Thursday, February 25, 2010

TheJuneBride News: Featured in Etsy Finds

Today has been a big one already in my little Etsy world... I received the Etsy Finds daily shopping email and, to my surprise and delight, I saw my Silk-Dyed Easter Egg Kit was featured. Here is a link to the article - Etsy Finds: Spring Fever.


Less than 3 hours later, I've sold somewhere around 35-40 kits. I really had quite a few on hand and had even made 10 more this very morning before the feature (which I did not know about ahead of time!), but I'm sold out and now beginning to take backorders. It still seems manageable right now, but that could change fast. I'm thrilled, but it's reminding me to be careful what I wish for :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

From the Kitchen: Snow Day Ice Cream

I just had to add this as a quick little bit today, since we've just gotten a whole heaping lot of snow, school was cancelled and we found ourselves in desperate need of distraction.


I've made snow ice cream before... my friend Natalie gave me these quick, easy directions maybe 2 years ago, and it's been a seasonal favorite from the get go. Today was the perfect day for making it... you want to use newly-fallen snow that did not fall in the first 2 hours of accumulation (those first 2 hours worth have cleaned the air on their way down and will have possible pollutants in it). But the fresh stuff on top is nice, clean and ready to use!

You need:

1 gallon of fresh snow
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
Directions:
Mix. Eat!


Mmmm hmmmm... the kids loved it. I mixed a little blackberry jelly into a bit of it for extra flavor, but you could use any other flavoring you prefer or just eat as it is. We generally give up treats for Lent, but with Easter so early and being sick on our only other Snow Day, we made a singular exception for this. This ice cream won't keep in the freezer, so there no risk of future guilty indulgences :)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

From the Kitchen: Citrus Marmalade

I have a confession to make... I had never eaten marmalade. Until yesterday.

Marmalade? Isn't it a European thing? What is marmalade anyway? Apparently it is a fruit preserve made with any citrus fruits, sugar and water. I am not a huge citrus fan, probably because I do not enjoy peeling the fruit and smelling like it for hours after. Incidently, my kids love oranges, clementines and mandarins and you can guess who gets to peel. That said, I love good grapefruit when I can get it and I also enjoy a glass of pulp-free orange juice every month or so.


In the new bread book I am working my way through, I came across a recipe for "Laura's Three-Citrus Marmalade". It looked intriguing and, as we are in the inexpensive throes of citrus season, I decided it would be a prudent and timely project that would also incorporate my ongoing love affair with canning jars. The recipe in the book was an adaptation of a recipe found on Sure-Jell pectin boxes, but had the added flavor of grapefruit in the mix. I adapted it further to use what I had on hand and to suit my anti-pulp taste. So what I made might not be real marmalade because it doesn't have fruit or rind chunks in it, but it was everything I could have wanted and more. My only complaint is that it set hard... next time I will dilute it more or use less pectin for a more jammy consistency.

Here's what I used:

1 grapefruit
3 navel oranges
1 lemon
1 clementine (I couldn't resist)
2.5 cups water
1/8 tsp baking soda
5.5 cups sugar
1.75 oz box Ball pectin
Here's what I did:

Peel the zest from all the fruit with vegetable peeler. Toss in pot with water and baking soda. Bring to a rolling boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, remove (and discard) white pith from fruit, chop fruit into smaller pieces and reserve any juice. Add fruit to the water/zest mixture, bring back to a full boil and simmer again for another 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain, removing all pulp and zest. Squeeze pulp to conserve as much liquid as possible, then discard pulp. Add 1 to 2 cups water to the liquid and bring back to a full boil. Add pectin and dissolve completely. Add sugar, dissolve and bring back to a full boil. Cook 1 minute longer. Skim foam, if necessary, and pour hot marmalade into pre-cleaned canning jars and process to seal.

Not-too-long story short, after a comparatively brief stint in the kitchen, I had three beautiful pint jars to show for my labor. It was too aromatic not to scrape up the leftover sugary coating in the pot and spread it generously over a chunk of bread (incidentally, the master recipe from the same book). My 3 year old helper said "Mom, I'm getting hungry just looking at that." So I had to share, but I got a little unexpected help with the photography in exchange.


Happiness can be many things, but enjoying your own marmalade on your own bread with your own little helper... now that's a very special kind of domestic bliss :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Product Review: iprintfromhome.com

In preparation to begin selling some of my photographic work in my second Etsy shop, LEVEL, I looked online and offline for the very best in terms of fine art printing. When I received my first order from iprintfromhome.com, I knew I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.


I had seen a recommendation for them somewhere online by a person who had never used their service, but I looked up the site anyway to see. I had a small initial order planned for some prints for my own walls and, after looking at their very reasonable pricing, I decided they were worth a shot. My order consisted of 3 sets of three photos... 12" by 12", 8" by 10" and 5" by 5". I also ordered one other 5" by 7" that I thought would be a good test of the luminosity afforded by their metallic paper. When I opened the very sturdy and securely-packaged parcel (which arrived within 4 days with free shipping, FYI), I just couldn't believe how beautiful they were. The metallic paper offers a bright, lightbox-like effect and I don't have a single criticism of the quality and precision of the printing. The 12x12 prints are crystal clear and stunning.


