Friday, October 30, 2009

What'cha dressin' up as, this year?

So, have you picked out a costume yet?

If you were a cute little pink pig, maybe you'd dress up as a ...

Or, maybe if you were a big ole milk cow, you'd try being a ...

reindeer !

But, what if you're just a cute little puppy ?

How about a ...

Okay, I admit it - I like reindeer.

I collect reindeer of all types, sizes, medium etc. I currently have about 500 different pieces so I take every opportunity to show them off.

And, yeah, I may just dress as a reindeer, too!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Readings …

I’ve had a weakness lately for what I refer to as “murder mysteries lite.” A genre which includes such authors as Janet Evanovich and Joanne Fluke. They all involve murders but are written in a lighter easy-read style. They provide quick reads. Usually they feature some humor and, in Fluke’s case, include recipes! Both of these authors have written series featuring the same lead character and I’ve come to know and love those characters. I can discuss Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum’s life and history the same as those of some of my friends.

As a subset of these “lite murder mysteries,” I’ve also discovered a whole series of books featuring food in some way associated with those murders.

Joanne Fluke’s stories feature Hannah Swenson, the owner of a cookie bakery in a small lake-front Minnesota town. All of the murders involve her baked goods in one way or another and she, of course, plays a role in figuring the mystery out. (NO! They aren’t choking to death or being poisoned by the cookies!!) The best part, she features a cookbook at the end of each book!

In my opinion, the best, so far, is The Sugar Cookie Murder. In that one, she is launching a community cookbook and the story line features a big community holiday meal where all the recipes are featured. Various characters comment on the foods and then, as an appendix, the entire cookbook is there! There’s a crock-pot German potato salad that I’m dying to try. (No pun intended since we’re discussing murder mysteries!) Other titles include Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Strawberry Shortcake Murder, Peach Cobbler Murder and more

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a book by JoAnna Carl called “The Chocolate Puppy Puzzle“ featuring the amateur sleuthing of Lee McKinney, business manager of TenHuis Chocolade (a candy shop in a small lake-front town in Michigan). Now that was a quick and easy read - only about one day! This is one of the “Chocolate Mysteries.” This series features chocolate trivia throughout the book! I haven’t been able to find the rest of that series, “The Chocolate Cat Caper“, “The Chocolate Bear Burglary” and “The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up”

I'm really looking forward to shopping at Half Price Books while we're out West. (We don't have that chain of stores here.) I can usually find some of these harder to locate tomes there!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creating Jack-O-Lanterns


Do one just for the family or hold a pumpkin carving party. (That is, if you can trust your friends with sharp objects!)

According to Pumpkin Carving 101, Jack O’Lanterns came into use in Europe as part of the Celtic holiday known as Samhain [which eventually became known as All Saints Eve] which means “summers end.” Occurring on October 1st through sundown November 1st, it was a night to honor loved ones that had passed on as the veil between their realm and ours is the thinnest on that night.

The original jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips or gourds and were set on porches or in windows to welcome deceased loved ones and to act as protectors against malevolent spirits. When the European settlers (particularly the Irish) came to America, they found the native pumpkin to be larger and easier to carve. (Have you ever tried carving a turnip?)

So, just what do you need to make a Jack-O-Lantern?

Well, you can go buy a fancy Pumpkin Carving Kit which seem to be available in just about every drug store, grocery store, Walmart, etc. OR, you can dig around the kitchen, the garage, workshop, etc. and come up with a variety of things you already own.

You’ll need a “poker tool”. This is something to use to “poke” the design onto the pumpkin once you’ve drawn your design. You can use something as simple as a large sturdy nail or even an ice pick. (The ice pick also comes in handy later when you’re really poking all the way through the pumpkin.)

You will obviously need a few sharp knives. I have found a boner type knife and paring knives work really well. Keyhole saws and X-Acto knives are also good tools to use.
Before beginning the actual carving, you need to open the pumpkin and clean out its “guts.” Generally, you do this by cutting a fairly small cap-like piece out of the top. (Be sure it’s big enough to get your hand in there.) Lift this lid piece off and begin scooping out the innards of your pumpkin. I simply throw mine away but some folks rinse out the seeds, dry them and then roast them.) I find large serving spoons and ice cream scoops work well for this job. It is important to get out all of this junk as this is what will rot and create some obnoxious scents if left inside your creation!Before doing any cutting, give your design some thought and maybe sketch out an idea or two. There’s no changing your mind once you start cutting!

Trace or sketch your design onto your pumpkin before you start cutting. Grease pencils work well for this but you can use a regular pen or marker.

Short on ideas or creativity? There’s a world of help online!
Try some of these sites for ideas, pictures and free patterns. (There’s so many more, simply Google “pumpkin carving.”)

To really get into the spirit of things (pun intended) check out the Pumpkin Lady’s blog and enjoy her daily posts!

Want to see some really cool complicated carvings or enter your masterpiece in next year's contest? Check out Spookmaster!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

58 Days & Counting! How about a decorative project?

Yep, Christmas is still rolling toward us at a pretty high speed!

A number of years ago, my aunt made what I thought was a really unique and spectacular holiday decoration for her home. She used to get it out and hang it in early November and leave it up through about mid-January (sometimes later). She now lives in a retirement apartment complex and it hangs on her living room wall year round.

She made this absolutely stunning Christmas tree from various pieces of bright, sparkly costume jewelry! This first of her trees (She's made quite a few since then.), was made using various pieces of jewelry with a family history.
Some people are "clothes horses", well, my grandmother (her M-I-L) was a "jewelry horse." She particularly loved huge, heavy earrings. (She had very large ear lobes. We all believe the weight of the earrings stretched them out!) When my grandmother passed and her belongings were distributed among the family, no one really wanted to wear those humongous earrings. Aunt M. put quite a few of them into this tree. There were other jewelry "remnants" floating about and they, too, found their way into this tree. The bigger and brighter the better!The tree is fairly heavy and is mounted on a piece of plywood covered in velvet. I believe she used a jeweler's glue to secure the stones. Many friends and acquaintances have come to her and asked for help in making a tree to display some of their family jewels, too. Along the way, she has made quite a few as gifts or to sell at various bazaars and such. The best places to find such jewels are yard sales, church bazaars with white elephant tables and flea markets.(Those old-fashioned brooches are true finds with this project in mind!)

