Monday, September 29, 2014

Liebster Award - high five!

The lovely Theresa at Ordinary Lovely nominated me for a Liebster Award.  Thanks for thinking of me!

I don't think I've been asked to answer a series of questions about myself since back in the day when I had a Xanga page (oh yes I did!).  Here are my responses, and a few nominations.

1. Have you ever had something stolen from you?  
Yes, our car got broken into while we were living at our old place, and our GPS was stolen.  The thief left the power cord, though, so I contented myself with the thought that maybe it would be useless to him anyways.

2. Show us your favorite internet meme or cartoon.
hmm...I don't know about favorite.  Let me just pull a couple things I have saved in my "funny" folder on the computer (yes, I have such a thing).

3. Can you show us a picture that tells us something about you (no words)?

4. What's one of your guilty pleasures?
Reading celebrity gossip magazines when I get my hands on them in waiting rooms, etc.

5. Is there a hobby/sport you'd like to learn? 
I'd like to get better at quilting.  Maybe learn some embroidery some day (I do cross-stitch now).  It would be awesome to know how to play banjo, but honestly, I don't "want to learn" because that would involve hours and hours of practice, and I really don't have the time.

6. How do you see yourself spending your retirement (or golden years, as it were!)
Hopefully, I will have lots of kids and grandkids visiting a lot.  I'm hoping I'll never have to really be an "empty-nester"....if I still have my youngest kids in the house by the time grandkids start to come, it might work out.  It would be awesome to do some traveling with my husband, but it will really depend on what kind of savings we have by then, and right now it's hard to imagine it will be much.

7. What was one of the most thoughtful gifts you've received? 
There was a large old painting of St. Thérèse a friend had that I really loved, and praised every time I visited.  For my birthday, he arranged for a bunch of friends to chip in and buy me the same painting that he had found for sale in the local Catholic used book store.  It's hanging on the wall right above me now :-)

8. What's your biggest pet peeve?
Not sure if this is the biggest, or even - technically speaking - a pet peeve.  But as I've mentioned before, I basically flip out anytime the kids spill a drink....I'm working on it.

9. Have you started your Christmas shopping or crafting?
We have a gift box in our basement that we add things to as we find them throughout the year.  I have one gift for my mom, one for a friend, and several for the kids right now.

10. Blogger's Choice: You pick that awesome question that I'm forgetting to ask.
"Christine, do you have a name for your unique decorating style that is made up of mostly thrifted, given away, or trash-picked treasures?"
Yes, I do.  "Second-hand chic."  Which would be the name of my decorating book if I ever wrote one, but I probably never will...because people who are interested in second-hand stuff don't buy things new anyways :-P

I'm going to pass this award on to some ladies I know in real life (or have at least met).  I'd love to read your responses, but don't feel pressured to participate if you aren't interested or simply don't have the time!

I'm tagging:
Rosemary at Rosemary's Fancy
Katie at Think of Lovely Things
Kim at The Kearful Life
Caitlyn at Harvesting Home
Eva at Humblebee Home
Mary at Castle Keane
Pax at Peace Among Thorns
Caitlin at Easy as ABC
MamaRoc at Fifth of Five
Amelia at One Catholic Mama
Kellie at The Life Pursuit

Here are the new questions for my nominees:
1. What's one thing you do really well?
2. What's your favorite blog post you've written (include link)?
3. What is one blog post or article by another writer that has stuck with you for a long time (include link)?
4. Are you a "cat person" or a "dog person"?
5. How well do you get along with your siblings?
6.  Do you subscribe to any publications?
7. If your house was on fire, and you had time to grab ONE object to save (assume all other people and pets are already out safely), what would it be?
8. Are there any kids' toys that you suspect you might enjoy playing with as much as/more than the kids?
9. What kind of candy will you be handing out for Halloween?
10. Have you ever seen or experienced something you suspect was supernatural?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Meatless Fridays (Vol. 1)

Gina at Someday (Hopefully) They'll be Saints has started a new link-up to share tasty meatless meals, and I thought I'd jump in this first time around.

I've been eating meatless on Fridays for a while now....probably since 2005 or so, when I finally learned that Catholics are still supposed to be abstaining every Friday of the year (from meat by default, but in the US, you are permitted to substitute a different penance).

