Friday, March 30, 2012

Small Business Success: A Couple Events You Should Know About

We love being a small part of the handmade world and know it's something that many of you appreciate being connected with as well. Today we wanted to share a couple events taking place across the interwebs especially catered to boosting the success of handmade and independent business owners.


1 - Etsy has been hard at work putting together this year's Success Symposium centered completely around getting found and the good news is — it's today, and you can join in to watch via live-stream for free!

The symposium caters to Etsy shop owners, though each of the workshops is relevant with valuable information translating over to any small independent business in general. Topics include How to Grab the Eye of a Curator, How to Romance Blog and Magazine Editors, Geting Storied, Building your Community and Brand with Pinterest, Using Craft and Wholesale Shows to Support Your Small Business, and Conquering Searches on Etsy and the Web. I'm telling you — it's good stuff.

I hope you will especially pay attention to and sign up for the 10:20am kickoff workshop all about catching the eye of curators. This presentation is something I helped work on and will be led by some of my closest teammates at Etsy. It will be filled with concrete tips for making your business stand out and become feature-ready.

How to get involved:
  • Get the full scoop right here.
  • Peruse the presentation schedule and RSVP to stream the live feed for workshops throughout the day right here.
I'll be tuning in via the live-stream all day, so hope to virtually see you! 

2 - In other exciting handmade news, did you know the 2012 Handmade Olympics are going on right now? Hosted by Kristal of therikrakstudio, the Handmade Olympics are an annual event bringing together and showcasing the many talents of the handmade world in honor of celebrating making things. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges in the very 1st Handmade Olympics so am always thrilled to see it launch each new year. The event is still in the nomination phase, so if you or someone you know might be a good fit, learn more about how to get involved right here.



Hope you enjoy the weekend! We are looking forward to watching the runners in the Monument Avenue 10k stroll through the neighborhood.

P.S. There's still time to enter our gift card giveaway, brought to you by sneakpeeq — find all the details and enter here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hello Feed Readers!


While Basil was sleeping in the sun, you may have just been inundated with posts from us in your feed reader! With the help of our friend Jenn, the mastermind behind accompl.sh, we were finally able to troubleshoot the outstanding issue we had when we switched over from the old blogger URL to our new domain.

If you're seeing 5 unread posts and have a little time on your hands, there are many more stories to catch up on from the past couple months we've been "missing in feed reader action." So hop on over to the blog if you like to catch up with what madness we've been up to.

Welcome back — we look forward to seeing you around here more often!

How To: Natural Egg Dye Recipes


With Easter coming up right around the corner, we decided it was time to buy the extra carton of eggs and start the yearly dying!

This year we wanted to try our hands at creating and using natural dye after seeing a few recipes being published, passed and pinned around! The sources we took the most inspiration from included these notes from our April issue of bon appetit magazine, this list of recipes on Better Homes and Gardens and this inspirational image we found on Pinterest (anyone know the source?).


Almost all of the different recipes we saw included some form of natural dying agent (vegetables, fruits & spices), simmering them in water and including vinegar — so we kind of winged it by combining a host of natural ingredients we had around the house to make our own versions of natural dying agents.


The natural agents we used for dying included: blueberries, beets, leftover brewed coffee, a combination of turmeric and Hungarian paprika (we don't keep anything other than Hungarian versions in the house, ha), and a combination of leafy greens, apple peelings and a bag of green tea.


For each of the above natural ingredients, we placed them in small saucepans, covered with enough water to fill the dying cups we'd be using later and added a healthy pour of white distilled vinegar — again, we really didn't want to go the exact measurement route. We then placed the pans on the stove-top, brought to a boil and then down to a simmer for about 15 minutes each, stirring occasionally and even mashing the different ingredients with a potato masher.

Juggling stove-top space for all the pans at once was the toughest part of this project — here's what it looked like for the better part of the dye making process:


You could really apply this same method with any natural ingredient and use it as a way to literally clean out the fridge and pantry — we used mainly leftovers from other recipes we had going on over the weekend, greens headed for the compost anyway and spices we had an excess of.

Once ingredients have simmered and melded well together for 15 - 30 minutes, strain each of the liquids into your choice of dying container. We pulled out the big guns and went fancy with red solo cups:


Now gently slide the eggs into each container as not to cause splashing — we were able to fit two eggs in each cup.


Let sit in containers for at least 15 minutes each before removing — a short time like this will render light pastels and the longer you leave the eggs in the dye, the richer and deeper the tones will become. We took one of each egg out from the cups after about 30 minutes and the remaining eggs we left for about 2 hours to see if we could get some tonal variation.


Tip: Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place on drying rack over-top of newsprint or paper towels to minimize the mess.

I think the most fun part of this project was in the reveal of each egg — it was so suspenseful guessing what color each dye might render. The biggest surprises for us included the deep blue hues from the blueberries and the richness in the bright yellow from the turmeric and paprika blend.