Of course, you should start with the jewelry box you've been stashing those orphaned earrings in!

Monday, October 26, 2009

2nd Funny Caption Giveaway

Okay, we did this the last time I went on vacation.

The prize for this contest will be something holiday oriented. I'm not sure what yet, but I'll be thinking about it while I'm away! You just have to take my word for it. It'll be something I make and it will be nice.
Okay, Gang, you know how it works. Create an interesting caption for this picture. Submit in the form of a comment. Be sure I can get in touch with you through your blog or email address. You have until November 8 to submit captions for this one.


The winner of the last Funny Caption Contest was Flannyoak and here's a glimpse of her prize.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A challenge to all you bloggers ...

I've been triple dog dared!!

What can I do but take the challenge?

Jewel over at jewelstreetdesigns has challenged those of us who blog and have more than a few followers to get to know our followers.

She pointed out that most of us really can't remember all of our followers and asked if we took the time to get to know all of our followers? She points out that we all have our regular blogs that we follow but asked if they are the same ones who follow us. I know some are.

She's right. I do follow quite a few of my followers but maybe not all of you. In fact, there have been days when things got hectic and I really didn't take time to check out my new followers. Now, I'm feeling guilty.


Jewel has issued a challenge. She wants me to visit the blogs of all the people who follow me. She says it's okay if I only manage to visit a few each day, but won't let me stop until I've visited all of you !

Then, she wants me to comment on a post each of you have written and the post must be relevant. (As she says, I may find some new blogs that I've just got to follow or, maybe, I'll just cheer you up with my comment. At least, you'll know I've stopped by.)

I can do this. I will do this.

Of course, I can't start until I get back from this trip as I don't have internet access here. (These are pre-posted to run while I'm away.)

So, tidy up gang, I'll be stopping by sometime in November. It's going to take me a while 'cuz there's lots of you out there but I'll be by. So, please leave a light on for me. It may be late.

By the way, I'm passing that triple dog dare on to you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On the road again ....

One last post before hitting the road for Omaha. The van is packed. All I have to do is make one last drug store run and pack the coolers. (Oh yeah, toilet seat broke last night so Home Depot is a MUST! The folks staying here at home might complain without it.) Will pick The Big Guy up just past lunchtime and the trip is on!

I think I actually got everything done. I've got a duffel full of projects to work on. I've stock piled posts to run in my absence (no internet connection at my in-laws). I know I'll go through withdrawal! (There won't be any Working the Shows Wednesday themes till I get back. Sorry!) I've included some holiday projects and a giveaway in those posts so be sure to check them out.

Well, got to get moving. (Was just waiting for Home Depot to be open.)

See y'all on the rebound.

Be good, y'all!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Old Age -- She is a’comin’…

Gawd, I feel old this week!! It all started with the normal stuff - achy knees, dry, patchy skin, those gray roots sneaking out around my part, etc. The Big Guy and I have been discussing retirement issues frequently as he has already given his notice, however, he is dawdling a bit. The conversation is mostly with himself. I just listen. He’s had a few “old person” medical issues over the last year or two and those discussions also take up a fair amount of our time.

A few days ago, I spent the better part of a day trying to clean my eyelashes of those little dry flakes one often has in the morning. That was, until I realized there were no flakes there, some of my eyelashes are turning white!!! I stopped trying to remove them and bought a new tube of mascara!

I’ve been stymied by the mystery of my white eyebrows for years. My hair has a relatively small amount of gray for my age. I think. I base this opinion on my roots as they begin to grow out. I haven’t gone natural in years although I did let it grow out a little within the past year! Mostly just to see what color it really is! About five years ago, I began to notice occasional white hairs in my brows. The Big Guy and his brother are both silver gray (The Big Guy has actually reached white) and have been graying since their early twenties. Neither of them have any gray or white hairs in the brow area. My female friends also claim not to have white hairs in their brows (but I do wonder about their degree of honesty when it comes to these things!) I, of course, initially plucked those hairs. As they became more pervasive, I learned to accept them. I don’t use a lot of makeup and tend not to use an eyebrow pencil but, on occasion, have touched them up when making up.

Well, I took those white lashes and brows right out to visit with my newest great-godchild later in the week. (That generation is growing WAY too fast!!!) The old knees didn’t go up steps well while carrying a tiny baby. I made a mental note that my babysitting days there will have to use a changing pad on the floor as I can’t run up and down to the changing table. (That’s assuming I can get up and down off the floor these days!)

One of the on-line forums I enjoy had a posting today criticizing the input of some trolls and one poster referred to some of them as “those women in their 50s, like my mom, with nothing better to do than criticize!” Are there age limits to these general interest forums?

Then, as other women my age do, I sat down to read for relaxation's sake. Again, I was hit by a blow from the old age fairy! (We’re not even going where those reading glass comments might lead!!) In Dying for Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson, the author has the heroine take a job as a live-in personal cook for a couple “in their early 50s.” She goes on to describe them in terms associated with the elderly. She describes the wife as arthritic and walking with a cane and being a bit rambling in her conversations. The husband is described as tall with notable white hair and with a flaky personality inferred to be related to both his age and early retirement status. To quote my husband, The Big Guy, “I resemble that remark!” I was a little offended by the first references to this couple and their “aged” status. Then it dawned on me, the mental image I had of the man was that of my husband’s best friend! As I hobbled into the kitchen on a stiff knee to get a fresh glass of iced tea, I thought of the female half of that couple. Indeed, I DO resemble that remark!!

They say you’re as old as you feel. Well, today, I feel ANCIENT !!!! (Of course, I've been running around like a maniac prepping for this vacation. Lack of sleep could be a contributing factor.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

65 days and counting ....

Yep, Santa's getting it all together. I hear he sent the old red suit out for cleaning and alterations. (He wouldn't say if the seams are being let out or taken in.) The mechanic elves are busy giving the sleigh a winterization so it'll be all ship-shape for the big trip. I even heard he's already working on the second draft of the Naughty and Nice list!

