Thursday, July 18, 2013

Forced Down Time

I am not one who does particularly well with taking it easy.  I end up feeling useless and bored if not constantly on the go.  But sometimes the universe steps in and smacks you upside the head and forces a little down time.  I've been having some health problems for the last month and a half and it's started to take its toll.  No need to dig into the details, but essentially I'm dizzy every time I move and often fully pass out, and thought it's something I've always had, it's become progressively worse in the last few weeks.  I come from a long line of people with heart defects, and I'm headed in to our local hospital for cardiology tests soon.  I'm not excited about the whole experience, to say the least.  It's something I'm sure can be corrected, partly because I am not emotionally equipped to even begin to think about this being permanent.

I've been housebound for the last few days because, honestly, it's not that safe for me to drive myself around what with the dizziness and all (you're welcome, Burlington drivers and pedestrians) and my wonderful and loving partner has to work (hooray for someone who can handle stable employment and has health insurance!!) so I've been relatively stuck in my own little world.  At first I was, shall we say, not pleasant to be around.  I can't garden because leaning over for more than a few seconds equals passing out cold upon standing.  And, you know, the neighbors worry when they see that kind of thing.  I can't go out and drive around looking for discarded objects on the side of the road or go thrift store hopping since I need to be driven around.  I can't even pop over to the grocery store 10 blocks away because it's 90 degrees outside and heat makes me faint big time.

I'm scared.  Every day I'm able to do less and less.  I know that my doctors care, but they're busy and I'm just one of several patients, and I have to keep bugging them to get what I need done.  I have to rely on others for every day tasks I was able to do just two months ago and that's extremely difficult.  I don't like to ask for help, and I like getting it even less.  I hate feeling weak.  But this is a lesson in humility and gratitude.  I'm surrounded by people who are willing to help and that is a beautiful thing. 

I'm trying to embrace this experience for everyone's sake.  Forgive me if I fail every once and awhile. I can still make and create, and as long as I can do that, I'm going to be just fine. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Vacuum Brewing Rules the Coffee World

I have a personal blog that I've kept for many years, and as I was going through old posts this morning, I found all of my "ode to coffee" posts I've made while experimenting with various brewing methods.  I thought I'd repost a couple here:

Ok, fine. I admit it. I'm a coffee junky. One of my driving passions in life is to collect every odd method of roasting and brewing coffee in existence. One of my more recent acquisitions was a Silex vacuum brewing pot from the mid 1950's. Sure, they make modern versions, but what's the fun in brewing without wondering if shoddy wiring will burn your house down?

Here's how I spent my Sunday morning. Please forgive the shaky photography - this was pre-caffeination after all...

The silex in all its glory:

Coffee goes on top, water goes on the bottom. Antiquarian plug goes out the side into my wall...

One of my favorite bits is how the heating element can be seen through the bottom of the pot. It comes up looking like a warm orange glow of happiness that will soon bring life giving coffee:

And just when your head is screaming in agony from coffee withdrawal and you can barely muster up the energy to revel in this most marvelous of experiences, the water finally reaches the ideal temperature and is sucked via vacuum to the top chamber where the grounds are waiting...waiting...

At this point I tossed the camera aside in favor of a large mug. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that the resulting dark elixir was full bodied, lacking bitterness, and much smoother than brew from a french press. It is indeed a spectacular cup of coffee. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When You Hit a Wall, Climb It

Money.  Perhaps my least favorite topic and my least favorite anxiety trigger.  I hate thinking about it, I hate worrying about it, and I hate tracking it.  But we all know it's a necessary evil, so I'm facing it head on.  Making a living as an artisan is HARD.  No joke.  I end up pouring most of what I make in sales right back into materials for new work or paying the bills needed to keep me alive and housed.  Most months, it's totally fine.  But slow months come along, and that's when I panic. 

