduction with the judges after all. Make sure pictures of your work show how amazing they are and that your website/etsy shop is lookin' gooooooood.

3. The Booth itself
Occasionally, the Fair will provide you with a table and chairs - but most often they don't. So be prepared to have the trunk space to load everything up. And, of course, you can't just stop with having a table and a place to sit, what you need is a display that looks amazing and gets people interested. I could probably do a whole blog post about different ways to set-up an amazing display, so instead I'll let you do your homework & guide ya in the right direction:

There's a cool flickr page called SHOW ME YOUR BOOTHS that is great for ideas. Do a few google and pintrest searches for "craft fair booths ideas" and you'll be inspired in no time.

4.  Inventory to bring
I recommend, if possible, to have more than you think you'll ever sell in a day and a wide range of price points.
For example, at our Tansy Dolls booth - we display a couple of our most expensive dolls (our 16") for $200. Then a larger quantity of our 10" dolls ($95), and even more of our 5" dolls ($25). We round it out with quite a few needle-felted critters (at $15) and doll clothes (ranging from $10-45). Depending on your product and pricing it may not be possible to have such a range, but having some product under $20 really helps introduce your work to people who may have limited funds but really want to support you and take away something cool from the fair.
Now, a note about bringing more than you even hope to sell - you don't want to crowd your tabletop with everything you've ever made. Rather, keep inventory hidden under your table and replenish when necessary. You want your presentation to look nice, not cluttered. Make sure your prices are clear and displayed for easy reading.

5. A Supply List/Fair Survival Kit Check List:
1. Table
2. Tablecloth
3. Backdrop
4. All other display set-up, an overhead tent if outside
5. Merch
6. All Signage
7. A way to accept credit cards, whether through square, intuitor paypal. A manual imprinter (example here) is also a good idea to have if the fair doesn't have wifi access.
8. A 'We except Credit cards' sign
9. Biz cards and holder
10. Something special for them to take away with them: A nice postcard, stickers, etc...
11. Discount coupons to include with purchases
12. Receipt Book (keep track of what sold!)
13. Money Box with at least $120 in change. $40 ones, $40 fives & $40 tens.
14. Packing Supplies - boxes, tissue paper, bags, butcher paper, Scissors, Tape (Various types – Scotch, double-sided, masking & duct), pens, twine, pencils, stapler
15. Price list  
16. Hard candies & cute candy dish
17. Trash Bags
18. Basic tools – hammer, screwdriver, clamps
19. Ribbon – good to hang stuff from tent and affix items to table.
20. Craft show details – starting time, break-down time, organizer’s contact info, etc.
21. Personal Items: Sunscreen, cooler with water, snacks, lunch. Headache medicine, Mints, camera, 22. Bring some craft stuff to work on
23. If outside, a bowl of water and dog treats for your customer's animal friends
24. If you run your business by yourself - bring a friend or two! You will need bathroom & food/drink breaks. If you can't find a friend, make friends with the people set-up beside you (of course, you should do this anyway, right? :)

6. Etiquette
Be friendly! Smile when people come close and greet them with a simple hello. Let them browse uninterrupted and don't be an aggressive salesperson (I'm not sure anyone likes that, do they?) If they want to talk or have questions, be genuine, open and honest. You obviously love and believe in your product, so let that part of you shine. Thank people. Relax. Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the show. :)
Craft Fair Tips, preparing for craft fairs
an example of one of our first booth set-ups

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Welcome to the Wonderful, Wacky World of Aria

About 3 years ago, two very interesting friends entered my daughter's life. Aria woke up one day and told me about Dega and Looga, two aliens who had left outer space and taken up residence in our apartment. I had no idea that they would become such a big part of our lives. Nor did I suspect that many more would join them. But in the last three years, her two imaginary friends not only remained central characters is many of her outrageous stories but the cast of characters grew. Into our lives entered Baby Seven, Baby Bear, Andrea, Pearce John, and Fiano plus a multitude of characters that still remain nameless. In addition, a select number of her stuffed animals took on personalities and became “real” to Aria, in that they had distinct personalities and could no longer be referred to as toys but instead as her pets or siblings.

A drawing of Dega and Looga.  Circa 2011.
To say that my daughter has an extremely active imagination is an understatement. If you ask her if her friends/pets/siblings are imaginary, Aria will nod her head in agreement. I think she knows what the term means. She understands that they are not “real” in the same sense as her friends Max and Stella and yet they are very real in the sense that she cares intensely about them and they help her make sense of the complex and often confusing world around her.