I wish I was as sure that I'll be ready for the big day. Frankly, I'm starting to worry a bit. There's so much to do! Heck, I'm still painting on two birthday gifts that need to travel with us this week! Not only don't I have all the holiday gifts for the Omaha wing of the family packed and ready to go, I don't have any of them!! I usually aim at having most, especially the bulky ones, ready to hand carry out there with us on this trip. I guess I'll be doing my share to support the Postal Service this year.

I've been busy doing all those things on yesterday's list today so, hopefully, the luggage will be ready to go in the car tomorrow afternoon. We're leaving Thursday afternoon but The Big Guy prefers to load all the big stuff the day before so he won't have to do it in the dark before he goes to work. I'll then get the last-minute stuff and coolers loaded and pick him up a little past lunchtime so we can beat the rush hour traffic. (If I don't post on Thursday, you'll understand.)

There's so many little things to remember. Luckily, the house will be occupied while we're gone so the mail, our fish, the house etc. will all be taken care of. Not much to prep there. We've left instructions about no major digging while we're gone. (Last time we were away, they dug up the front yard in an attempt to remove a stump for us as a surprise.)

I'm trying to wrap up all loose ends online, too.

Elsiee - If you read this post - I still need a mailing address for you for the gift from my Craft It Forward project. I haven't forgptten you - just don't have the address!

Also, on the subject of giveaways, here's a picture of the prize won by Flannyoak for the funny caption contest from a few weeks back. (There's another funny caption contest coming up next week)


Ooops! I did have a Christmas project to tell you about today! Guess I'll have to get it to you in a day or two. Sorry, simply too tired at the moment.

Monday, October 19, 2009

5 Constructive Things I Should Have Done Today ...

As most of you know, we'll be traveling again at the end of the week. I'll be disconnected from the internet for two weeks so I've been stockpiling some posts to run while I'm gone.

Sometimes, it's hard enough to come up with one post a day but today I created six with pictures and such. Pre-posting is considerably more difficult from a technical viewpoint. Spacing doesn't always publish as planned and often pics will be off a bit. For this reason, I try not to do any creative layouts so there is less to go wrong. Dating needs to be adjusted carefully or the post won't land when and where I've planned. This all takes a considerable amount of time. Time I should have spent on other activities. Activities that are much more vital to getting out of here on this trip this week. (At least The Big Guy would think so!)

So, here's a list of 5 more constructive things I should have done today:
  1. Finished all of the laundry so I won't be rushing to wash things that need to be packed the night before we leave. (I guess I could have been doing that AND working on those blog posts simultaneously. After all, I didn't need to carry them down to the river to beat them on the rocks - just down to the basement.)
  2. Ironed all of the clothes that are already clean but do need to be pressed. (You've got to agree that would cut into my blogging time! )
  3. Gathered all of the toiletries, jewelry, hair accessories, books, etc. that also need to be packed. (It is amazing how long that takes. I also know there will be some I need to add to the shopping list as they will also be needed here at home while we're gone.)
  4. Finished the two birthday gifts that need to go with us. (I'd like to be able to load the car without worrying about situating the item whose paint is still wet! Now that would be a novelty!)
  5. Shortening two pairs of pants I'd like to take with me. (I have found it awkward to balance a whole pair of pants in my lap while sewing and riding simultaneously. I always seem to drop the needle or spool of thread on the floor and then need to wait until the next rest stop to get them!)

So, we now know what I should have done but I did legitimately do some constructive chores (besides blogging and twittering). I did some grocery shopping, made a good meal for our dinner (Yes, I did make it from scratch!), cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, and refined the packing list. I am making progress.

After all, tomorrow is another day!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Muffins and Rejection

I baked five batches of muffins today!! (Okay, so I did use mixes instead of working from scratch but I get credit for production volume, don’t I?)
I was truly motivated. In addition to wanting something sweet myself, I felt like I needed to take care packages to my two elderly aunts. It’s been a while since I visited and I always take something along for their pleasure. We usually have lunch and then spend some time just visiting and chatting. I try to get over there every few weeks but I’ve lapsed and it’s been more like two months. I’m feeling guilty. (I have called and I did send postcards while we were on vacation.)

Well, we’re getting ready to go away again and it will be another two weeks before I can visit if I don’t go this week. So, I baked the muffins, picked a nice selection and wrapped and labeled them individually so they can be tossed in the freezer and taken out one at a time as the ladies want them. (The rest become free game around here!) Then, I called each aunt to set up a date - hopefully Tuesday or Wednesday…

I’m feeling the sting of rejection tonight. My two elderly aunts (ages 85 and 90) are too busy to do lunch this week!

In all honesty, I’m glad they lead such active and busy lives and are well enough to do so. The younger of the two has a full social calendar and needs some lead time to schedule a quick lunch.

They both live in a humongous retirement village nearby where they each have separate and private apartments. One has been there over 12 years and the other for about 8 years. There are scads of clubs, groups and activities available to them there and the complex houses over a dozen different restaurants, several hair salons, several bank branches and there are small convenience stores in each building. When we get together for lunch, we often meet at the pub on the premises. It’s always crowded and there are folks playing pool, cards and other games. It reminds me of Cheers for the mature set. I only hope I have the energy and opportunity to be that active at their age.

An uncle, from the other side of my family, also lives in the same complex but you definitely need to plan ahead to meet up with him. Another octogenarian, he still drives (in the daytime only) and has a car. Just as in high school, one of the keys to popularity is having your own wheels. On top of that, males are in the minority in this age group. A lifetime “charmer”, he usually appears to have a harem! (And to think, we all worried about him getting out and about after his wife passed!)

Once I got over the shock of their schedules being fuller than mine, I revamped my plans and will simply run in and drop their muffins off to them tomorrow. We’ve already scheduled our luncheon date for after we come back to town. At least then, I’ll have pictures for show and tell!

Please take time to enjoy the company of your elders. We can learn a lot from them. (My aunt has been teaching me how to play with a Wii !!)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oh, what a beautiful day in Dover!