May was slow for me.  There was no rhyme or reason to it.  It was just a slow sales month.  March and April were fantastic, so I did have my sights set a bit high, but I definitely didn't reach my sales goals or do much more than break even.  It's demoralizing.  I work my behind off and barely scrape by.  In the past, this has been the moment when I break and go back to a day job.  But not this time, kids.  Not this time.

Instead of looking at this situation as a big ol' brick wall of failure, I'm looking at it like it's a window and I can see through to the other side.  I'm not sure whether I can just open the window or have to smash the glass out to get there, but I'm going to do it.  I've signed up to teach two workshops in July and will most likely teach in August through October as well, and I've started dabbling in event consultation for people who want to have a DIY wedding or other special event, but need a little help either in design, material sourcing, or creation.  I'm also looking into making larger pieces (furniture, perhaps?  My beloved restored furniture passion?) and consigning them to overcome the lack of storage space here in my tiny home.  And the brainstorming is just beginning!

Instead of getting depressed, I'm getting creative.  I'm not giving up this time. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Geeking Out About Workshops

Earlier this week, I taught my first workshop on selling through Etsy.  It was a little odd putting the presentation together, thinking "who the heck am I to teach others on etsy?" but as I kept outlining and writing I realized that I do, in fact, know a ton about selling on etsy.  Who knew?  Ok, apparently the people who asked me to teach the workshop knew.  But it was a great moment for me to see how far I've come since dipping my toe in the massive pool of etsy back in mid-2009. 

See, I love teaching workshops.  LOVE it.  I love gathering my thoughts into a coherent presentation, I love creating informative handouts, I love the anticipation of getting a group of interested people together to geek out over something I find fascinating, and I love the interactions between all of us for a few hours as we share knowledge.  Love. It.  My favorite part, though, is getting others excited about a topic and encouraging them to get out there and give something new a shot. 

So tell me, friendly readers, what makes a good workshop experience for you?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Backyard Foraging: Sweet Dandelion Flower Fritters

I'm a workaholic.  I mean, I'm a serious, card carrying member of the workaholics club.  It's not something I'm proud of.  All it has given me is a debilitating case of perfectionism and stress.  But I've slowly been peeling back the layers of a self-imposed need to reach my impossible definition of success, and part of that process has been to engage in non-Found Beauty Studio projects.  Did you realize you can take on DIY projects that don't result in a sale-able product?  You probably did.  But I'm just starting to remember.  In my effort to step out of work world and add a little fun into life, I've decided to spend a few hours a week working on non-studio projects.  This past weekend was the first in hopefully a long series of workshops that have absolutely nothing to do with business.

So what did I do with that sacred free time?  I went on an edible plant ID walk!  Plants for food have always meant vegetables I've grown in a garden to me, so it was flabbergasting and amazing to see how many not just edible, but delicious and vitamin packed foods were growing in my back yard.    I love science.  I mean, I LOVE science!  Science is awesome and amazing, and realizing that nature and science had teamed up to lead me to free and healthy food was pretty flippin' awesome.  I've been running through the woods foraging for several kinds of greens this week like a kid in a candy store, but I'll stick to a very easy to find green for this post: dandelions.  Next week, stay tuned for garlic mustard. 

Like dandelions?  You may not have an answer to that.  But, like fried food?  Your answer is probably "yes, yes I do", because fried food is frickin' delicious.  So let's use fried food as the gateway to trying dandelions.  Dandelions- those lawn weeds that large companies have made billions of dollars creating pesticides to kill - are incredibly good for you.  They're readily available, and they're nutrient dense.  And delicious!  Be careful where you gather them, though.  If they've been exposed to pesticides, roadside chemicals, or contaminated soil, just say no.  If they've been growing in your own back yard and you've lived there for years and know you keep that baby pristine and chem free, go ahead and gather!