Outside of how beautiful these natural stains turned out, it was fascinating to see how the dyes really brought out the cracks and variations in each of the shells, making intricate designs completely naturally. They have a bit of a rustic quality about them.


This would be a really fun and educational project to take on with the little ones for so many reasons, including how to get creative with food scraps. Speaking of the kiddos, here's a great big list of (mostly free of charge) Easter Egg hunts in and around the Richmond Area!


Our Color Key:
  • Deep Blue: fresh blueberries
  • Bright Yellow: Blend of turmeric & paprika
  • Rich Brown: Brewed coffee
  • Greyish Green: Mixed greens, green apple peel & 1 bag, green tea
  • Muted Pink: Sliced beets

If we had this project to do over again — we might have tried going for the jade green using red onion skins and would have also tried leaving some additional eggs in the dye cups overnight to see just how deep the hues might get. This year we just went with what we had on hand, but there's always next year!

Have you tried natural dying techniques with eggs or other mediums like fabric? We'd love to hear what worked for you!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Lesson from Tim in DIY Flower Arrangement

Did I ever tell you guys that Tim worked in a flower shop when he was a teenager? How lucky am I — an electrician AND a florist?! Well my friends, let me tell you that these bright yellow weekend work-shorts are the uniform of a multifaceted man.


He had a great idea for using some of the tree branch trimmings we cut down — from the tree we actually aren't sure the name for. Similar to the way we decorated for the holidays with the holly trimmings back when we first moved in, he suggested we fill our tall vase (that we usually keep wine corks in) with the branches to create a focal point for our entryway — yes all of this was really Tim's idea.


He did let me pick which branches should go in the vase. I chose the ones with the most unopened buds on them, remembering back how my mother would always pick flowers that hadn't bloomed yet for indoor vases so they would last longer.


Tim trimmed up the bottoms of the branches to fit nicely in the bottom of the vase and placed them in at varying heights — with a little help from his furry supervisor of course.

Then came the hose...


Hey, at least we're keeping it real! Here's how they look all purdied up in our entryway:


Speaking of our entryway, we've got an antique secretary desk from Tim's side of the family paired with a mirror, also from his side and a natural looking wood light from Anzfer on Etsy. To the left of the desk we keep one of two antique cast iron bird baths from Caravati's — it's the catchall for keys and such. This space will change over time, and we're liking it right now.

Here's a lot more photos of the same thing from different angles:


We love how tall the flowering branches are, making a large statement that took minimal effort and no cost — they've been a great way to welcome spring into our home. For anyone wondering, the vase is a 24" tall cylindrical glass vase — they really are so versatile.

This is what the entryway looks like these days from entering the home:


If you can get by this guy first:


And then if you leave a little later in the evening:


The buds all over the branches have since opened up and are blooming beautifully. We've even been lucky enough to have a few guests over since — all of which have commented on the flowers as they first enter the house.

P.S. Who thinks Tim really worked as a florist? Or did he just luck out with a great idea for these branches? ...OK, OK, he wasn't really ever a florist nor did he work in a flower shop, but from the looks of it, he sure could have.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekend Basics


There Mary and I were sitting and thinking, wow, they really just shook things up for the season 5 premiere of Mad Men after the 1st episode ended — only to realize the tremors we both felt were literally another earthquake here in VA. That's right folks, since that first freak 5.8 earthquake over the summer, there have been several aftershocks — including the 3.1 we felt the effects of last night. Luckily it was just a little shaky for us with no immediate damage that we could see.

1 The rainy patches this weekend allowed for some indoor activities too — antiquing to be exact. We fell in love with a farm table at one of our local antique malls, but are still debating over whether or not to get it.

2 I recreated the most amazing recipe for mushrooms I've ever had from a tasting we went to last week at C'est le Vin, hosted by The Farm Table. The Head Chef, Carly Herring, was so kind to lend me in on her secrets for this recipe, which you too can find here.

3 We opened a can of paint. Joking aside, we're actually beginning to get a couple paint swatches up on the wall of our back dining room in hopes of being able to tackle making the awful purple color back there now a distant memory. We're just living with the test patches now to see if we like any enough to paint the whole room.

4 I was invited to tour a new space here in RVA called Kitchen Thyme. It's an innovative concept for rentable commercial cooking space that's already licensed — I'm really excited at the versatility of the space and hope to talk more about over on E.A.T. later this week.

5 Anyone else dying for Easter eggs this time of year? We tested out some natural dye recipes this weekend we'll share here on the blog this week.

6 Quick Tip: Because we were using vinegar during the egg dying process, we took the opportunity to clean out our coffee pot. Did you know filling your coffee maker with distilled white vinegar and running the cycle will completely clean out the build up and make your coffee pot operate like new? After running the cycle, simply fill with water and run again 3 times in a row to flush out the vinegar.  This is a great natural way to clean your coffee maker — no need to buy the fancy cleaners. Just make sure to empty the pot and basket of coffee and grinds before starting. This little red Kitchenaid pot we use is roughly 8 years old and keeps on plugging (even though we hope to get something different in the future, it works fine for now).


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Seeing the Light

The warm season down this way has really lent to working on outdoor projects. Each weekend we've been trying to chip away as we can on getting our back patio space maintained and in shape for the growing season.

We have 3 full size trees forming a triangle in our back patio space: a holly tree, a crape myrtle, and a third flowering tree we need your help identifying! Each of these 3 trees have grown tall enough past our second story that they've come together in the center of the triangle and provide a canopy of shade over our entire patio. When looking out back from our second floor, you can see the tops of the trees:


While the idea of a natural shade canopy is nice, the branches have intermingled enough that they are tangling among one another and getting caught up in the electrical cables that run from the back of our house. We're also interested in having a few key areas of the back patio open to full sun for gardening purposes.

All of this is to set up our reasons for heavy trimming of the trees this spring. We'd really like to get them trimmed to a point where we can simply prune them with regular maintenance moving forward. The major trimming is probably going to take a few weekends since the trees are so tall and hard to maneuver, but we've made some great progress so far (with the help of our neighbor, Alice's ladder).

Now that Tim's back is getting better, he could be spotted up on the ladder the better part of the day trimming away where he could best reach:


Branches were falling left and right:


Basil thought this was a dream come true as giant sticks just began falling from the sky into his domain...


He was pretty much in doggy heaven... Also — can you see the sun beginning to peer through onto our patio in these shots:


This is what we're going for — trimming back enough growth to allow for full sun in key areas of the backyard while maintaining some shady areas and the natural feel of the barriers in our back patio.

Side note:
the back space can tend to look crazy like this on any given weekend, with planters, potting soil and tree trimmings scattered about.

As for cleanup, Tim cut the large branches into smaller pieces and had me lay them in piles over doubled up lines of twine where he'd be able to pull either side of the twine around the brush pile and toss them in a larger (organized) pile in the alley for pickup:


We also decided to trim up and hold onto several of the thicker leftover crape myrtle branches we trimmed. We're not sure what we'll do with them but we thought it was generally a good idea. We're thinking we'll have more ideas for diy garden supports or other areas we can use them down the road.


Basil decided he also needed to thoroughly inspect each of them before passing approval...

All in all, our #1 goal was to clear branches away that were either already caught up in cable wires or headed that way fast. Our #2 priority was clearing enough of a "hole" in the shade barrier to allow for full sun in at least one area of the patio. Last but not least, #3 on the list is to continue a heavy trim on each of the 3 trees this year so we can simply maintain and properly prune in seasons to come.


We've got a little ways to go, but we are starting to "see the light" in the clearing :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

$15 Sneakpeeq Giveaway + 20% Off Just for Entering

When it comes to shopping, you may have gathered that I am the one in this relationship that will go the extra mile — especially when it comes to hunting down a good deal. This quality is actually in my bloodline, passed down from my maternal grandfather who trained me and my older sister at a young age to bargain at yard sales. To this day, my mother and sister remain the ultimate crusaders when it comes to finding a deal (I've deferred to them many times when on the prowl), but like I said, the gene didn't completely escape me.

Given this background knowledge, you'll understand why when the fine folks over at sneakpeeq invited us to host a giveaway exclusively for our readers, we were thrilled — to say the least.


sneakpeeq provides a different twist on social deal shopping in that the more activity you engage in on the site, the more personalized recommendations you'll get and the more likely you'll uncover further discounts on the types of products you're most interested in (that's on top of the up to 70% off retail they offer in general). If all of this sounds right up your alley too, learn more of the basics over on their FAQ, right here.

What we especially love about sneakpeeq is their mission to help leverage unseen products, including those from small independent businesses. More than once we've seen the work of Etsy artists promoted — for example, right now you can check out deals from independent labels like Pigeon Toe Ceramics and Creature Cups.

When it comes to today's giveaway, everybody is technically a winner — sneakpeeq is giving
away 20% off your next purchase just for entering, plus a chance at the Grand Prize: one winner will receive a $15 gift card to use on your favorite food, style and home products — this can go a long way in sneakpeeq’s already low-priced boutiques.


As mentioned, not only will you have the chance to win this $15 gift card to use as you please on sneakpeeq but you will also automatically be given 20% off your next purchase — just for entering whether you win or not. Pretty sweet deal if you ask us.

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Now down to business:
To enter, simply click here and join sneakpeeq for free — by following that specific link, you will automatically be entered into the giveaway for the $15 gift card and will receive 20% off your 1st (or next) purchase.

Each of the following will earn you an additional entry (you must complete the entry from the above link first to qualify):
  • "Like" 17 Apart on Facebook , follow 17 Apart on Twitter, and sign up for our mailing list by clicking the button in our sidebar — leave 3 separate comments on this post for each letting us know you've done so.
  • Share this post by clicking the Facebook Like button at the top of the post and leave a new comment on this post letting us know you've done so.
  • Tweet about the giveaway including the following: "@17Apart is giving away a $15 @sneakpeeq gift card + 20% off your next purchase just for entering: http://tinyurl.com/6s98x2l" along with anything else you'd like to include - then leave a new comment on this post letting us know you've done so.
  • Follow this blog by clicking the "join this site" button in the top right sidebar and leave a new comment on this post letting us know.
The giveaway will end Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 11:59 PM EST; the winner will be auto-generated using Random.org and updated in this post shortly thereafter. Be sure to come visit to find out the winner and good luck!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Home Updates & Upgrades

We mentioned yesterday getting a couple home projects completed. We've been trying to get smaller things in the house accomplished here and there while we plan for a larger masonry project coming up later this month. After that larger project is complete (which we'll detail as it happens), we'll feel more comfortable taking on the bigger updates we have in mind.

Aside from assembling this storage rack for our cellar, we hung Basil's dog hook and installed new register covers downstairs.


One can never have enough storage options, right? I can't promise a few choice words didn't escape my mouth while putting this shelving unit together, but hey, we're keeping it real. It's a basic 3 tier storage utility shelf that was supposed to be 5 tiers, but it's getting the job done and honestly, I'm not sure the entire shelf wouldn't have angrily ended up in the trash bin if I'd gone for the top 2 shelves.

As you can see, Basil was supervising this project, per usual.

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Now for a project that took little to no effort — Basil's dog hook:


I actually found this funny little hook while we shopped at Ikea before our vacation to Mexico and we both just stopped and laughed while in the warehouse. It's a dog butt and the tail is the hook — could there be anything better for hanging Basil's leash on? We couldn't think of anything either.

  

The hook had a hollowed out base for hanging, so installing was a cinch. We first agreed on placement (hardest part of the whole project) which ended up being among the other hooks already positioned in the closet when we moved in. Because of the hollowed backing, we can easily move it from place to place if we change our minds or upgrade the closet down the road.

After marking the placement and preparing for the screw with a couple taps from my punch tool, I drilled a screw into the existing wood and secured the hook right onto the screw.

Side notes: that fuzzy blue thing on a stick is technically a cleaning tool that helps us reach the cobwebs in the corners of our high ceilings and if you looked closely you may have noticed a hole at the bottom of the closet door in the above photo — we think this must have been a cat door in a previous life and have no idea how or when we'll remedy that (there will be no cats because I am allergic).


Then we hung the leash — and that was it! Now we have a little chuckle whenever we see it.

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In other easy and successful home update news, we installed upgraded register covers throughout the downstairs. Our upstairs ventilation comes from the ceiling, so it was a non-issue there.


We started out with basic register covers that looked like this:


While a little beat up, they were still functional, but a little blah. A few weekends back I got a picture text from Mary asking if I liked a style of covers — she was in Costco braving the crowds for some of the staples we need but like to buy in bulk and had happened upon these.

Side note: Going to Costco can be a bit of a challenge but Mary could spend hours in there, so she handles these missions when we need to go on weekends.  I can do weekdays but weekends...


Back to the covers, they were nice and she needed measurements (a mission I was happy to be responsible from the comfort of home with the game on in the background). They appeared to match, so it was a win.

 

I was also happy to tackle the install here which consisted of carefully removing the old register covers (I did this with the back end of a hammer), thoroughly cleaning the cavities with a vacuum and duster (yes that was nasty - see?), then fitting the new covers snugly in place.


We're particularly thrilled with the outcome of switching out these plates, I mean if I was selling a house... As for the old ones, we slid them into boxes the new ones came in for safe keeping and plan to donate to Goodwill.





Basil tries to steal the show in every photo we tried to get of these register covers — if you can take your eyes off him and look to the back corner of this pic, you'll see the new one in our family room in place.

Oh and you can also see the new pillows we picked up during our shopping trip to Ikea in their new setting. These decor touches are more in the realm of Mary's domain, but they've been surprisingly comfortable to lay back on and support my legs & back while I've been tackling this recent pain in the "ahem" back.

...and from the other angle. This is the current state of our family room. Lots of work still to be done, and yes — you did just see a picture of Jerry Garcia hanging above our mantle. That's all me. We're not sure where in the house Jerry will eventually end up, but for now he watches over us in here.

So tell us — have you tackled any small home projects that packed a large punch you are proud of? Is Costco a challenge like it is for me or do you just weather the storm like Mary?