What a fantastic day for an outdoor barbeque competition - low 40s, wet, windy and really, really gray. This picture was on our way there before the rain really moved in!
It didn’t get any better throughout the day.
Today was the 4th Annual Diamond State Barbeque Championship Cookoff at Dover Downs in Dover, Delaware. As of this year, this is the largest BBQ competition on the East Coast, boasting 82 cooking teams today. (I say “as of this year” as there are two other contests in close competition as far as how many teams participate.) Sponsored and coordinated by the Dover Downs Casino, this is generally a fairly big one-day production of cookers, other food vendors, merchandise vendors, community displays, children’s activities and live entertainment. The rain pretty much wiped out all spectators so I’m sure they took a big hit on gate admissions.

This year, they set up a large enclosed tent in the infield for the judging. The wind and heavy rain beat against the sides of the tent the whole time and shook it quite a bit, but we stayed dry. Now, if only it had been heated!Our normal average temperature today should be 60°-64°. For the last three days, we’ve either tied or broken the low maximum high temperature records. That means the high temperature each day has never been lower on these dates. I’ve never worn a leather winter coat and gloves at a contest before and I was still cold!

The good news is, we had 82 cooking teams who braved the cold wet weather to set up camp Friday morning and cook all night to serve us up some fantastic food today. Whether they won prizes or trophies or cash, they deserve a great round of applause for simply surviving. My particular judging team had excellent samples in all categories in spite of the terrible cooking conditions. (It’s really hard to control temps in a slow cooker in this type of weather.)

We normally hang around these events after judging, enjoying the entertainment and other activities but, having turned into popsicles, we escaped into the casino for warmth, indoor plumbing and another form of entertainment. Perhaps our “donation” will offset the admission gate losses!

This contest wraps up our competition season here. We’ll be back to do it all over again in April. Till then, we hope to stay warm.

On our way up the road this a.m., I spotted this billboard by the Cecil County Marriage Initiative: “Just be nice. Duhhhh !” Great advice, isn’t it?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pumpkin Cake, anyone?

There’s a chill in the air. All right, it’s downright cold out there today! So, I’m thinking Fall - you know, leaves falling outside, corn stalks and pumpkins on display, fires in the fireplace, and something really yummy on the table.

I’m thinking pumpkin flavor !!

Which leads me to my cousin’s pumpkin cake! It’s been one of her signature dishes for years now. I’m not sure where she originally found it but we refer to it as “Carole’s Pumpkin Cake.” It tastes heavenly (especially with cream cheese icing) and it has a light and fluffy texture. You’ve just got to try it!

Don’t tell her you heard it from me, but here’s the recipe:

Carole’s Pumpkin Cake

Grease and sugar an angel food cake or bundt pan.

Mix with whisk:
2 cups pumpkin
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water

Add and mix by hand:
3 ½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg

Bake at 325° for 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hours. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Dust with powdered sugar.

** Great with cream cheese icing.

So, I’m off to buy some pumpkin and eggs so I can whip one of these up tonight, too!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I won a Give-away!!! (It came today.)

It’s been gray, cold and dreary here but there was one ray of sunshine in my life today. I received an envelope in the mail from Jan at Little Pink Plum.
I won a giveaway on her blog a few weeks ago and my gift came today. Gave me something to smile about! This is the first time I’ve ever won a blog giveaway. The gift was one of her cute little pocket mirrors which fits perfectly in the little zippered pocket in my purse. She also threw in a selection of matching tags and stickers. Thanks so much, Jan. I love them! Please take some time to check out her shop and her blog. You won’t be disappointed!

Seriously, about this weather --- we never got out of the 40s today and probably won’t for the next few days. With highs in the 40s and lows sinking into the 30’s, this is winter weather for us. While we do get some colder weather (low 30s down into the teens even), it usually comes in short runs and usually at the end of January and February. Most of our deep snows come in February.

Is the current weather just a fluke or is it a harbinger of a rough winter coming our way? The last two winters have not brought much snow but we did have a long bout of extra low temps last winter (teens and very low 20s). This was also the coolest summer here since records have been kept. What little hot and humid weather we did have came well into summer. We had no days in the 90s until mid-July, a good two months later than normal.

We’ve even got a shortage of pumpkins around here and that’s attributed to the cool damp growing season we’ve had. This is the first summer ever that we did not have Katydids singing in our woods! (For those not familiar with Katydids, they’re just regular cicadas.) We also did not have one cricket in the basement this year. Another first! I’ve got to believe this is directly related to the lower temps.

I’ve got to say, Al Gore has a long way to go to convince some of us about this global warming bit!

Stay warm my friends!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday

I told y’all we went to the Patuxent River Appreciation Days event on Sunday and, while it was not a huge show - only about 35 artists and crafters, it did have some fantastic work available!!

As this event is definitely associated with life along the Maryland waterways, the dominant theme of the artwork is related to the sea. Dozens of crabs were featured (yes, pun was intended!), great blue herons which abound along our waterways, fish images, marshland critters and artwork reflecting the life of working watermen. I can’t say that I noted some unique new trend in artwork or predominant “new” colors or techniques. There was such an abundance of high quality work in so many mediums and techniques I can just stress that this was top-notch work all the way. These folks weren’t even made to compete with any buy/sell trinkets! I was so impressed by so many of the artists and fine craftsmen that it is hard to pinpoint just a few of interest.

One of the few mediums I have not worked with over the years (besides art class) is pottery. For this reason, I am often drawn to and fascinated by this work. The work of Sarah Houde drew me like a magnet, especially a large Raku jellyfish wall hanging. Much of her work is functional in nature, flounder shaped platters, large coffee mugs, and various shaped urns. The earthy tones with watery blue highlights of so much of her work struck me as not only beautiful but also soothing. See Sarah’s work for yourself here.

Then there were the realistic sculptures of Mary Ida Rolape‘s Creek Side Art. She learned woodcarving as a teen from an uncle and has worked at developing her talents ever since. She also does castings of her original carvings. Mary also began a wildlife habitat in 2002 and some proceeds from her art go toward developing and supporting that habitat. You can read more about the habitat and see her work here on her site.