Greens are best before the plant has flowered because they can get a rip roaring case of bitter later on in their life cycle, but the flowers are wonderful right at their peak of blooming.  Pick them during the day when they're nice and open, and store in the fridge till you plan to use them.  They're mighty perishable, though, so best to pick them the same day you plan to eat them.  I harvested the flowers around 1pm and fried them around 6pm with no problem. 

Many thanks to Mountain Rose Herbs for the inspiration for this recipe!

Sweet Dandelion Flower Fritters


  • 30 - 40 dandelion flowers with approximately 1" of stem attached
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup soy milk (or milk/milk substitute of choice)
  • 1 cup brown rice flour (ap flour can be used too, if you can handle gluten)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (the imitation stuff will not work here, folks)
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • a pinch of salt
  • enough oil to coat the bottom of a skillet with approximately 1/4" of oil (I used olive oil but you can use whatever oil you want!)

1. Pick your dandelions and give them a good wash in cold water.  There may be dirt and a few tiny critters hanging on to them, so you may want to let them soak for 15 minutes to give everything a chance to clear out.  Rinse them off and put them flower top down on either a kitchen towel or paper towel.  Let them dry while making the batter.

2. Whisk together egg, soy  milk, flour, vanilla extract, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt till it thoroughly combined and smooth.  The batter should be a little thinner than pancake batter, so feel free to add more milk if it looks too thick, or a smidge more flour if it's too thin.  You want it to be able to coat the flowers, but not completely overwhelm them. 

3. Add the oil to a large skillet and let it heat till a few drops of the batter start frying immediately when added.  You don't want the pan so hot that the batter burns, but you also don't want it cool enough that the batter droplets just sit there without cooking.  Too hot burns, too cold gives you oily fritters.  Fiddling with the heat till it's the right temperature is 100% worth the effort.

4. It's battering time!  Hold the flower by the stem, dip it into the batter, swirl it a few times, shake the excess batter off, and immediately place it, stem up, into the oil.  Work in batches of 10 flowers so you can keep an eye on them while they fry up.  It happens quicker than you think!

5. As soon as they are golden brown, remove them and leave them on a paper towel over a drying rack to cool.  You can sprinkle them with a pinch of cinnamon as soon as they hit the paper towel for a pop of extra flavor goodness.  You can serve them with a dipping sauce, or eat them on their own (I totally eat them on their own).

These are best eaten immediately.  They can be kept in a warm oven before serving, but after an hour they get a little soggy.  Honestly, though, they're too tasty to last more than an hour...

I highly recommend giving these a try.  And, as I found out, left over batter is a very handy thing to keep around, especially if you slice bananas, dip them in the batter, and pan fry them for breakfast!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Abandon Your Art!

I'm having one of those weeks where so much seems pointless and hollow, marketing my work is exhausting, and all I want to do is hole up in my studio, retreat from the world, and make things.  So I did just that.  Instead of feeling guilty, I decided to see what good I could create from my agoraphobic episode.  Turns out, a lot of good was just waiting there in the wings. 

Have you ever heard of the Abandoned Art movement?  I hadn't until a month or so ago, and I've been so intrigued by it.  The idea is that the world needs more art.  People need more joy.  So folks like me who are going to obsessively create can put all that art to good use and leave it out in public places for others to find and love.  And I've been abandoning a ton! 

It's strangely cathartic to leave a piece of work out in the world without knowing what will happen to it.  I like to imagine that each has at least made someone smile when they came upon it.  Maybe my little creations have found new happy homes.  Maybe they were tossed aside and stepped on.  It's out of my control.  No matter what, it's been good for me.  I'm really, really skilled at losing touch with the world when I feel overwhelmed.  But this idea of reaching out anonymously to others with art has kept me firmly planted in the realm outside my door.  I've made it a point every day to go out and abandon at least one work somewhere random.  It's helped me see the sidewalks and crevices and little tiny hollows just waiting for a little piece of art with new eyes.  Every trip is a scavenger hunt for a new location.  Thank goodness for it.  Bringing a little beauty into the world has helped save me from myself.