Obviously there are going to be common points of consideration among all artists for making fine art prints. Price and quality are very important, but also processing and delivery speed, customer service and secure packaging. I was impressed by all accounts. They also sent a sample of their other papers and finishes with a color comparison showing other artwork, and they would do lovely giclee prints as well.

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I get good service, I try to let them know. So I sent my feedback to iprintfromhome.com... and they added me to their "Happy Artists" section. Nice. As if they needed to sweeten the deal :) I am looking forward to ordering from them again when I'm ready to begin offering my prints online.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Home Sweet Home: Happy Valentine's Day

My morning glories produced this image last Fall, and I saved it just for today.


Regardless of your romantic status at the moment, I hope your year is full of love and joy, hope and peace :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Product Review: TaxACT Online

Having gathered all the information I need to file my taxes for 2009, I logged into CompleteTax.com to begin. I've filed my federal and state returns using CompleteTax for the past 4 years and it has been easy and affordable. I think it was about $35-40 last year for the same service I needed this year. Last year was my first time needing a Schedule C, and it went without a hitch. Except that we forgot to actually print it out after filing. That is not really a problem for submitting it to the IRS... that went fine, but we just forgot to print a copy for our records. So, when this year rolled around and we considered hiring a real CPA to do our taxes, I needed a copy and couldn't get one. Long story short... it took a month and cost me $10 to get a .pdf version of our 2008 return through CompleteTax, and dealing with their help staff left me annoyed.

I decided not to use a CPA because I'd have to get everything basically ready anyway, and was still planning to use CompleteTax for our 2009 return if only because it would auto-import all the necessary data from the 2008 return. This year they rolled out a 4 tier pricing structure, and charged fees depending on one's "individual tax needs". Unfortunately (for them), there didn't seem to be a way to log in and select any other version than their most expensive "premium" tax return service since I own a small business. Surely I need not pay $79.99 to e-file both state and federal, right? Apparently I would using CompleteTax. I wrote them a snippy email asking what my options were with their software, but they still haven't responded yet. So sad. Not giving up my intended completion deadline, this morning I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and re-enter all the info from the 2008 return into whatever new program I decided to use.

After a bit of Googling reviews of other, hopefully less expensive e-filing software provided some surprising revelations. Turbotax was universally the highest ranked software (not surprising, actually), but the requisite fee would have been equitable to CompleteTax's small fortune. Then there was TaxACTonline... it came in 2nd and 3rd in the overall comparisions I found and cost (get this) a whopping $17.95 to e-file both state and federal and any other common forms necessary. Higher ranked than CompleteTax! Bingo! All the reviews said it was user friendly and thorough, so here we go...

After signing up for a new account, the first thing I was asked was whether or not I had a .pdf version of my 2008 return to import. What? I don't have to manually enter all that again? Awesome. It took about 5 seconds to import. Beautiful.

4 heavily interrupted hours later (I was simultaneously feeding and dosing and distracting 3 children) and... *tada!*... I'm all done! Despite a little bit of confusion surrounding expensing 2009-purchased section 179 property with this particular software, it went quickly and without too much angst. So I saved more than $60 by switching from CompleteTax.com, and the process was just as quick and painless as it has been e-filing in the past.

Ahh, the one day each year that I'm completely on top of the financial arena.... now I'm going to go have a snowball fight and bake Valentine's Day cookies :)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Get Crafty: Organizing, Part II

Well... progress is going as well as could be hoped given the circumstances. We had an unexpected young overnight guest, a flu bug in the house and a consequently cancelled day of Grandma babysitting (bless that woman!). So I'm not as far along with the tidying up as I'd like to be, though I really can't complain. My work area is very accessible now, if unfinished, and I'm mentally ready to be done cleaning up so I can use all the great things I've uncovered while organizing! Sort of a self-imposed craft version of "water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink."

Just to make myself feel good later when I look back to read this, here's what I've done in the past 5 days (aside from caring for the sick and other necessary but not-so-relevant tasks):

Sweaters sorted into 8 bins by color
Other fabrics sorted into 8 bins by type
Thread organized within reach at sewing area
Notions organized into magnetic desktop storage
Ribbon organized and made accessible
Shipping supplies consolidated
Packaging materials consolidated
Shipping station set up
Usable but unnecessary items set aside for donation
Unusable items recycled or thrown away
Michigan 2009 Sales Tax Return completed
MS Access database updated with all PayPal 2009 information
MS Excel Schedule C worksheet set up for 2009 tax return

And here's what I still want to do by the end of the weekend:

Sort vintage buttons (this is a biggie!)
Organize vintage trims (also a big task)
Make all the bins of supplies fit somewhere!
2009 Federal and State Tax Return and Schedule C

Today has been mainly spent dealing with tax-related issues... well, that and cleaning vomit off a couch. I've very heartened at how "easy" it has been so far. Last year, only my first year filing a Schedule C but my umpteenth year filing my own taxes, I made a Schedule C worksheet in Microsoft Excel that helps organize and calculate all the numbers that I need to know to actually fill out the form. It worked great, so this year I just made a copy of last year's worksheet, cleared out the old data but left the formulas, so this year *should* be a breeze. To actually get the raw numbers from purchases, sales, sales tax and other requisite data, I download info directly from PayPal (which I use exclusively for business) in .csv format and import it into a Microsoft Access table. No entering by hand! Then I can search, crunch and query my way to the bits and pieces I need. It helps to have some database experts around as well as the "MS Access for Dummies" book (not kidding!). It's worked well for my needs and has been very much worth the time invested in learning to use it. Even if I have someone else prepare my taxes in the future, I'd need to do this anyway and is really about 80% of the work.

I realize I've had about 5 or 6 posts now with not a picture to show for it. I'll make up for it soon, I promise!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Get Crafty: Organizing, Part I

Since this is officially my week of TIDY, I am tackling my workspace one scrap, one button, one roll of ribbon at a time. After a weekend spent enjoying winter with my family and a day reflecting on what I need to accomplish this week, I have assessed the situation so as to best attack the problem. Today's tasks include rounding up some storage essentials that I already have around, divining creative solutions for my personal variety of clutter and learning how to use my new labeler. So far, I'm on track.

This is where I'm starting from, in an order on the upswing to keep my spirits and motivation high:

THE UGLY

Sorry folks... I'm too embarrased to put up before, or even in-progess pictures of my full work area today. I took a few for posterity and to motivate me to not let it get this bad again, but I don't think they'll ever be suitable for public consumption. Blackmail, maybe. My area consists of about a quarter of our suburban, not-huge, not-well lit, unfinished basement. Glamorous, no? But add into that area part of the staircase, a sump pump and the laundry area. We technically have one extra bedroom that could have been an above-grade workspace but, in all honesty, I have 3 little kids that must still be watched at all waking hours of the day. I need a place to work and coexist with my offspring, so the kid-friendly basement won out over other areas of the house. My work regularly spills out, and not in an organized way. I envision a future with at least one "work in progress" bin that can travel upstairs or outside, as needed.

THE BAD

I have a LOT of materials. Bulky wool sweaters that need to be organized by color, if not fiber content. A full spectrum of fleece. I'm a fully-entrenched toolaholic. I have lots of notions and sewing accessories. Buttons, ribbon, vintage trim, patterns, elastic, velcro, adhesives, yarn, leather and other ephemera. All my props and baskets and the whole setup for a 8' market stall share my work area. I also need to accomodate my sewing machine, my serger, a cutting table and a laptop/printer workstation to accomplish my shipping routine and store my packaging materials. Right now all those things technically have a spot, but I'm hopping over mountains of odds and ends trying to get where I'm going. Just doing laundry is becoming a prize-worthy feat of balance and dexterity.

THE GOOD

I have a lot of storage items already around from previous forays into the world of organized crafting, so my costs for making a ship-shape studio will be minimal. I really do have enough space, even if I just made it sound like I don't. And I have a secret weapon... my husband is very handy! I can have a couple structural elements tweaked to my preferences, especially under the stairs and over the sump pump, to maximize my storage for the bins and boxes I have on hand... and all for the very reasonable price of eternal love and affection. And maybe some cookies.

I'm feeling optimistic. My goal is to have it tidy enough down there by the end of the week to see the top of my cutting area. I think I can, I think I can...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Etsy Thoughts: Creating with Reckless Abandon

I've been fairly prolific lately, making all sorts of things and streamlining production, packaging and presentation. Imagining and prototyping new products, new variations and new ways to bundle and price them. Exploring new consumer venues in both the digital and physical worlds.

But today feels funny. It's a Matrix-esque, slow motion sort of moment of realization... the undeniable brick wall indicating that I have no more time or space to create. My burgeoning creativity has expanded to fill the space I had allotted for it, and it's beginning to put pressure on other areas not intended for whimsical expression. Like housecleaning, for example. There is so much I want to explore, but I really, really need to be doing other things first.

*Sigh*

I'm sure this is common ground for other artsy types, but the fact remains that it is a problem. A real probem. For a long time I've been jamming up my work flow with a never ending barrage of tiny obstacles, so my babbling brook is turning to whitewater. Time to prioritize and set some new boundaries and re-assess my personal and business goals. Time to plan. Time to prepare. Time to put a system in place.

To that end, I'm taking next week off from creating things in favor of doing all those neglected tasks whose eventual accomplishment will make life and business run smoother again. If I don't get them done in a week, I might take two. Or three. Wish me luck on my (hopefully brief) voyage of self management...