About a third of the exhibitors were two-dimensional artists using various mediums Rose M. Beitzell of Studio R is one of those folks. Rose paints and draws, carves, wood burns, and more. What a talented lady!! Again, the marshland theme is predominant. Take a gander at her work here.
Finally, there was Tammy Vitale. Another multi-talented artist and crafter, Tammy creates some absolutely tantalizing jewelry but what attracts people most is her personality. This gal has it going on! When I come in from visiting a show, I always sit down and go over my notes. I take time to pull up a website or two and when I pulled up Tammy’s site, I fell in love with her blog. The 9/21/09 post was entitled 3 things to remember after the art show. I found myself smiling and nodding my head. Check it out here!! I’m sure you’ll be nodding along with us. (Oh, yeah, take time to check out her work, too.)

One thing I do want to call your attention to -

Do your business cards really get your customers back to you? Are you sure?

Once again, I gathered a number of cards while walking the show. Late Sunday night, I sat down and attempted to pull up the various websites noted on the cards. A full 20% listed bad or totally inactive sites. In one case, I wasn’t just browsing, I wanted to make a purchase. (I couldn’t buy it at the show as the person I wanted to gift with it was with me.) It was frustrating to have to resort to e-mailing the crafter who, incidentally, had proudly announced that she had a website. This is Wednesday and I haven’t heard back from her , yet.

This is a problem I’ve found after visiting many a craft show this year. Please pick up your card and try it out. Be sure your customers can find you using it. Otherwise, why waste the paper the card is printed on?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Say what?!?!

72 Days!! You’ve got to be kidding me!! 72 days to Christmas?!?!

How has that happened? That’s just slightly over 10 weeks!!

I already feel the pressure. I’m rushing to get my shop ready, get my own shopping and gift making started and get all the other things that happen this month and next together, too. My life is further complicated by a two week vacation which starts in just over a week. I need to gather and pack for that, hopefully have some great goodies baked up to take with us for the family, get things together here at home for those that aren’t going with us and prep some birthday gifts we’ll need within the next three weeks, too.

So, what needs to be done to get my online shop ready? Silly question. Everything!

As always, I am frantically trying to get more stock done and listed between working on orders and making for our personal gift needs. It’s also not too early to start an online promotional push. Folks have begun to do their holiday shopping. I can tell because I already have a number of Christmas orders coming in.

I’m trying to be prepared for a sales onslaught. (Keeping my fingers crossed for one, at least!) Since my most popular items are infant through size 2 onesie-style infant bodysuits, I’ve set in a full stock of each size in that range. As many of my items are hand-dyed, I’ve also stocked up on my dye supplies and pre-washed a number of the bodysuits so they are ready to dip as ordered. I usually maintain a reasonable stock of my fabric paints at all times but I have doubled my extra bottles as I have found they are not always available in the most popular colors as the holidays get closer.

As the holidays approach, I’ve also found the shipping materials are not always as easy to obtain. Most of my merchandise ships in the free Priority Mail envelopes and boxes available at the Post Office. My normal routine is to grab replacement envelopes and boxes as I mail shipments so that I always have a few on hand as orders come in. This time of year, I try to pick up extras on each trip to the Post Office as I have found in the past that they often run out of the most popular sizes very quickly as the general public begins shipping gifts. I’ve already purchased a healthy supply of tissue paper and ziplock bags that I use in my shipping.

I’m taking time now to print extra large supplies of my garment hang tags, cards and inserts that go in every package. I do thank you notes to each customer on special paper featuring designs compatible with my product. I have stocked up on several more packs of that paper than I normally keep on hand. I generally enclose a thank you gift with my larger orders so I have prepared a fair amount of these so I can simply grab an appropriate one and drop it in as I pack. (These are “bread & butter” items that are generally available for sale at my live shows so I need a large stock on hand anyway.)

Now, all I need is the customers! If you find any wandering around in search of something to buy, please send them my way.

I’ll leave the light on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Enjoying the Southern Maryland life...

So, today we headed to Southern Maryland to Solomon’s Island for Patuxent River Appreciation Days(or at least one of them).
It was a spectacularly beautiful day. The two hour drive went smoothly and we only missed one turn by a single block! (We’ve taken more than one round-about route to this destination in the past.)

Actually there was a second wrong turn but it actually turned out to be a shortcut. I should have been in one of the two left-turn lanes but found myself in the far right lane where I needed to exit unless I wanted to travel on across the river and have to make a u-turn and come back across the bridge. (Yep, been there, done that before.) Turns out the “wrong” turn dropped me within a block of the parking lot entrance with only one car ahead of me. Those who made the left, ended up merging into one lane and creeping for about a mile to the same driveway entrance. The sweet traffic policeman let us into the lot after only waiting for about 5 of those “left laners”! Saved us lots of time!
The first interesting sight we came across was this Colonial couple. Who knew our forefathers drove hybrids? I guess even then they were concerned about our natural resources!
This event is held on the property of the Calvert Marine Museum and includes maritime displays and hands-on exhibits by the museum, the Coast Guard, numerous state agencies that deal with the waterways and the marshland critters, etc. The museum is open and there is an actual, historic lighthouse (The Drum Point Lighthouse) that has been moved to this location for visitors to see up close and personal. There are a number of make-it take-it activities for children. About 30-35 artists and craftsmen display their work and a number of food vendors are present. There is live music throughout the festival and this year even featured wine tastings from a local winery. We arrived just as folks were starting to stake out their claims to seats along the parade route.
It has been a few years since we’ve been to this event. It has decreased in size, taking up a lot less acreage. There used to be about twice the number of craft booths and lots more food vendors. I also remember the food as being a bit more unique compared to other festivals. The food was somewhat limited today and definitely run-of-the-mill. (We only grabbed a nibble there and then picked up a pizza on the way home - definitely unusual for us.) We’ve always enjoyed watching some of the water contests and demos but they took place yesterday, replaced by the parade today.

The crafts were well juried, of excellent quality and originality. More on these in another post. Suffice it to say, it was the place to shop for anything featuring the Chesapeake blue crab, Great Blue Herons or any other local aquatic life.

One of the most popular activities was boat building. Little folk and Granddads, too, could make their own little wooden boats! There was a crowd at this work area!