I highly recommend it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lessons Learned from Seven Years of Business

I've gone mad with the desire to organize all of my paperwork, which is a minor miracle if you've ever seen my desk, and realized that April is the 7th anniversary of when I started Found Beauty Studio.  I've been a maker my entire life, but April 2005 was the first time I sold a piece to a stranger.  This business has at times been the only shelter of consistency for me through a marriage, a divorce, selling a house, losing everything, having a complete nervous breakdown, moving an hour away, moving back, transitioning through four different day jobs, renting apartments, buying another home, and getting married again.  It has been such a long, terrifying, satisfying, and often exhausting journey and I thought I'd share some of my lessons learned for those of you that may be thinking about running your own creative business.

1) If you can handle having a day job, keep it.  Running your own business is a sure fire way to go broke for the first few years.  Be realistic about your operating costs, as well as your personal bills you need to cover, and how much stress you can actually handle during the time you'll be pouring every cent back into your business.  If you're making $50,000 at your office job, know that you may never see that kind of paycheck again.  Can you deal with that?

There were a lot of times that having a day job saved my butt.  I've spent a great deal of time experimenting with different lines and it's taken me years to find what sells.  If I hadn't had that steady paycheck, I would have been homeless.  It's not a mark of failure to have steady employment.  It's a mark of understanding your needs and making smart choices.  I, I have learned, cannot handle having a day job.  It feels soul crushing and triggers my depression like nobody's business.  For me, it's worth struggling with bouts of poverty and exhaustion to have the freedom to do what I'm cut out to do.

2)  Ask for help.  I don't know everything and neither do you.  There are a lot of people out there who all have pieces of knowledge and experience that will make your life so much easier.  Seek them out.  Ask questions.  Listen carefully and keep an open mind when they suggest something different than what you're doing.

I have struggled with this.  I have often had a terrible fear of asking the wrong questions, looking dumb, feeling stupid, and opening myself up to criticism.  In the last few years, though, I've turned that around and I talk to everyone I can.  If there's a workshop, I take it.  If I'm stuck on something, I find someone who does it well and take them out to coffee and pick their brain.  If there's a professional who has a particular skill that I need (eh hem...accounting) then I pay them to do it.  I took me a while to get it through my stubborn mind that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

3) Kill your darlings.  If you think a particular thing you make is awesome, but after a whole lot of marketing and effort it doesn't sell, let it go.  In the world of owning a business, it's no longer just about what work you want to make - it's about making work that you enjoy and that people want to buy from you.  Making a living does not mean you need to compromise your artistic integrity.  But it does mean that you need to listen to your customers.

As I mentioned before, I'm stubborn.  I hate criticism.  I have a habit of taking things incredibly personally.  Watching my work sit on store shelves and online and go nowhere was so painful.  It felt like a rejection of me when in fact I was just making the wrong products and selling them in the wrong markets.  I used to make bags.  I made gorgeous, intricate bags.  Each one took days to make and they were pretty darn expensive.  And they didn't sell.  And I needed to pay my bills.  So I had a serious talk with myself to figure out what I found satisfying about making those bags and how I could have that same experience making something else.  Turned out that my favorite part of making bags was seeing what I had imagined come to life.  The bags weren't actually an essential part of the equation.  I regrouped, figured out the materials that really excited me, and started experimenting.  And I realized what I had always done as a hobby was the answer:  working with plants.  You know what my biggest sellers are?  Planters.  You know what I do when a particular kind of planter stops selling?  I invent a new style.  Lesson learned.

4) Don't undervalue yourself.  This is a biggie.  For many of us, selling our work evolves from something we've loved doing in our spare time and we're trying to recoup the cost of supplies.  It's so easy to only consider the cost of materials when pricing your work and nothing else.  Sometimes it's about just being so darn thrilled that someone wants to pay you for something you made that you'll take anything.  Other times it's about thinking the answer to having more sales is to lower the prices.  But here's the thing - your time and your talent are expensive.  You are worth being paid for your work and not just your costs.  The cheaper you price your work, the less value it has to your customer.  If you're selling handmade earrings at $7 a pair, your customer will equate them with mass produced jewelry from a mall kiosk.  Don't undervalue yourself!

