My 2011 in review

This has been one of the most incredible years for me. So many opportunities and life events that I would have never even imagined. I think the most exciting moments in life are those that you don't seek out, and that take you by surprise.

I was never looking for my husband when we met in 2003 - in fact I was already dating someone else - but I can't imagine my life without him. Our second daughter was a complete surprise, but she's just pure joy in our life that makes every day so much sweeter. I was never seeking out the chance to have my work published in a book, but the opportunity presented itself to me, and I took it. This year was all about surprises, and the fruit that comes from grabbing a chance and just going with it.


Stemming from a little comment I made on her blog, I started posting drink recipes on Going Home to Roost. That 6-week guest series has morphed into a weekly DIY series that I absolutely love doing. Bonnie is such as pleasure to write for, and the material on her blog always has me striving to be a better citizen of this world. I love being part of her blog.


A well-known author in the creative world asked to feature some of my paper cut post cards in her upcoming book about stationery design. This was one of those things that just came out of nowhere, but turns your life upside down. The book isn't published yet, and so I haven't seen an increase in traffic from the opportunity, but the whole idea has pushed me to work harder and raise my standards for my own work. I'll likely be writing more about this experience as it unfolds in 2012.


In 2008 we moved to Chicago, and then to the surrounding suburbs in 2009. In February, 2011, my husband came home from work and indicated that he was ready to move back to Michigan and buy a house. We were originally planning on moving back into the city once our lease was up in September, with our little family of 4. My husband's job was a killer though - 60+ hours, work to do once he got home, a long commute, working the weekends in almost every month of the year. He was ready to move back to Michigan, our home state, and get some stability in our lives. In March we decided at what was essentially the drop of a hat to start looking for homes to buy.


Okay, I was born the year that the original 5 members of Duran Duran broke up in 1985, but they're my favorite band, and though most other girls my age think that makes me incredibly lame and/or old-fashioned, I don't believe that they understand the level of talent, creativity, authenticity, and fashion that is the aesthetic band, Duran Duran.

I had seen them live in concert in 2005 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which is this HUGE stadium that the Detroit Pistons play in, and we were in the nose bleed section. In April, Duran Duran was playing at the House of Blues in Chicago, and my husband got us tickets as an anniversary present. The House of Blues has no assigned seating - it's standing room only - so I was able to wedge my way up close and experience the entire concert from 20 away. Those guys are still producing amazingly original music, and it was one of the best nights of my life. They still look damn good, too.


I made homemade ice cream - without an ice cream maker - for the first time. It seems silly to be a highlight, but I had always wanted to make my own ice cream. The best part was that it was so incredibly delicious, a real success.


I started to go house-crazy in June. We were planning our house hunt for the first weekend of July, so I had been spending most of my free time on Zillow and Trulia. I thought I had found our dream home - perfect price, perfect size, perfect location, so I had also been collecting decor ideas and inspiration with that home in mind. We got in touch with our Realtor, and the idea of buying a house became a reality.


In early July we drove to Michigan, dropped the kids off at the grandparents' house, and went on our 1-day, 12-house viewing extravaganza. We sent our Realtor a list of our favorite houses, with our dream house for the first stop of the day. We went in and loved it, although the basement was a little iffy, and the yard was really small - but what can you expect from a 1940s house. The rest were all a little scary or just too expensive, until we saw the last house of the day. It was perfect in every way, from the fenced-in yard to the finished basement. We decided to place an offer on that house, instead of our dream house. It was lucky that we made that choice - had we gone with the original house, we would have been in a bidding war and possibly lost. About a week later, after days of offers and counter-offers, we got our first house. I started packing up our tiny apartment immediately.


The house became ours on August 15th, and we moved 5 days later. My husband still had 3 weeks left at his job, so he was commuting back and forth on the weekends - it was terrible. The house was amazing though - I finally got my own work and creative space that was NOT designated to the dining room table or living room coffee table. No more creative clutter around the house!