In another tented area, kids (and a few adults) were given the opportunity to decorate pottery by painting terracotta flower pots with designs limited only by their own imaginations.
We left while the parade was still going on, scooting across the street just a block or so ahead of them before pedestrians were blocked from crossing. Our normal exit was blocked by the parade so we were forced to cross the bridge, make a u-turn and come back on the upper roadway. (As I stated earlier, we’ve been across that bridge before, but not intentionally!) That didn’t hurt our feelings in the least. The view from the bridge is spectacular. I simply pointed the camera out the open window and clicked repeatedly. It’s hard not to catch a beautiful scene there! The 1 1/2 mile long Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge crosses the lower portion of the Patuxent River and rises 135 feet in the air. It is both a beam bridge and an arch bridge.

On the way down there, we discussed the fact that we used to go to this event each year and wondered why we hadn’t been in a while. We spent two hours driving to the event, two hours coming home and only about an hour wandering the event. On the upside, admission was free, we only spent about $25 on food and beers for each of us and used about $10 in gas. I guess we may go back again - in 5 or 6 years.

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I ate something different at yesterday's Grilling Competition. The anything-on-a-stick category featured an entry of goat meat on a skewer! I liked the flavor but, unfortunately, it was overcooked to the point of toughness. (Another judge who was familiar with goat meat advised it is normally a tender meat with a pork-like texture. ) I also learned that goat is the most eaten red meat in the world!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Grilling Competition

Y’all know The Big Guy and I are always looking for something different to do on our weekends and today was no exception. We made our way to Mt. Airy, MD today to help judge a “Grilling Competition“. This was not a standard BBQ contest like we usually judge.

This group has received sanctioning from the Kansas City Barbeque Society for a KCBS BBQ Competition but wisely decided several months ago that they would need more planning and prep time to pull off such a huge undertaking. They will hold one this time next year, complete with all the bells and whistles and big smoker rigs. To preserve their date and create some anticipation in the community, they decided to do a Grilling Competition this year.

Grilling and barbequing are two very different actions, use different equipment and produce different products. Grilling is a process, whereby one places their raw food over a direct heat source and quickly produces a cooked food product. Barbequing, on the other hand, is a slow-cooking process using indirect heat and, usually, involving smoke as a flavoring tool. BBQ competitions involve 2 days of cooking where grillers only need a few hours.

Unfortunately, today dawned gray and damp and things got off to s subdued start. Only six cooks showed up to compete in the four categories of wings, ribs, burgers and “anything-on-a-stick”. We did have well-qualified certified judges on hand for the scoring and treated this small field of competitors just as a field of 60 would have been rated. We had some excellent samples turned in and thoroughly enjoyed judging these different categories.

Between categories we were able to watch a children’s hotdog eating contest, an adult hotdog competition and a wing eating contest. The kids made for the best watching!! The young lady that won polished off three dogs (complete with buns) and a bite of a fourth in the allotted 5 minutes! (The winner’s on the right in this pic.) Mr. Hotdog was there to award the prize!

There was one little girl who didn’t have a shot in the world as she’d nibble a little bite, chew thoroughly and then wash each bite down with a swig of water. I think she managed about a quarter of a dog - but she did seem to enjoy herself! The adults shoved much more in and, honestly, appeared ready to explode. I’m not sure how many dogs the winner ate but it was a close race.

In the wings contest, competitors vied to be first to finish off a plate of a dozen wings. The winner and the runner-up both shoved the last wing into their mouths simultaneously. To win, they had to swallow all food and show the contest judge their empty mouth. They kept the audience in suspense for what seemed like minutes while they each chewed and chewed and chewed, attempting to swallow that last bite. Finally, we had a winner! He’s the second from the left. (The guy on the left was runner-up.)

At the end of the day, the sun had finally come out, we'd had fun and enjoyed ourselves. It was a little different than the structured KCBS events but it was, all in all, a great experience.

Friday, October 9, 2009

New Bits'n'Pieces

WARNING : The pictures illustrating this post have absolutely nothing to do with today's subject. They just make me feel good !

Okay, I watched the live feed very closely when that rocket hit the moon’s surface this morning and I saw - nothing. Absolutely nothing!! So, I’m confused. What were all those NASA folks applauding?

Congrats to Barack Obama for wining the Nobel Peace Prize. All of America should beam like proud parents. I only wonder if the significance of the award is diminished when it is awarded for “potential” as opposed to “accomplishment.” Were the European powers-that-be performing one last comment on the former administration?

One has to wonder about the sheer amount of air time dedicated to the Letterman events this week. Has it impacted your life personally? Hasn’t had any effect on mine but I am tired of hearing about it. Isn’t this really between those couples directly involved?

Now, this item is worth noting. Bertha Church, of Baltimore County, Maryland, turned 100 in May, this year. She’s been crocheting since she was a child and some years ago decided to put those skills to constructive use by crocheting little caps for the newborns at the local hospital. She’s still making and donating about 12 caps per month and, since 1990, has donated approximately 2700 hats to that hospital!!! Go, Bertha!!!

In a personal note to The Retired One, were you in NYC this morning? Someone in the crowd on The Today Show was holding up a sign stating “Yooper Women!” Actually, the holder of the sign appeared to be a good looking young man! I thought maybe you, or another of my UP friends were doing a NYC tour!! (LOL) P.S. If it was you, we expect pictures!!!

I read an obituary for a gentleman recently that put a new twist on the concept of a “Celebration of Life.” He knew he was in the last stages of a long illness and threw his own party a few weeks before his death. His “Bon Voyage” affair was attended by over 100 of his family, friends and colleagues and was a real blow-out which his family claims he enjoyed thoroughly! Happy trails, my friend!

I’m not a big fan of the current Mayor of Baltimore. (Thankfully, I have not lived there in many years.) However, I must give her kudos for creatively instituting the furloughs necessitated by budget cuts. All non-essential City employees there are facing a number of furlough days in the coming year. She has tried to take some of the sting out of this by attaching those unpaid days off to several holiday weekends. The reasoning being: If you’re not being paid for the day, hopefully, you can at least do something fun and exciting with your extra-long weekend. This week, they are getting a 4-day Columbus Day weekend!

Hey, did you hear about the Faux Zebras at the Gaza zoo? Seems the zoo, the only last family attraction in Gaza, lost all of its animals except one lioness to starvation or escape during the military offensive. In an effort to restore the facility, zoo workers smuggled dogs,cats and monkeys in through tunnels from Eqypt but, at $15,00 per animal, they simply could not purchase a zebra. They could, however, have a local artist paint donkeys with stripes to look like zebras!! The Faux Zebras are now the main attraction at the zoo with little ones clamoring to have their pictures taken with them!! Talk about creative solutions!!!

I spent a little while last night playing with the layout of my Etsy shop. Etsy instituted the ability to rearrange your listings a few weeks back but I hadn't done anything with the new feature until now. With Halloween rushing toward us, I wanted to keep my Halloween items at the forefront but didn't want to devote the entire Featured Items section to them. So, I used the new feature to place them at the top of my listings, followed closely by the Christmas line-up. I'm happy to report, the new feature is super simple to use and does give us a chance to display a bit more effectively. If you have an Etsy presence and haven't tried this feature yet, jump in and play with it. It was definitely a long time coming.

In case you were wondering, I took these pics at the Freedom Festival in Simpsonville, SC in May, 2008. It was the first balloon festival I ever attended and I was impressed! I took a tremendous number of pictures so I have tons to choose from. They really make me happy just to look at them!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

So, where are the pictures?

I’ve been fairly busy this week. Surprisingly, business has had a sudden surge both on and offline. So, I had quite a bit of painting to do and I’m still working on several orders. Friends have begun calling in Christmas orders but while it is comforting to know they are not in a hurry to receive those items I am getting them done as quickly as I can to avoid a time crunch later. I’ve had some gifts to make for family members as Fall is a fairly heavy birthday period for our family. Between the orders, I’ve been trying to create new merchandise to plump up my stock for the holiday selling season. Oh yeah, there was some laundry, housework and cooking to fill those odd moments, too.

Yesterday, I took time to get out of the house. (Okay, I had to go out. I had an order to deliver and some errands to run.) It was a beautiful but extremely windy day. The sun was bright and visibility was great. As I peaked a hill that I drive several times a month, I realized I had a fantastic view of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that crosses the outer end of the Baltimore Harbor. I’ve never noticed that view before and it struck me as absolutely beautiful at that moment.

Of course, the camera was home on the charging dock! For somebody that almost always has her camera in her purse, I sure have been caught without it a lot lately. I passed a few other great photo ops on that drive, too. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t been out of the house in a few days or the beautiful weather but I seemed to be noticing so much more than usual on this run-of-the-mill drive. I swore I’d drop that camera in my purse again as soon as I got home.

Today was another absolutely beautiful day. On my grocery run, I noticed the spectacular sparkle of the sunlight on the super calm water of the river (the wind died down through the night) as I drove along. This area does provide some great scenic drives on everyday errands. There were even a few herons standing in the shallow areas.

So, where was the camera? You got it! It was still home on that charging dock.

Where is it now? Right next to me, on the charging dock!!
(I'm sure it's charged by now.)

So, now you know why there are no photos with this post!!! Sorry.

Well, there’s always tomorrow (provided I put that thing in my purse NOW.)

See ya’ll!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday - Are you stretched too thin for the holiday show season?

As we’re rolling head long into the holiday show season, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we are stretching ourselves too thin and, by doing so, are we short changing any of our shows?

Will we have enough merchandise to sell at our final pre-Christmas events to make it worth our while to travel to and spend the day at those last shows? Will we physically survive the schedules we’ve set up for ourselves? Might we be better off, thinning our schedule down a bit to be able to concentrate on the bigger, better shows we have on our calendar? Wouldn’t it be best to have a bigger, better selection of products at the larger, more popular shows that we’ve paid so much for than to fill every gap in the schedule with small, less expensive shows that may or may not pull a shopping public? Maybe those gaps would be better filled by spending those 8-12 hour days at home producing.

I had lunch with two of my craft show buddies today. Between us, we have over 70 years of show experiences - or to quote one of my friends “craft show adventures”. We discussed upcoming events and various selling venues including a few standard Christmas craft shows.

At one time or another each of us has had to depend on our craft sales for either all or a large portion of our incomes. Now, all of us have other sources of basic support and count on crafts for supplementing those incomes. Yet, at least one of us, is still pursuing sales as if her life (or at least her rent) depends on it. I, personally, have cut way back on doing shows and pick and choose very carefully. I also pursue more “other” venues than these ladies.

One friend is doing a show every three weeks from now through Thanksgiving weekend. She has set up a production schedule that demands she completes a specific number of items per day. We had planned lunch several weeks ago but she was having trouble reaching her production goals that week and canceled so she could produce merchandise. She knows this is the only way she will have enough merchandise to carry her through. She has followed this routine for the last few years and it has worked well for her.

The other friend has booked a grueling schedule of shows and events with only three “free” weekends from now until the second week of December. She seems to be working around the clock to produce merchandise and is now beginning to panic, thinking she might “run out of product” before the last few shows. She’s looking pretty harried already. I asked why she has set such a demanding calendar for herself and her answer was, “My work is selling well at the moment. People seem to be really into it this year and I’m afraid some new trend will knock me out of the market come Spring. I need to get those sales now.”

We then went into some long philosophical discussion of crafting trends and how they’ve flowed through the years. We laughed over our efforts to be “trendy” throughout the years with tailoring our products to the current wants and desires of the general public. Some of the discussion involved some of the strange items we have each produced throughout the years trying to run with those trends. Some of the words we used to describe our own “trendy” items included: “ridiculous,” “bizarre,” “peculiar,” “downright ugly” and even “absurd!” Believe me, this discussion had us laughing so hard, we were actually wiping away tears!

Well, we realized we’ve finally stopped trying so hard to be “with it.” Now we just make items we enjoy making, in colors we think look good and with designs we like. While we may have managed to sell well when we were “trendy,” we don’t think we were enjoying it as much. Now we enjoy our work and like our products.