I raised my prices a few months ago and I was TERRIFIED that I was getting too full of myself, that I'd fail, that my sales would disappear, that I was going to be laughed at.  You know what happened?  Nothing.  No change in sales, no backlash, just an extra $200 a month from the same number of sales I was making before.  No one batted an eyelash.  It was all in my head.  I also figured out that by always trying to price my work as the lowest, I was undermining my fellow artisans.  It's death by 1,000 cuts.  If we all keep lowering our prices, eventually we'll run ourselves out of business.

The biggest lesson of all that I've learned is that I'm better at this than I think I am.  Until I took myself seriously, no one else would either.  I'm making a living off of selling my work and I'm really proud of myself.  It's been some of the most fulfilling work I've done.  For those of you out there taking the leap, I wish you a ton of success, if you find yourself getting stuck, I'm happy to be one of those people you ask for help :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Before and After: Vintage Chest Restoration

I love refinishing furniture.  It's one of those activities that is just so incredibly satisfying.  The progress is so obvious step by step and when it's complete?  Oh, oh the joy!  My friend Susi of The Felted Gnome Knows by Susio generously gave me a vintage chest that I believe belonged to her friend's mother.  It had originally been wrapped in rattan woven fabric, but that had been removed some time long ago and left was the dried glue and broken bamboo molding.  But the bones were beautiful, and it deserved to be treated with love and kindness.  Here's the before:

My favorite tool for knocking off old heavy finish is a cabinet scraper.  It's magic.  It's a scraping blade attached to a handle and you just give it a lot of muscle and drag it across the wood to scrape off layer after layer.  Not only is it a great workout, but it's also really effective.  Here's the top of the chest after a few rounds of scraping:

You can see the dark spots around each of the nails where the blade couldn't get to, but with a thorough follow up sanding with 150 grit sand paper, it was down to beautiful bare wood:

Whenever I refinish old pieces, I always start the restoration process with a few coats of danish oil to saturate the dry wood.  It gives the wood more resiliency and it fills the pores so that it doesn't soak up the final finish unevenly.  You can see the difference in the color just with the oil:

Now, bear with me a minute while I give you this safety announcement.  It is incredibly important to wear a mask while doing any of the sanding, scraping, and finishing, and this is why:

See the difference in color between the bright white bottom and the brown sides? all started as bright white.  Had I not worn that mask, all of that junk would be in my lungs.  Safety PSA over.  Back to the chest!

Because the sides were originally covered, they used different wood on the sides than they did the top and the colors just did not match.  I don't often use stain, but in this case it tied everything together.

It was about this time that I realized the bamboo molding just wasn't salvageable, so I took a pry bar and a nail remover and took it all off.  I really dug the look of the nail holes left behind so I kept them, but they could have easily been filled in with stainable wood putty.

If I had been thinking ahead, I would have done the repair work before putting on the stain, but I was impulsive and wanted the immediate gratification of seeing the color, so at this point it was time to go back and complete those repairs.  When I took off the bamboo from the bottom right corner, part of the bottom came off with it, so I added wood glue to the joint, and then used small nails to reattach it.  

The other repair needed?  Nothing big, just, you know, the two front feet :)  They were really loose to start with, and after the pressure of the scraping, they both came off.  They were held on with long rusty screws that wouldn't come out of the curved feet, so I used a hack saw to cut off the protruding parts and drilled a hole for a new screw:

With a shiny new screws in hand, I reattached the feet and then gave them a nice coat of stain to match the rest of the chest.  Welcome back, feet!

 At this point there was nothing left to do but give it a nice sealer coat, and I used my favorite water based polyurethane.  I have the best success by putting on a light first coat, waiting for it to dry and then sanding it down with 220 grit paper.  I repeat that a few times until I build up the finish to the shine I want.  In this case, it took 5 coats to complete.

And...drum roll please... here's the finished chest!

I must say, I'm in total love with the result.  Not bad for a few days work, a set of clothes so fully embedded with dust and stain that they're now only suitable for in-house projects, and a little sweat equity :)

Friday, April 5, 2013

DIY Tutorial: Turn an Old Teapot into a Planter

It's no secret that I love plants.  I mean, I make planters as a major part of my living.  Plants make me happy.  They're living, breathing pieces of nature that can miraculously live inside our homes.  I don't particularly love, however, buying generic plant pots.  There are so many fabulous household items that would make such interesting planters, it's almost criminal not to use them!  Today I'll give you a quick and dirty tutorial on how to turn an old teapot into a happy home for a fern. 

What you'll need:
  • teapot
  • electric drill
  • glass, tile, and masonry bit
  • gravel
  • potting soil
  • fern (or plant of choice)
  • optional - center punch
I started with a small green teapot that had once had a lid and strainer attached, but they both rusted and I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with a teapot with no lid.  Easy answer - planter!

It's a pretty simple process.  While you could just add gravel and soil and stick your plant on in there, it's SO easy to overwater a plant in a pot without drainage.  I've been growing and caring for plants for over 20 years and I still kill off plants without adequate drainage.  Trust me.  It's worth the time to drill the hole in the bottom.

The first step is to turn the pot upside down so that the bottom is facing you.  Make sure it's on a sturdy non-slip surface. The last thing you want to see is your pot flying out from under you and smashing on the ground!

Choose your spot for your hole close to the center and mark it.  This is where I use the center punch to leave a small indent so that the bit has something to grab onto, but you could also just use a marker and run the drill as slow as possible to get it started.  It will dance around for a bit before it starts digging into the surface, so keep it as straight up and down and steady as you begin.   

Step 2: Drilling!  Drilling through ceramics can run the gamut from super easy to tedious, depending on how hard the clay is.  I've drilled through terracotta in less than a minute, but for something like this teapot, it took me a good 45 minutes to get through.  Any time you drill through a surface that can crack - ceramic, glass, acrylic, etc - low and slow is the way to go.  You don't want to put too much pressure on the drill.  You just want to let it do its job.  And unless you want to bang your head against the wall in frustration, it's really, really important to use the right bit for the job.  In this case, I needed to get through a thick fired glazed surface so I chose a bit made for cutting glass and tile.

 As you drill, the material you're grinding up will clog the hole, so it's a good idea to stop every few minutes to rinse it under the faucet.  I also add a little water to the surface to help lubricate the drill and cut down on the amount the bit will heat up.  Remember low and slow?  Good.  Because this is where you'll probably get inpatient. 

Drill on.

Keep drilling, rinsing, and drilling...  It took about 25 minutes to get to this stage. 

 Finally I made it through!

Then, the fun part - PLANTING!! I always add a 1/2 inch or so of gravel to the bottom of my pots to make sure everything drains smoothly, and then I add potting mix halfway up the container.  Then place the plant in and fill around edges so that it's completely surrounded by soil.  

I clearly work very cleanly :)


I chose a favorite plant of mine - the asparagus fern.  Its fronds feel like feathers when you run your hand along them, and I loved the contrast of the sleek base against the softness of the fern.  

Always give your plant a good drench of water after planting, and unless you want a big ol' water logged mess, I recommend letting it drain for at least a 1/2 hour before putting it on a wood surface.  I chose the extremely technical "sitting it on top of a glass" option.  We stay classy in our household.    

It's always a good idea to give your plant a 24 hour rest out of sunlight so it can adjust to its new home, and once it's ready to make its appearance, follow the care instructions for your plant and enjoy!!!