My husband is like many men, and wants to eat meat - and lots of it - at every dinner.  On nights we can't have "real meat," he's going to want to eat fish.  So for most Fridays during our marriage, I've made fish sticks and pierogies for dinner, at his request.  Fish sticks aren't bad, though we would love to have higher-quality fish sometimes.  But because of the price, it has to be reserved as a special treat for us.  After years of fish sticks, I'm starting to get sick of the same thing every week.

Now that we've gotten over the "hump" of adding another baby to the family, I've found myself with more time and desire to cook better (i.e. healthier, more "from scratch") meals.  I've been trying to slowly get Tom used to the idea of eating a couple meatless dinners a week - at least one of which doesn't include fish either. So I've been trying out some new recipes... 

I really love the cookbook, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups for meatless dinner ideas.  I still haven't tried many of the recipes (though my goal is to make one new soup each week over the next few months - we'll see how that goes!).  The few meatless soups we've tried, though, have all been shockingly delicious!  I mean, you look at a recipe and it's basically taking vegetables, water, salt and pepper and throwing it in a pot.  You boil it, simmer it, stir it.  You would think it would be so bland and flavorless, but each time, you're left with the most delicious pot of soup.  No meat, broth, or bouillon necessary!  It's amazing!  Then just add some good crusty bread, and it becomes a very comforting and tasty meal.

And now that I've made you eager to hear more about these amazing soups...I'm going to just change gears and give you a completely different recipe.  Maybe I'll share some soup recipes on future Fridays.  Today, though, I'll share the meal we'll be eating for dinner tonight.

Fettucine Alfredo
12 oz. uncooked fettuccine
3/4 c. butter
1 c. whipping cream (or heavy cream)
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional...and I don't think I've ever added it)

1. Cook fettuccine, drain water, keep noodles warm.
2. Meanwhile: melt butter in Dutch oven over low heat.  Stir in cream and pepper.  Cook 5 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Stir frequently.
3. Stir in cheese.  Cook and stir until cheese is just melted.
4. Stir in noodles until coated. (add nutmeg now if desired).  Enjoy!

I'm planning to cook some broccoli to throw in, and probably do a spinach salad on the side.  Grilled chicken would also taste great in this on a meat-friendly day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thinking about Opening an Etsy Shop?

I've been meaning to give a little write-up of our experience with Etsy.  For anyone who has toyed with the idea of starting a shop, or if you've just wondered what ever happened to the one Tom and I opened, I hope this post will be helpful.

We decided to start a shop on Etsy to sell vintage items, which Etsy now allows in addition to the traditional handmade items.  Tom and I share a passion for second-hand finds, so it seemed up our alley.  Each time we went to our favorite thrift stores, flea markets, etc., we began picking up additional items to sell in our shop.  We also raided our own house for neat things that we didn't really need anymore.  We set up our shop and became pretty involved with it for the first few months.  Things took off really quickly. 

It seems like it was a great success: we gained followers, made a profit, and received only 5-star reviews. 

...But we ultimately decided that we just couldn't keep up with the demands of our shop.  We began to ease out of it - we stopped adding new items, lowered the prices on the remaining inventory, and allowed everything to either sell out or "time out" (listings are only good for four months before you have to renew them). 

Here's a look at the extensive process involved
[this would look a little different if you were selling handmade items]

1. Acquire items 
This step wasn't too much extra work, since for the most part, we were already going to many types of second-hand sales.  But it did send us pretty far out of our way a few times to check out new "sources".

2. Prepare items
Things needed to be ready for photos.  Many things required a lot of cleaning or ironing, and some things needed small repairs.

3. Take good photos
Natural light is always best, with a neutral background.  Depending on the item, we hung a light or dark-colored sheet as a backdrop.  For clothing items and jewelry, Tom or I often served as human models.  You need to take photos from several angles, and usually some close-ups.