It has been interesting to watch over the years as she constructs elaborate stories, personalities, and even families around each character. The more established imaginary friends have extensive life histories complete with complex family trees. Dega and Looga have always been brother and sister; Baby Seven later joined the arena as their little sibling. While the three are the only members of the family that make actual “appearances,” Aria has spoken about their parents before.

This is Tootsy, one of Dega's dogs.  He can fly.
I think the thing that is most curious to me is the role her imaginary friends play in helping Aria work through her concerns and questions about the world, both big and little. Dega, Looga, and Baby Seven were abandoned by their parents and as a result have apparently become my foster children. Pearce John is a young boy who loves to wear purple dresses but is teased horribly about it. In an attempt to hide that he is a boy, he has grown his green hair out so that people will think he is a girl. Of course each tragic story requires a long extensive conversation about why people do hurtful things and the need to be everyday heroes in the lives of others. The flip side of each tragedy is a story about compassion and courage. Dega, Looga, and Baby Seven may have been abandoned by their parents but they found a new family that cares for them. Pearce John is bullied, yet he also has a sister who stands up for him and encourages him to be true to himself.
Baby Bear is one of the newer characters in Aria's Wonderful, Wacky World.  She is also one of the few that doesn't actually live with us.  She lives with her mother and father in the woods.
The other night when Aria was supposed to be going to sleep, she whispered to me from her pillow, “Momma, I am worried about Dega and Looga.” Tempted to lecture her about stalling tactics, I instead asked her about her concerns. It took some time to work through them and she was on the verge of tears the entire conversation, but finally she found a place of peace.

After she fell asleep, I stayed awake thinking about the opportunity that had been presented to me to teach my daughter about compassion and I was thankful that at least this time I made the right choice. Rather than dismiss her concerns, I validated them and helped her work through them. Sometimes her imaginary friends can be exhausting. I feel like I am forever mediating between a series of drama filled events with an invisible crew of friends, but then I recall all the opportunities they have presented to us to both teach and learn important life lessons and I am grateful for them.   


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sugar rush!

My Wednesdays seem to be getting later and later. Life is way too busy right now. I prefer not to think about the number of things I must have forgotten this week. Ug.

But there has been some good cooking, especially of desserts, around here lately so I thought I'd shore some of that with you.

For Easter we went to a wonderful potluck and I brought desserts. It's kind of my thing. I mean, I can make some yummy meals and perfectly respectable side dishes, but it's the end of the meal where I really shine. So here are some of the sugary wonders that have come out of my kitchen in the last few weeks.

It started with Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes.

These are pretty dang amazing. My favorite cupcake to date, in fact. The icing is kind of a revelation. It's like  the love child of a seven minute icing and a buttercream. Yuuuuum! Very worth the time and effort.

I make the Best Lemon Cupcakes from The Stir found here. I really like the fresh lemon smell from the zest, but the extract makes sure that lemon flavor really comes through even after baking.

Then top them with the truly spectacular frosting from Love and Olive Oil found here. Seriously; you'll have a new favorite.

If you're feeling ambitious like I was for Easter, make double the frosting and use the leftovers to fill some delectable macarons like the one's by Martha Stewart found here. Yum! I'm not always nuts for macarons, but this frosting tipped them over the edge for me.

Somehow we didn't manage to get many pictures of these before they disappeared, but the cupcake Max is holding in Robin's post from Friday is one of the lemonade version.

That was quite a sugar rush, especially on top of all the Easter treats, so the rest of the week was pretty dessert-free. But then, last Sunday, I got sugary again. This time it was in celebration of Robin's birthday. One of her favorite dessert combinations is hazelnut and chocolate, so when my mom gave me The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and I saw the recipe for the Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake I knew I'd have to make Robin one.

It was pretty friggin' great. It's basically a dozen of so crepes with hazelnut pastry cream in between each, all topped with chocolate ganache. Yummy! I made a bunch of extra crepes and that's what Max and I had for dinner. And dessert. And second dessert. Max decided he likes his best with fresh strawberries, blueberry jam, and powdered sugar. Soooooo good.

I hope you give some of these a try! Let me know how it goes! What are your recent favorites?


Monday, April 8, 2013

Handmade Business Meeting Mondays - Glorious Taxes

Happy Monday, everyone!

Well, I'm stickin' to my word and beginning Handmade Business Monday today. Considering I just finished Tansy Dolls' taxes (hooray! I hope this reads dripping with sarcasm, like I intended.)

Anywhoooooo, I thought I'd impart some of what I've learned over my many years of being a freelancer and running my own businesses. I hope this helps ya, please join in the conversation if you have something you'd like to add. I certainly don't know everything and I'd appreciate some tips!

1. Find a local CPA that treats you well.
As a small business owner, I sure do appreciate when people consciously choose to buy locally and I feel no different when deciding which businesses I choose to support. My advice? Avoid the bigger companies at tax time - they will charge you the same (possibly more) and you will not be treated with as much one on one attention from someone who really wants to earn your trust and have you return to them next tax season.

That said, ask around if you have any friends that are freelancers, artists, or small business owners. Most likely they've found someone they enjoy working with. Nothing is better than a confident referral to cut your time down finding the right person for the job. And, if that person doesn't do a top-notch job for you, then next year ask around again and find someone else. Eventually, you will find a CPA that is totally awesome and you'll be confident everything is where it's supposed to be.

2. Save all of your Receipts.
I know, I know, you've heard this before. But, seriously, save everything. Most likely, if it's your first time itemizing your deductions you'll be surprised at what you can write off. Ideally, you should keep a running total of your spending month by month. Of course, if you're like me, you'll probably be stuck sorting and tallying up a huge bag of receipts at the end of the year. Yup, don't expect to hand your CPA a bag of receipts, oh no, you will be creating a spreadsheet with the totals of your spending in neat little categories (make sure to save the actual receipts in a file at home though, in case the dreaded day comes when you are audited.)

Here's a handy-dandy look into what sort of categories you can expect to have: Art Supplies, Office Supplies, Website hosting/Domain, Advertising, Postage/Shipping, Phone, Internet, Client Gifts, Client Meals, Business Meeting Meals, Business Miles Driven (this is a great one, with big savings, so keep track of those miles), Travel (includes all meals, transportation, hotel, and even entertainment), the depreciation of your computer, and on and on...

So talk to that amazing local CPA you found and I bet they'll know exactly how you need to categorize your deductions to get the most out of your earnings.

3. Know your Inventory.
So, say you bought $4,000 worth of material supplies this year  (more specifically, the art materials you use to craft your super cute crafts that you sell , not your office supplies, etc...) Then you actually used $2,000 worth of them, and only sold $1,000 worth. That leaves you with $2,000 worth of unused supplies for future sales in addition to those $1,000 worth of already-finished cute crafts just waiting to be sold. In other words, $3,000 worth of unsold supplies that need to be carried over into next year's taxes.

It could look a lil' somethin' like this:
Art materials purchased: $4,000
Materials used in the crafts we sold: $1,000
Materials used in the crafts that haven't sold yet: $1,000
Materials we haven't used yet: $2,000

Confused? You CPA won't be, and they'll help you figure it out. So, just trust me, keep an inventory of art supplies, an approximation of what was actually used, and the hard numbers of what sold.

4. What to expect to Pay.
You can expect to be charged anywhere from $300-$500 (and with the right accountant, it's worth every penny.) Some CPA's will give you a 'first time' rate. Don' t forget to mention that friend that referred you! Most likely they'll get a discount too.

5. Get everything in to your fabulous CPA early.
Your accountant will have a long list of clients all expecting to have their taxes filed before the 15th, so you'll be getting in line! If you wait until the end of March to get them your info, you can be sure that you'll be one of the many to have to file an extension because you'll be handing your taxes in late. Now, being late with your taxes isn't the heart-stopping-worst-thing-you-could-ever-do like a lot of people seem to think. But, it will cost you money - late penalties and extra interest if you owe. The object is to save you money, after all. So, yeah, git'er done!

Well, I think that's enough for today, I can feel the gears in my brain shutting down. I hope this helps, guys! Have a great week!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Picture Friday

Its PICTURE FRIDAY!  Otherwise known as, "Aria is sick so I'm going to post some pictures and keep this short and sweet so I can get back to taking care of my little goober." Anyhow, last Sunday we spent Easter with Cady and her family out in the country.  Aria and I are so lucky to have such good friends in our lives.  Seriously.  Our friends are family to us.