I started remodeling the house. I had never even painted a room myself before, so it was a big challenge, but so worth it. In the next week I will be sharing the final results of my dining room makeover, although I am sure I will tweak it from time-to-time. We also enjoyed some off-time with my husband, who had a couple of weeks off between his old job and new job. We got to do fun things like go to the zoo, throw a party, and refinish the deck.


October was a busy time - my first baby turned three years old, and I opened a second stationery shop: Nature Party. I was also prepping for the holidays like crazy, and we took some time to re-discover our old/new town by visiting a local pumpkin patch, going on walks downtown, and visiting the MSU campus.


November was all about planning for Christmas. I was stocking up ideas for homemade treats and handmade gifts. I had so much fun driving the relatively short distance to my hometown to see my sister's band perform, or to have family game nights again. Thanksgiving weekend was a bit of a blur - there is always so much family to see and multiple Thanksgiving meals to eat.


Like always, December is insane. I started the month off with an entire weekend visit from my sister. We baked, cooked, knitted, made candles, and did all sorts of crafty holiday projects. It was like being kids again, living in the same house. That same weekend we had a small birthday celebration for my second daughter who turned two years old. The rest of the month was filled with traveling, holiday parties, family, baking, and making holiday orders for my shop. We just got back into town on Wednesday and are getting ready for New Year's Eve.

So what is your best memory from 2011? Did you experience any major life events, or was it just smooth sailing for you? When you look back on 2011 say, 30 years from now, what will you remember? I know for me it will be our first home and the dreams of what it might be that go with it.

3 Tips for Boosting Etsy Views

A couple of weeks ago, a reader asked my advice on boosting Etsy shop and product views when you are very crunched for time. Many, if not most, online indiepreneuers have a "day job" in addition to their handmade business,  whether it is an actual 9-5 job, college, or staying at home with children. This pretty much just leaves nights and weekends to develop business. Below is the advice that I gave this indie seller.

Usually when views go down and stay down, most seasoned sellers would suggest to focus on your product, add to your product line, create new interest in your shop. Etsy veterans usually suggest listing new items, rather than continuing to renew old items. That's hard to do when you're so busy! There isn't always time to dedicate to creating and listing all new products. So until you get time to work on new designs, you have to work with what you have.

One thing that I did to really increase my views earlier this year was to join a treasury team. There are a ton of treasury teams on Etsy, but I chose one that is not open to everybody - right now there are 80-something shops on the team, and they put the cap at about 100 shops. Everyone on the team has to create at least 12 treasuries a month featuring at least 6 different team members' items. Since my team also only chooses shop owners that create really great treasuries, the chance of hitting Front Page is pretty good. There were times when I was on the front page 3 times within 2 days, just because I joined that team, and views sky-rocketed.

Another tip I have is to very closely follow the Etsy Merchandising report. It's published monthly in the Etsy Blog and basically tells you how to tag your items according to how:
1. Etsy staff will be searching terms for items to feature in newsletters, gift guides, the Etsy blog, etc.
2. How Etsy members will be searching for items to add to treasuries, based on current trends and the merchandising report itself
3. How customers will likely be searching for items to buy, based on current marketing trends

For example, if your artwork features a lot of orange and yellow, besides tagging your listing with "orange" and "yellow", the report might suggest tagging with "Rust" and "Saffron" in the summer, and change those tags to "Pumpkin" and "Mustard" in the autumn. The seasonal Pantone color report is often referenced in these merchandising reports.

This doesn't mean that you should change your product line to fit with the reports, or that you should only create what is trendy; rather, referencing the merchandising reports is a way for you to see how what you are already making fits in with current trends, and it gives you insight on how to help shoppers who want what you have to find you.

Finally, since Etsy changed their default search from most recent to relevancy, item titles have become more important. Etsy staff has suggested that we title our items to mirror how people search for things. I haven't spent too much time studying it, but the first three words of a title should begin by what a real person would type into the search bar to find your item.

For example, it's great to be creative with product names, since "Sunset Reflections" is a beautiful name for a necklace; however, shoppers aren't likely to be searching for creative product titles. Shoppers are also not likely to know that the stone in the bracelet they are looking for is a blue topaz - they may be more likely to search for "blue gemstone bracelet" instead of "Natural Blue Topaz Faceted Stone Bracelet". Blue topaz is better left at the end of the product title.

Now, once you have increased traffic into your shop, it's up to you to translate those views into sales. How is this done? Through your product photography, item descriptions, shop policies, branding, and your artist profile. Make your photos almost as good as seeing the item description. Convince shoppers through your descriptions that your product is the best, and that they want what you make - tell them why your work is special. Give you and your shop personality and a likable quality that they won't forget.

Family Keepsake Ornament DIY

You may have seen this post by me on GHTR - this is a re-post of my original guest post. 

This project is nice for your own family, or as a handmade gift for another. Inside the glass bulb are the names of each member of the family - pets included - written or printed on little paper banners. Use a banner to mark the year as well, so you'll never forget.

1 clear glass bulb ornament with hook
as many paper banners as needed, in complimentary colors
a fine-tipped pen

Measure the opening of the bulb to make sure paper banners will fit inside without crumpling. Cut out as many paper banners as needed for each name. I also included one banner to mark the year, and another banner I left blank for decoration.

Gently fold the banner in half and lightly pinch the crease - just enough so that that banner stays shut, but not so much that it is permanently creased shut.

Re-open the banner and write the name of a family member. Repeat for each family member. Write the holiday and year on one banner if you desire, and leave another blank. I included one glittering bronze banner to leave blank.

Gently, partially fold the banners again, and drop inside the ornament. Once all paper banners are inside, replace the cap of the ornament.

Shake gently to release banners from each other's folds if needed, and package in a protective box for gift-giving.

Christmas in a Cup: White Chocolate Peppermint Latte

Note from Ashley: this recipe originally appeared as a guest post by me on GHTR!

Christmas in a Cup! That is what I call my white chocolate peppermint latte. Quite similar to my peppermint mochoa latte recipe, this recipe is perfect for those who don't like cocoa or just want to try something different. The white chocolate is smooth and creamy, while the peppermint is cool and refreshing. This recipe is just for one latte, but it can easily be doubled for two at a time.

1/2 cup milk or soy milk
1/4 cup white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate bar
1 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 ounces espresso or strongly brewed coffee

Combine the milk and white chocolate in a double boiler or a glass bowl atop a pot of boiling water (which is what I did). You can just combine them in a pot, but you risk scorching the milk.

Whisk the mixture until the white chocolate is completely melted, which can take about 10 minutes. While white chocolate is melting on the stove, prepare your strong coffee or espresso.

When the white chocolate has melted into the milk, add the vanilla and peppermint extracts. Continue to whisk periodically until coffee has brewed.

Pour your white chocolate syrup into a mug, and then add coffee. Top with whipped cream and crushed peppermint sticks!

Paper Garland Gift Wrap DIY

If you really want to crank your gift wrapping up a notch and add some major festivity, then you'll love this last idea: paper garland. Use the handmade garland to tie a present like you would ribbon or twine, and hopefully the garland can be reused for other occasions.

Simply cut a piece of thin string, 2-3 feet long depending on the size of the gift. Use paper circles or triangles cut from coordinating colored paper. Open the paper, glue the inside crease and inside bottom edge. Place paper flag on string, and fold shut, sealing in place. Repeat until the whole string is full, let dry, and tie around your gift.

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Kitschy Retro Christmas Gift Wrap Toppers

If you love kitsch or a little bit of retro flare at Christmas time, then you will love this little idea: use hot glue to attach little bottle brush trees and vintage deer to the top of a wrapped gift, setting a cute little winter scene.

As with the paper owl topper, you'll want to be careful when transporting these little topped presents, but the reaction to them is sure to be enjoyment.

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Glittered Sticks: DIY Gift Wrap Ideas

This simple and stunning DIY gift wrap idea actually comes from my Oh, Hello Friend Lovely Package Gift Exchange partner, Emily of Potter and Butler. She sent me this gorgeous box of beautifully wrapped presents - the focus was meant to be on the packaging, and she did an amazing job. I'll be writing more about what she sent me later - you will love it!

I just had to reuse these glitter-covered sticks she sent me - paired with the kraft paper and teal, velvet ribbon, I think they really stand out. I don't know exactly how it was done, but I would try dipping thick twigs in glue, then sprinkling immediately with silver glitter, shaking them off when dry. I haven't noticed a big shedding glitter mess yet, so I would use them again.

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DIY Gift Wrap: Paper Owl Toppers

Forget the traditional bow - why not try a sweet little paper owl? They fit perfectly in with the theme of winter woodland nature. They look a little complex though, don't they? The good news is that they are actually pretty easy! All you need is a computer and paper to print out the template.

Just cut along the lines as shown on 3 Eyed Bear, and glue where indicated, in the order that the tabs are numbered. Secure the finished owl to the top of your gift with tape. The only downside is that you have to be extra careful when transporting your gifts, but I think they're worth it.

DIY Holiday Gift Wrap Week: Stamped Paper

Happy Holidays! Today we are kicking off a week of holiday packaging ideas - have you started yours yet? I'm about half-way done. Each day this week you will see DIY ideas that I am using this year, plus inspiration from others.

Today I am starting with my most basic tip: use rubber stamps to decorate kraft paper. I personally love the look of white ink on natural kraft. The snowflake stamp that I already owned was just perfect.

Use one single stamp, or mix and match a few different designs for a unique pattern. Try to stick to black, white or bold-colored ink when stamping on kraft - pastels often look washed out.

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How to Make a "Snow Globe" Ornament

I love these little ornaments - they're so sweet and simple. They're basically like snow globes without water, or an artificial terrarium. They're also really quick to make, but they do require a little patience and a steady hand.

To make them you will need:

- Glass globe ornaments with a removable top
- tiny bottle brush trees
- fake snow - bought from a craft store, or use shredded white tissue, cotton fluff, - paper confetti, or whatever white, fluffy substance you have
- adhesive - I used foam sticky dots, but a dab or hot glue would work, too
- tweezers

Begin by removing the cap to the globe. Place your adhesive on the base of the tree, and using tweezers, lower the tree into the ornament.

I only have cosmetic tweezers, so this was a bit tricky since they were on the short side. The longer the tweezers, the better. If you drop the tree inside the globe, just tilt it back down, grab the top of the tree with the tweezers, and keep trying until you get the tree to stick and stand up at the bottom of the ornament.

Next, put your fluffy snow filling in the globe. I used shredded tissue paper. It doesn't need to be attached to the inside of the ornament, as long as it settles back down around the tree if it gets shaken up.

Replace ornament cap, and you're done!

Next time I would love to find a way to put a little snowman or a vintage plastic deer in there with the tree - how cute would that be?

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30 Days of Holiday Goodies: White Chocolate Peppermint Latte

Simple and delicious! This white chocolate peppermint latte recipe that I wrote for Going Home to Roost this week is one of my favorite homemade latte recipes this year. It really is a bit like Christmas in a mug, and all you need are a few flavorful ingredients: espresso or strong coffee; white chocolate; milk; peppermint extract; vanilla extract.

Click on over to Going Home to Roost to get the full recipe and instructions.

Happy Holidays!

Ornament ideas for under a dollar + free PDF pattern


By Rachel Anne Jones

*I was so excited to finish my craft from last month, but, since the Holiday rush started, my only local craft store hasn't sold my gold jump rings I was using to make it, so stay tuned to next month after the Christmas masses have stopped hoarding my jump rings for the end result of that November Genealogy craft tutorial*

For this Holiday craft, I was reminded of a story I heard from an old lady I used to drive for. Her mind was starting to go, so she said a lot of the same stories again and again as most old people do, and her favorite Holiday story was her very first Christmas as a newlywed, just a few months pregnant. She wanted to decorate for the holidays, but they had no money. So, she bought a carton of eggs, blew out the yolks, and painted every single ornament.


This Christmas memory was so meaningful to her, that several times she'd then insist I go to the attic to see if the eggs were still there, and each time we'd realize that the rats had eaten them all and she would shrug and say "O well. But they were the best I ever made."

This tells us many things about Holiday memories, most of which are warm and cuddly, but also that lingering irk that, even 50ish years ago, decorations were freakin expensive. Your typical tree will have about 30-50 ornaments, and when you're just starting out with your first Holiday in a new place: decorating can really break the bank. So, in honor of that, here are some types of decorations you can make from merely the pennies in your purse that don't involve painstaking egg-painting.

Glitter ornament: I was standing in the register line at Micheals, and there was a smooth coating of glitter all over the place (as always) and I saw ornaments nearly identical to these selling for about 6 bucks a pop.

It came to me like a lucid dream: First, glitter is cheap. Second, there was a part of it-and I didn't know how dominant that part might be-that automatically makes me think of the holidays and really fat sweaters. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably going to make a glitter ornament for this tutorial. (And yes, these are the exact words that come to my head when I look at glittery things.)

So this expensive ornament made our way is assembled from a left-over wire hanger, glitter, and Elmers glue for a whole lot less.

1. Cut off the top of the hanger with the quirky bends, and bend the three smooth sides with two pliers either around a thin pole to make a long streamer or icicle shape, or bend them by hand to make a globe-like ornament. Because hangers have a plasticky coating, it'll adhere to the glue--but they're a little harder to bend than ordinary jewelry wire, so you'll want to gather your patience and aim to make an ornament that is about 5 inches or larger so you won't have to bend too sharply.


2. Dip it in glue

3. Sprinkle the glitter like nuts. It'll coat thinly at first, but after a while it'll coat like fried chicken--you'll have no idea there was a hanger underneath, and you'll have a glittery happy fuzzy topping that will last you at least until the new year. (you may have to let it dry and re-dip)

(When I first did this, I was using Spray Glue, which worked great up until I realized I made myself a little glove of glitter on my left hand that lasted for 4 days--unable to wash off. So avoid the spray stuff.)

Pop-up Ornament: Paper is really trendy right now. It's also easy to find. Using your leftover papers (preferably card stock) you can make a fun holiday ornament and you can feel free to use my patterns here. I like to cut them out with an exacto knife because scissors are a pain.


A Square punch makes this pattern--super easy ornament shapes that are super cheap and quick. Not to mention the potential for garland-making. It's so simple, I hardly need to explain them--you just glue end to end together until it forms a circle--but whenever I see these in window displays I love it.


For this next pattern, I'm doing a variation on a circular sphere origami. Each piece you fold three times into triangles along the three lines, and then you slip the sides together, and glue the two folds. You can make an 8 sided, 10 sided, or 20 sided ornament depending on what you're feeling.


I added some diamond shapes to the corners, and if you want to take it further, you can cut out shapes from inside. You can get as involved as you want to, and you can even make it look like snowflakes--but for this tutorial since I assume you'd want it as simple as possible, I just cut out little teardrop shapes, and it gives it a fun handmade feel.

Scale the ornament as small or as large as you want it to be with a picture editor. ( I supply two sizes here, although this ornament will most likely end up being about 5 inches or larger. ) Here's the link! 

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you all have a Happy Holidays!

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