This was by far the most time-consuming step.  We wanted good natural light for our shots, which limited us to daylight hours (which end around 5:30pm in the winter) so meant we had to wait for the weekends when Tom was home.  And since wit was freezing outside, we had to take all our photos indoors.  It was always a big to-do every time we had a batch of new things to photograph, so we would wait until the kids were out of the way, at their naptime.  We spent several hours of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon every few weeks just taking photos for Etsy.  We had to rearrange the whole dining room each time, Tom usually had to go through multiple outfit changes, and it always created a huge mess and a fair amount of marital strife.

4. Prepare photos for listing
Upload them to the computer, crop them, edit them, select which ones you will use for the site.

5. Figure out a price for your item
We would then do a little "research" on the internet to see what the item was worth, and what price similar things had sold for.  We tried to price our things a little below everyone else - we usually bought them for such low prices that we knew we'd still make money, and we hoped it would help our items sell more quickly.

6. Calculate shipping costs
We bought a postage scale for this.  We'd have to weigh the item plus the type of packaging it would ship in, and add in a little extra for the weight of the tape, label, etc.  Then we'd go to the USPS website, fill out the form with the various specs, and calculate the cost for it to go to California (basically, the most expensive place to send things from here).  That number became our shipping cost.

7. List the item
Etsy has a form you fill out for each item.  You select various indicators for what type of item it is, upload all your pictures, create a written description, set "tags" that people can search by, fill in the price and shipping info.  It takes a while.  Oh, and if we had clothes or hats for sale, the sizing labels were often absent.  So we also had to measure most of the clothes, and compare those measurements to sizing charts to try to figure out what they were.

8.  Package and Ship the item
Once something sells, you have so much time to get it in the mail (we had designated a 1-3 day turnover time).  Packaging, taping, weighing, and filling out the Etsy form to print a pre-paid shipping label took a little time.  Then you have to find a way to actually get it to the Post Office.  I won't bore you with the explanations, but I rarely did this myself - it would have been unnecessarily burdensome to manage with the kids.  Tom usually took the packages to work and mailed them downtown.

9. Keep good records
We created a huge spreadsheet on Excel to keep track of everything.  We listed our items, when and where we got them, how much we paid, when we listed them on Etsy, when they sold and how much they sold for, charge for shipping, actually cost of shipping, city it shipped to, how much of a "cut" Etsy took from the sale, etc.  It was mostly to track how much we were making.  But Tom had fun playing with statistics and creating various graphs to find out information like which of our "sources" were most lucrative, which areas of the country bought the most of our stuff (San Francisco and LA area, and Brooklyn, NY for the record).
10. Store all your stuff
We had to clear out an entire closet to dedicate to storing all our items while they were waiting to sell.  It was frustrating not being able to use that space for our own stuff.


By the time we were done with all this, we'd spent many hours just to sell a few items.  Considering that a lot of our stuff was for sale in the $5-$10 price range, it was simply NOT WORTH all the time and effort involved.  So we're done, at least for now.

That was our experience.  But I can certainly think of situations where selling on Etsy might be worth the trouble...
  • You just really enjoy it.  It might be a fun hobby for you.  Maybe you have some craft or cool vintage stuff you're really excited to share with the world.  It started out that way for us, but quickly became too much work.
  • You have a fair amount of free time to spend on it (e.g. not having little kids)
  • You have helpful tools such as: a little "photo studio" with good lighting that you can keep set up, dressmaker's dummies to model clothes, etc.
  • You are selling the same/similar items, so don't have to keep re-taking photos, or re-creating listings from scratch [this is frequently the case when people sell homemade items]
  • Your products have a high profit margin which makes the time worth it.  (Our best items by far were our vintage fedoras.  We found about five really nice hats from the 40s and 50s, which sell for $50 or more.  If we could have managed to sell only fedoras, we could have had a nice little business!)

If anyone else has had experience selling on Etsy, I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.  And if you have an active shop, feel free to leave a link, so I can check it out :-)

Friday, September 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 42)

So right now, I feel as if I have a thousand possible things to talk about, but none of them that are thought-out enough to write a whole post on.  I've been pretty busy and scattered recently.  But lucky for me, it's a Friday, and that means I can just give a few of those things a quick mention as a Quick Take!

This morning, all three kids were pretending to be a band.  Sly played drum and kazoo, Stella had another kazoo, and Linus played a tambourine.  It was pretty adorable.