Max holds out one of the most delicious cupcakes ever!  Cady made them and I swear they are at the top of my favorite desserts list.  The icing...oh my goodness...melt in your mouth deliciousness.
The country suits Aria well.  The fresh air, the dirt, the trees...she really thrives in such an environment, where she can run wild.  If I didn't think I'd go a bit batty, I'd move to the country.  We'll have to settle for visiting it.
According to Aria, these are fairy brooms.  Makes sense to me!
Oh Max. Heh.
Grandma Julie and Aria.  This would be Cady's mom.  She is seriously one fabulous lady and I feel fortunate that Aria considers her to be one of her grandmas as well.  She was telling me the other day how she has so many wonderful grandmas..."Grandma Shellie, Halmoni, and Grandma Julie."  <3
And finally, Aria and her team of elephant savers raised $1000 for Elephant Family.  I am pretty proud of my little Leader of the Elephant Savers.  She is kind and compassionate, driven and motivated.  I can't wait to see the great things she does with her life. 
Alright, off to care for my little force of good.  Being sick is no fun but its always nice when you have someone around to care for you.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Super Easy Crochet Bracelet


Life has been very busy recently and I've been feeling like I can't finish projects. Any projects. Or even the dishes.

You know what I need when I feel like that? A fast, easy project to get me rolling again. I love instant-gratification crafts for that. So, in case you do too I thought I'd share one with you today.

I first made this because our very own Robin had it pinned on one of her Pinterest boards. It's a great project because it's quick, easy, yet lovely.

Materials: Small crochet hook, embroidery floss, beads, clasp.

Step 1: Pick a color of embroidery floss and a handful of beads. These beads could be all the same, or a wide variety inspired by a color combo like mine, or anything else.

Step 2: Thread all the beads onto the embroidery floss. This could be randomly like mine, or in a pattern.

Step 3: Start a chain stitch with a small crochet hook. (I used a size 1 hook.) Here's a video by the Knit Witch if you're not sure how to do a chain stitch. It's basically just a series of slip knots.

Step 4: Continue in the chain stitch. Every 5-10 stitches, slide one of your beads down to the work area and keep going.

Step 5: Continue chain stitch until desired length is reached. The one I made Robin was a good 3 feet, I think. The nice part of having one so long is that then it can be anything; a bracelet, a necklace, even a decorative belt!

Step 6: Attach a clasp to the ends and enjoy!

Trust me, this one comes together really fast. It feels great being able to take such a good looking project from start to finish in one session. Just the sort of project to make me feel like I can accomplish something!


Monday, April 1, 2013

Takin' Care of Business

Happy Monday everyone (and Happy April Fools Day - warning! hah. Thank goodness it's only one day a year, am I right?)

I hope those that celebrated Easter or Springtime (as we do in our family) this weekend had a wonderful time. We joined some friends for an egg hunt that was incredibly cute. I'm feeling very thankful this week to have such an awesome community of parents & friends here in sunny Portland (that's right, I said SUNNY - well, this week anyway... :)

The coolest part of being a member of Tansy Dolls is most definitely knowing that children are snuggling and being comforted by our little dollies. Even better is getting to see them get excited at craft fairs or when we drop off locally, and getting pictures is second best. I've been an artist most of my adult 'working' life, and handmaking these beauties with such good intentions has been incredible, a highlight of my career.

Tansy Dolls Bamboletta Dragonflys Hollow Bunny
Here's a pic of some bunnies we made for 4 sweet siblings getting ready for their Easter baskets
And we're approaching our ONE YEAR anniversary! This year has flown by for me, I feel like we've grown so much - but I'll save that for a future post.

What I've really been thinking about lately is getting Tansy Dolls seen more. I feel like the quality of our dolls are top-notch, but we need to get on it so more people know who we are (or rather, I, considering I'm heading our marketing and promotion.) I've spent these first few months really focused on our line of dolls, and now I need to dust off the gears in the left side of my brain and get to the 'business' side of business.

So, I think these next few Mondays I'm going to devote to business planning, brainstorming, being inspired, and any ol' topic that will help me wrap my head around blazing a trail for Tansy Dolls. In the process, I hope some of you join the conversation, get ideas, and share the wisdom you've aquired while promoting your small business.

This week, I'd like to share a gem of a book - The Handmade Marketplace, by Kari Chapin (look, I've even created a link for you to get it here from Powells (not that other online bookstore that shall not be named...ahem...heh ;)
Kari Chapin's Handmade Marketplace
This book is chalk-full of excellent ideas, not only for older companies but for beginning businesses that need advice on the right way to get the best start. She pretty much covers everything from taxes to conducting your business in an ethical way and she has a ton of amazing contributors sharing what they've learned.

What books do you love? I'd love to start a reading list!

Have a great week, everyone. Until next time...