Know what? We’ve come to the conclusion we put more energy into our shows when we’re making and selling work we like and enjoy doing. We work harder to make the booth show these items off to the best advantage and we’re much more enthusiastic when talking with potential customers. We smile more even when the show is a tough one with long hours and less than great accommodations. Don’t get me wrong. We do still feel totally wiped out by the time we get packed up and we still drag pretty bad the next day but you just might catch us smiling on our way out. That’s because this change in attitude is good for sales!!

As for our busy friend, I think we convinced her she is overextending. She is actually considering canceling a few of her later shows and concentrating on the two larger ones in November and December. This way, her booth can be fully stocked at the shows most likely to command heavier traffic and she just might survive the season without dropping over from exhaustion. All of those shows she is considering dropping have wait lists and if she drops out now, those folks will have a fair shot at prepping for the shows.

Maybe now is the time to take a serious, honest, look at your upcoming show schedule and decide if it really is a manageable schedule or if it needs tweaking .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm making my list and checking it twice...

With only 79 days left 'til Christmas morn', you bet I'm making a list - or two - or maybe ten!

There's the list of everybody we need gifts for, the list of those gifts I want to make, the list for those we need to order or shop for, the card list, the list of things that need to be done to get the house ready for the holidays, the baking list - and those are just the household lists!

Then there are the business lists. Most important over there, is the list of merchandise I need to get finished and listed in time to sell them for the holiday!!

I'm starting to prioritize my lists. I need a list of all my lists!!

Santa has it easy. He's got two lists - the good girls and boys and the bad. The bad is easy. He can do a production line for packing up those bags of coal. Oh, and he can have some elves work that line for him. I hear they work cheap - just a plate of cookies and some hot chocolate. I'm sure Mrs. Clause is working on those cookies already.

Santa just needs to decide what each child on the good list should receive and then send a work order to the right elf department. The gifts are made, wrapped and placed in the sleigh for him with neat little labels telling him just where they go.

I understand he then settles in for a good long nap, gets up for a great meal with the missus and then sets off for one super long night of delivering gifts with lots of cookie snacking along the way. When he gets back to the North Pole on Christmas morning, I hear he settles in for a long winter's nap! How many of you got a long nap on Christmas morn after staying up all night getting the gifts together?

(If you did, please won't you tell me how?)

Oh yeah, before I tackle all those lists there's the immediate lists. I have orders to fill now, birthday gifts to make that are due by next week, and packing lists to put together for our Fall trip out west to see the in-laws (in a couple weeks). Talk about needing to prioritize!!

I did get my Halloween merchandise done this week. I don't stock a lot of Halloween items but I like to feature a few. This year, I've just done three onesies and I listed them today. Y'all had a sneak peak yesterday before they were all done. Here's a peek at the finished products.
Just click here or on the pic for a link to the shop for more info on each.

Here's hoping your lists stay manageable this year. we can always dream, can't we?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Just saying "Hi"...

Not much time to chat tonight, gang.

Been busy painting all day.

Finished up this little doggie wearing a skeleton costume. These are done on infant bodysuits.

Even the tiniest among us need to look festive.

Finished up two orders and then worked on new merchandise. Got to get the shop stocked for the upcoming holidays.

Tonight I worked on Halloween onesie-style bodysuits for infants.
These should make their way into the shop by Tuesday or Wednesday.

I will need to cut off Halloween sales by the 20th.

I'll have more to say in the morning!

See ya'll then.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alien Abductions!!!

I’ve been abducted!

It happened last night. I guess you might call it an “alien” abduction. (You know, the men are from Mars thing…) Just when I was heading over to the keyboard to make my Saturday post, The Big Guy suggested we head off to the casino.

With visions of triple red sevens, cherries all in a row and the perfect blackjack hand, I grabbed my shoes, threw on a clean top and brushed my hair and teeth (different brushes, of course) and declared myself “ready” in less than five minutes. (Never give a man a chance to change his mind when he’s offered to take you out!)

Okay, so we didn’t come home rich. Although, as a couple we lost less than it would have cost to go to the movies! And, after all, it was a night out together!

Speaking of alien abductions, I just finished reading Kat Martin’s Season of Strangers.

This was definitely not my usual choice of reading material but then, in a pinch, I’ll read anything. (Once, in 4th grade, I read The Boy’s Book of Baseball simply because I had my hand on it when the school librarian called time to select our books!) I love to find bargain books and on my last trip to Half Price Books, I grabbed a bunch off the dollar racks based merely on the jacket blurbs. I wasn’t familiar with Kat Martin’s work but it sounded interesting.

I randomly grabbed a couple of these books to take to the beach with us last week and this was the first I started reading. I quickly realized it dealt with aliens abducting and doing physical research on humans and, I must admit, I wasn’t real into the premise. I kept threatening to just put it down and switch books “just as soon as I finish this chapter.” Each time my friends found me reading, they’d tease me about how many more chapters was I going to read before ditching it. Something kept compelling me to read “just one more chapter.” By the end of the second day, I figured I’d already invested that much time and I was halfway through, so, since I’m no quitter, I kept going. Turns out, I enjoyed it!

When the aliens can’t quite get their answers through basic physical exams performed aboard their spaceship during the course of an evening’s abduction, one enterprising alien scientist tries doing experimental “unification” of himself with a human’s body. In doing so, he absorbs that individual’s personality, knowledge and memories in conjunction with his own. Through his journal entries, the reader sees him attempt to explain how humans differ from his species in that they are guided by emotions. He attempts to define emotions such as determination, grief, sadness and even love. As he poses hypothetical questions concerning his theories, the reader is fed quite a bit of food for thought. I found myself mulling over some of his questions from time to time.

All of Kat Martin’s books are not alien oriented (although I do know there are at least two more) but I like her writing style and plan to keep my eyes open for more on those bargain racks and flea market tables. Should you come across one, take some time and have a good read!

How about a sneak preview of some of my new merchandise that will debuting in my etsy shop this week?

This perky little sock reindeer will brighten any corner or serve as a great seasonal cuddly for the little one in your life.

Every little guy or gal needs a teddy bear in their life!

The sailor onesie-style bodysuit has been available in the shop for some time now, but I just added the matching pants!

These should all be available in the shop within the week, as well as some more new items. I'll try to share some others with you later in the week.