I reflected that the only reason they managed to stay happily engaged and playing all together for so long was because I was present with them.  I had intentionally sat down on the floor with them, ignoring the thousand-and-one chores I wanted to do around the house.  I wasn't dividing my attention between them and a computer screen, I wasn't reading a book or magazine or sorting through mail or washing dishes.  I was just sitting there being with them.  And they couldn't have been happier.

I don't know why it's so hard to make myself drop everything sometimes, and just spend real time with the kids.  But I never regret it when I do.

Last weekend, we repainted our quite-chippy front porch.  It looks much nicer now.  It's so pleasant to sit out there in the mornings or evenings (the sunlight is too glaring during the afternoon).  I'm wishing I had taken more advantage of it while the summer weather lasted.

I'm kind of waiting for that old black couch to finally kick the bucket, and then I plan to find a hanging porch swing - a lifelong dream of mine!

While I'm discussing house projects, I might as well show a "before" and "in progress" shot of our kitchen.  The actual "after" shot is going to be a long time coming, I'm afraid.  I'll save all the details for a later post, but if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

We had some the original cabinets refaced, some new ones added, new solid surface countertops, a big single-basin sink, and a microwave and garbage disposal added.   We ended up doubling both our cabinet and counterspace. 
Main wall "before"
Main wall after renovation (I have rugs and curtains and pretty things in there now, so it actually looks much more colorful than this at the moment)
side wall "before"

side wall after renovation
 I love white kitchens!  Once everything's done, though, there will be plenty of aqua and yellow mixed in, which are "my kitchen colors."

The portion that we paid other people to do (i.e. Sears, who did a great job, so don't necessarily listen to all the terrible reviews on the internet) is done, so now it's all down to Tom and I to finish the rest.  And there's a lot to do: tile a backsplash, build corner shelves near the sink, replace the baseboards, re-frame the doors, change out the yucky fluorescent lighting,  repaint all the walls.  It's going to be awhile, unfortunately.

My latest kitchen project was to painting the brown door and the dirty "white" interior of the pantry.

Now it has a nice clean white door, some brand-new shelves that Tom cut for me, and an aqua interior.
This is a pretty crummy picture, sorry - someone was fussing for a snack as soon as she saw me in the kitchen

Some people make their houses child-proof....we make ours child-accessible!  (I'm "trademarking" that for a future blog post, because this is a growing philosophy of mine).

We added a second low handle for the pantry, so the kids can help prepare their own breakfast in the morning!

I let the kids watch Sesame Street this morning and this song came on.

[Link here in case the embedded thing is acting funny]
Not only was the song pretty catchy on its own, but I felt especially drawn to it, because it could basically be my theme song.  I would be barefoot all day, every day, if I could :-)

I signed Sly up for a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program.  I'm pretty thrilled about it, as I've been hearing great things about them for years.  I have yet to read The Religious Potential of the Child, but since its based on the Montessori method, I expect it's pretty effective.

A number of years ago, when I decided that I wanted my (future) family to develope the habit of observing many of the feasts (and fasts) of the Church, I expected that it would take an enormous about of thought, preparation, and planning to pull it off.  But as the years roll by, we've been very slowly and gently tucking new little things into our days and I suddenly find us having legitimate family traditions for certain days, without even meaning to establish them.

For example, last St. Joseph's Day, I made a "fancy" dinner, and pulled out a bottle of wine (which we rarely have in the house, so I have no idea where it came from!), as well as a bottle of sparkling grape juice I had in the pantry.  We let the kids drink the grape juice out of these tiny little cordial glasses that are stemmed, so looked like our adult versions (I think Montessori would approve).  Sly was unbelievably giddy over the prospect of "kid wine", and still talks about it often.  He has said, "I can't WAIT for St. Joseph's Day!"  If we keep this up, we'll just entrench those happy memories which surround the day of this great Saint.

And I think this is probably how many Traditions start anyways.  You do something once, and it proves itself to be worthy and good, and so it gets repeated, and gradually becomes an inseparable part of your culture.

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Friday, September 5, 2014

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 41)


Sly and I are still chugging along with Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I'm impressed with the way the book is set up, and the theory behind it - even if it seems a bit repetitive.  He's doing pretty well with it so far...but he's only four.  He's easily distractable.  We may still hit a point where we need to take a break. 

Some days Sly's excited for his "reading lesson," and other days, he's not in the mood.  Since we always wait until Stella goes down for her nap to start (and Linus usually goes with the flow), I've started selling him on the idea of doing his lesson by taking a page from Rosemary's book.  We have "Mommy and Sly time."  He knows that the reading lesson needs to come first.  But once that's done, he can pick anything he wants to do with me alone (so far, it's mostly been playing mind-numbingly simple boardgames like Candyland.  Ughh...).  But it's been good for us both to have that time together.

On Sunday, there was a (belated) surprise party for my birthday.  Tom and my best friend had done all the planning, and it was far enough out from the actual day that I definitely wasn't expecting anything.  A lot of our friends and people-we-want-to-be-better-friends showed up, and it was a really nice time.  It made me almost feel bad for being upset when my husband, on the night of my actual birthday, went away on an overnight camping trip bachelor party!!

Do you ever have periods of time where there's a certain message you feel God really wants to make you aware of?  Something you keep stumbling upon references to over and over?  It happens to me often.  The latest thing I'm being reminded of is the need to offer prayers and sacrifices for the souls in Purgatory.  While hunting for some relevant quotes by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, I stumbled upon this blog.  I can't necessarily vouch for it all, but I have to say that I've been enjoying - though that word seems inappropriate - reading all the revelations of various Saints who have glimpsed Hell.  It inspires me to be a holier person, I'll say that!

Over the weekend, Sly and I heard this piece on the radio, and really enjoyed it.  I got home and Youtubed it, and Tom and I have pretty much both fell in love with it.  It was written for harpsichord, but there are versions on piano and classical guitar that also sound great.  Check it out.

François Couperin was the court composer of Louis XIV of France, the Sun King.  There is some speculation about what "The Mysterious Barricades" refers to, but one interpretation I read claims that it was used in the court at that time to refer to a woman's eyelashes.

Many members of my extended family have been running The Great Race every year since it started.  It's a family tradition.  We come from a "running family", so even those who weren't competitive runners in high school (like myself) were expected to come out, wear the pink t-shirt of our family "racing team", and run at least that one time each year.  A number of the cousins have now left the area for college or first jobs, so the turnout isn't what it used to be.  But I've kept up the tradition myself - even when it meant running a mere month after giving birth, two times.  In fact, I proudly carried a 17-year streak of running the race.  I was tied with one of my brothers for longest-running consecutive Great Race participation years in the family...until last fall.  We had to attend a wedding on the other side of the state, and there was no way to get back in time. 

circa 1997
2002, at a different family race
I wasn't even thinking about what I would do for the race this year, when I got a message from my Dad, saying he'd already signed me up.  So I can't get out of it now.  I realize now that keeping up my streak was the major factor in my determination to keep running it these past four or five years.  And I'm pretty sure I haven't managed to get out for a run - or even a labored jog - for a full two years.  

I hear people mention something called a "Couch to 5K."  I don't know what the details are for that.  But I know that I will be attempting to pull off a couch to 10K in just a couple weeks.  Yikes!

I try to keep myself hydrated, what with breastfeeding and all.  So I have cups of water all over the house.  But the kids are constantly knocking them over, and there is nothing that sets me off more than when one of the kids spills a drink.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not sure what it is, but when I hear liquid spilling somewhere, it's like something goes off in the most primitive part of my brain, and it's really hard not to completely flip out.  So for my own sanity, and the peace of my household, I have switched to drinking entirely from these insulated straw cups.  

I call them "Mommy's sippy cups", which is a title Tom thinks so puerile that he pretends not to know what I'm talking about when I use that title while asking him to hand me one :-P

The other day, a friend asked me how Linus was doing.  Without thinking about it, I gushed, "he's the best baby I've ever had!"  haha 

Yes, I know he's not supposed to be in a Bumbo on the table
Not to say that I love my other kids any less.  But this kid is seriously the happiest and most easy-going little boy.  Many mothers I've talked with have said similar things about their third children.  I am convinced that it's God's special gift to help you make it through!

Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary