Friday, December 23, 2011


Finally got around to finishing my vanilla project...started in February! I was procrastinating because I didn't want to spend a fortune on the little amber bottles. Fortunatelty, I recently found a local container warehouse with great prices. I bought 2 cases of 4 oz amber bottles...but I really only needed 1 case because the bottle actually held more then 4 oz.

The one bad thing about the super cheap container warehouse was that the bottles were dusty. I washed them in scalding hot soapy water and let them dry for a day to make sure all the water drops were evaporated.

Look at all that yummy vanilla! Super steeped since I wait 10 months! 6 months would have been fine. I had to strain out the vanilla bean pods and use a coffee filter to get all the vanilla seeds strained out. There were so many that it looked like coffee grounds!

Hubby helped me fill the bottle because even with a funnel..I was making a mess, wasting precious vanilla. The kids thought the vanilla smelled yummy when we were filling the bottles. It did smell wonderful!

Next step will be for me to design labels. I have some leftover waterproof labels that I think would be almost perfect but they are a bit smaller then I'd like. I have non waterproof labels that are the right size but I think they would get yucky looking if any vanilla dripped down. I'll sleep on it and decided tomorrow.

This was a fun project. I can't wait to gift some of the bottles to neighbors and friends.

Woosh, there it...was!

My last blog entry was written at the opening of the 2011 season for the Riverside Arts Market. And the last market of the season was this past Saturday 12/17/11. What can I say? The months absolutely flew by. I had too much to do and not enough time to get it done!

How did my year go? Terrific would sum it up!

Two booths worked out nicely although I am thinking about scaling back next year. Business has been growing and it's becoming increasingly tough for me to be so fractured. It's just to the point where I need to narrow it down and basically decide what I want to be when I grow up. ;) The problem is that I love aspects of everything. Tie Dyeing for RAM, offering workshops in my studio, private sewing lessons...and of course, the Bird-E Towel 'factory.'

In the previous blog, I pined after a cargo trailer so that I could stop filling my van with RAM stuff (and thus getting my dining room back because THAT's where those van seats where living.) I did end up getting it which was an amazing help. I did a TON of RAMs this year. Even through the tough summer months when the heat was awful. It was worth it though! My fantastic customers kept coming back for more.

One sad event of the year was when my excellent employee moved on to full-time work elsewhere. I'm back to the me, myself & I show and it's not quite as good as having a team. After the ups and downs of normal small business stuff, I don't feel that I'm quite ready to bring someone else on board. It often feels that I bring money in right before the next big expense. Case in point, I just spent the equivalent of ALL of my December arts market income securing fabric to make Bird-E Towels over the next few months. That's 1200 yards of fabric and it wasn't cheap. When it's just me, I don't mind diverting my paycheck so that I can get an advantage on supplies. Obviously can't do that when someone else is on board. Anyhow, moot point because NOW is the wrong time to even think about this. No arts market income for 2.5 months = lean business months. Time to recuperate and come up with an action plan for the new year.

I ended the RAM season on a massively high point. Best sales EVER in the 3 years I've been doing this.

Rough Goals for next year - still working on them

Bird-E Towels
- increase Bird-E Towel Sales. Bird-E Towels are more family friendly as far as production goes. I can make and ship around our schedule.
- Take on a few wholesale accounts and see how it goes. Couldn't do this last year with spotty fabric supply. Every time I turned around, my supplier would tell me he was out.

Sewing Lessons & Workshops
- I will continue doing these on a sporadic, as requested, basis. I LOVE doing these but they are slightly more difficult to manage with our ever increasing busy schedules. I look at these as recharging events. They help fulfill the inner teacher in me.

- Oh RAM, how I love you...but I need a bit more balance in my life and working nearly every Saturday was really tough this year. I'm going to load up on the front and back end of RAM dates for 2012. If I can, I'm going to give myself a break over the summer.

- I'm kind of embarrassed that my facebook fan base hasn't grown tremendously. I really need to figure out how to get those numbers to rise on a regular basis. I think I have a fear that I'll be pushy if I do contests tied to 'sharing' like other fan pages do. I am not a pushy sales person. I am thankful that I haven't needed to be!

I love how my business has grown in 2011. I love that the different pieces have worked together in harmony...mostly. I do work really hard and spend virtually all of my 'free' time on this endeavor. I can imagine big things for Athena Creates. Huge! I just need to keep growing, learning and working really hard so that I can make it happen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh how I missed you, RAM!

March 5, 2010, was the grand opening for the 2011 season at the Riverside Arts Market after the winter hiatus. I can't even tell you how nervous and excited I was in the past couple months. Would I be approved? Would I be able to book my desired location? My friend and I were checking the reservation website daily and we'd text each other any news. All the worrying was for naught. We were both approved and we were able to book a booth next to each other. Phew!

So there were 2 big developments for my business as it relates to RAM. 1) is that I expanded to 2 booths! Over the course of time that I have been in business, I would do what most other small business owners do....take my profits and reinvest in more products. Before I knew it, I was having a hard time staying within my 12x12 space! It wasn't too bad because I usually got an end spot and I didn't have to leave a space between my booth and the next on the end. Well, on the last day of RAM last year, there was a new booth created on the end...and I felt claustrophobic in my booth with everything moved in!

Having 2 booths meant that I needed to do a mock up of my booth with my gridwalls and tables. I was able to use a larger table and all 3 brass clothing rack that I had acquired for a song on craigslist last year. I LOVE my brass racks because they are rock solid stable even when strong winds come through.

My helper and I spent all day Friday, Mar 4, setting up my booth in my driveway. We had to pull all my stock out of storage bins and put them back on hangers. I fiddled with the layout many times until I found the best configuration that allowed for people to walk through and see everything. I made signs. My helper priced everything that previously wasn't priced. It was a full day...and then we had to pack it all back up and load it into my 15 passenger van with all but 1 bench removed. I hope business will allow me to buy a cargo trailer soon.

This photo just shows half the booth.

I hardly slept that Friday night. I was up at 4 a.m. and ready to go! I forced myself to wait until just before 7 for the very short drive to the market. I had most of the booth set up by the time my helper arrived at 9. It really went together VERY smoothly since we had done all the prep work the day before.

The second exciting new was that I was able to invest in some mannequins for my booth! Last year, I discovered that whatever I had on my half mannequins would sell quickly. Something could be on a hanger week after week with no interest but the minute I put it on a half mannequin, it would sell and the new owner would exclaim how cute it was! LOL

Mannequin #1 is this adorable little girl, sitting. I liked her because I figured she could be buckled into our van and kept 'safe' from the shifting stuff in the back. We've had a lot of fun with her! My kids think she's a life sized doll and they would put hats & shoes on her...ALL my kids, even the boys. hehe

The reaction at the market was very interesting! I noticed that several people were a little freaked out...but for the most part people really liked her! Kids loved her and would have to touch her as they passed by! That cute dress that she's wearing is super special. I didn't start with white clothing that I purchased...I actually sewed the dresses with a high quality interlock knit and then I tie dyed it in a 3 part process to get the lovely purple Shibori burst on the side.

Mannequin #2 is a super tall, thin lady with sculpted hair like the girl. Sorry....I didn't realize that I didn't get a photo of her. You can kind of see her head in the back of this photo.

The wind was REALLY strong at times in the morning. I have never had a problem with my shorter gridwalls swaying but I felt the need to really keep an eye on them when the wind was really strong on Saturday. I moved the cascade racks down a few notches and I made sure all 4 legs were on the bricks and that made a big difference. I'm toying with the idea of getting a new tent to have something else to stabilize them. Plus it would be nice to have some sort of shelter when the torrential rains come through sideways. My booth is under the bridge and very protected from normal rain but there is a chance of getting a bit wet when it comes in sideways.

Anyhow, I am so excited that we are back in the swing of things at RAM! It's a lot of hard work but we all have a lovely time....chatting with other vendors who have become friends, chatting with customers, enjoying the music and entertainment. Such a nice way to spend a Saturday!

This last photo is how RAM looks at the end of the day. Everything packed up and ready to load up.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homemade Vanilla

Our family goes through quite a bit of vanilla. We usually buy it it large 16 oz bottles from Sam's club and with our large family, it doesn't last as long as you'd think it would. I recently stumbled across directions for making homemade vanilla and I knew I had to try it.

I used the directions from this blog:

I bought 2 half pounds of vanilla from amazon

For some strange reason, it was cheaper to buy 2 half pounds then it was to buy a whole pound!

With shipping, I paid $51.95 for my 2 half pounds. I only needed 3/4 a pound for the vanilla so 3/4 of that total = $38.97 The quality of the vanilla is amazing. Plump and moist, not dried out twigs. With my 1/4 pound, I will be making vanilla sugar and whatever else I can think of that requires whole vanilla my favorite dessert recipe...creme brulee!

I didn't want to go buy a gallon sized jar nor did I want to recycle a pickle jar because I know from experience that it takes a long time for the pickle smell to go away! Not wanting pickle flavored vanilla, I opted to use quart sized canning jars that we already had on hand. Dividing the 3/4 pound among 5 jars, I end up with 16 beans per jar. Per the directions, I split the beans but I also had to cut them in half to get them to fit in the jar. Once filled, each jar had about an oz over the 24 oz line. So, if you wanted to make 1 jar instead of a gallon's worth, you could use 16 whole vanilla beans and just add enough vodka to pass the 24 oz mark.

Hubby purchased the vodka from Sam's Club at a cost of $11.99 per 1.75 litre bottle = $23.98 + tax = 25.66. We didn't shop around so I'm not sure how this compares to a liqueur store or walmart as suggested by the original blog.

Vanilla beans + vodka = 64.63 for 1 gallon (128 oz) of premium homemade vanilla.

That brings the cost to approx 50 cents an ounce but NOT including the little amber bottles that I would have to buy to gift the vanilla. Now I just have to wait 6 months before I can try it!!

Ultimately, this little project does not save me money over warehouse pricing BUT I am positive that the quality will be much better. Is does beat grocery store vanilla prices and it's WAY cheaper then the cost of premium vanilla. And I think it makes a really neat gift especially when transferred to those cute bottles with pretty homemade labels. Oh and we definately will be gifting some. Vanilla stays good forever but I would rather share then have our own lifetime supply! :D

Sunday, December 5, 2010

9 months later...

Woah...I was a little surprised to see how long it has been since my last blog entry. The truth is...I have been busy, extremely busy with my business and with my family. It does not even seem possible that 2010 is drawing to an end. It really feels like it should be September!

We have had some big changes here since my last blog. My oldest child entered high school, my oldest son entered middle school (in 5th grade! That's unusual here but he attends a new charter school that starts with 5th.) We successfully fought to have my twin son moved to his appropriate grade level after he was withheld the previous year. And...he is doing we expected. :) And my baby girl attends a preschool 4 days a week, mainly so that I can have some uninterrupted hours to get work done. In case you lost count, that's 5 kids in 4 different schools. Somehow we manage but I think it contributes to my insanely fast moving life!

Business has been great! I hired my first employee over the summer. Her name is Candace and I feel incredibly blessed to have her. She helps me be more productive. It's a good thing! I have to say that to this day, I am still amazed that I am now a bona fide employer. It's a little scary to have someone rely on me for income...but because of her part, I am able to keep business rolling in. For that, I am thankful. It also feels really good to be a part of a business that is constantly growing (albeit in tiny steps) in this market.

My arts market sales have consistently been great and I have reinvested back in more product. When I think about what I started with....compared to what I have now in product and in fixtures like my's a LOT. :)

I'm looking forward to another year of growth in 2011! I'm hoping I can provide my employee with full time hours, pay myself with a little more consistency (instead of reinvesting as much as I have been.) And I'd love to bring on another part time employee next summer.

Also on my wishlist:
Industrial 2 or 3 compartment sink to be installed for tie dye operations
Used top loading washing machine for tie dyeing
2nd Industrial serger

OK, I guess that'll have to do. Lots of stuff on my to-do list today...laundry, embroidering, soup making, order filling, product listing, etc, etc, etc!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Screen Printing

Not too long ago, I was shopping for kraft bags for my arts market customers. The box of 500 bags that I bought last year are already they were really a tad too big. I bought them because they were actually cheaper then the next smallest size. Go figure. Anyhow, this time I splurged on green bags because my Bird-E Towels are an eco-friendly green product. I also wanted to have my business name printed on them. I quickly ruled that out because of the cost! They were pretty pricey per bag and there was a set up fee that was pretty high.

In the past, I have tried a variety of ways to get my name on my bags...stickers that weren't super secure because I have the re-positionable kind, I also used a stamp but it didn't stand out. I stumbled across a screen printing website...and I was instantly interested. Not just for my little bag project but for the other possibilities.

I bought a hobby kit from and I am glad I did. I made a few mistakes in the process & I had to email their customer support. They replied very quickly and gave me a ton of helpful advice. I'm afraid that if I had just bought the supplies elsewhere that I would have been ready to throw the towel after my first disastrous attempt.

The basic steps are:clean you silk screen, let it dry
  • apply emulsion to screen in a light safe room & let it dry
  • make your design negative on the computer & print it on transparency film
  • tape your transparency onto your screen & 'burn' the design by exposing the whole screen to uv rays
  • rinse the screen with a water sprayer/hose. The parts that were covered by your negative will rinse away.
  • let your screen dry again
  • then you are finally ready to actually get the ink out and print! But don't get too excited yet. There is still a learning curve.

I thought I followed all the steps but I couldn't get the ink through parts of the design. Customer service helped me realize that my screen was actually under exposed. I spent an entire morning trying to get the old emulsion off. Looked so easy on the video...oh yeah, they used a pressure washer. Our pressure washer was stolen last year. I was never able to get it wall off even after all that effort. I wrote on the sides of the screen so that I would know which areas to avoid when I burned my new design.

Oh and somehow I ended up buying a new Epson printer and a pressure washer to help me with future screen printing projects. chaching!

So it has been quite a process but it was fun learning something new. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Meet Shorty

Our oldest child is our 13 yo niece, my brother's daughter. We've had her since she was 2 and we just count her as one of our own. Her mom & extended family is very much involved and we have a great relationship with them all. Not only were we blessed with Mia...but with all the family that we get to claim because of her. :D

Mia's cousin Lindsay needed to make room in her house so she asked Mia is she wanted one of her chinchillas. I have to say that when I agreed...I didn't really know much about chinchillas. I looked them up online and the pics I saw were just of the chinchillas...nothing to judge their size by. I thought they might be a little bigger then a rat.

Meet Shorty. He's huge! About as big as a rabbit. I exclaimed with delight when I saw him...and I'm not one to get excited about rodents. He is just too freakin cute. His fur is so soft. I'm in love with him already.

And then I saw his's like the biggest, nicest cage I have ever seen. Seriously, it's really nice, well-made & heavy! The rumour is that Shorty has been quite spoiled. I can tell based on all his nice toys! I hope he loves it here.

FRAM - buying local

I like the idea of buying local but if I'm being honest, we still do most of our shopping at our favorite warehouse club..mainly because of cost. When feeding a crew of 7, cost is a consideration. But, it is my new goal to buy local when we can. Today, I braved the freezing cold temps to hit FRAM, the Farmer's portion of the Riverside Arts Market in Jacksonville, Florida. (The artist's portion of the Arts Market is currently on winter hiatus until spring.)

The biggest plus to just having the farmer's there was that I was able to drive directly onto market grounds. With the vast majority of booths spots vacated, there was PLENTY of parking. It was rather convenient.

I think there were 10 vendors there, mostly produce tables but there was a coffee seller and someone selling granola.

I bought a little from most of the veggie vendors present. I avoided the largest one because they seemed a little more 'Florida' local vs Jacksonville or our surrounding areas. And, I don't know...their stuff seemed a little too perfect...more like grocery store produce. I wanted stuff that looked like it was local, fresh from the ground with dirt.

I was especially drawn to this little table from Down to Earth Farm. Somehow I ended up on their email list and I have enjoyed their upbeat attitude. Their latest email included info on how they are trying to save their crops from the freezing weather. So of course I wanted to purchase from them. Their stuff looked really exotic to me. As a child, my veggie consumption consisted of iceburg lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, canned green beans and canned corn. No, I am not kidding. As an adult, I am much more adventurous but I wasn't quite sure what to make of the unfamiliar veggies in front of me.... cone shaped cabbage, rutabaga, kohlrabi, beets and whatever else was there. OK, I've heard of rutabaga & beets but I didn't know what I would do with them. I opted for a $4 bag of prewashed mixed greens & a $2 cone shaped cabbage since I do know what to do with those at least.

I purchased from other vendors, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, peppers. All in all, I spent $13 and bought a LOT of veggies. When my hands were full, a FRAM volunteer offered me a free canvas tote bag for my goodies. Nice! I came home, thawed my frozen hands, arranged my produce and took a pic for my 365 day project. My kids immediately wanted cucumbers. I made myself a salad with the mixed was delicious, absolutely wonderful. Not bitter at all like so many mixed salads can be.

So what are my plans with all these veggies... I plan on making salsa with the tomatoes & hopefully canning some. The green beans...oh the green beans...I can almost taste how yummy they will be using the Pioneer Woman's fresh green bean recipe. mmmmm mmmmmm

FRAM is open from 9 a.m. - noon on Saturdays. I'm pretty sure I'll be there as often as possible. It feels good to buy local. And maybe next time, I'll buy a rutabaga. Well....maybe. ;)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pressure Canning Session #4

Pork Stew

8# Pork tenderloin - 15.80
5# whole carrots - 2.74
Onions - .75

$19.29 to fill my smaller stockpot which I think is 2 gallons Not sure about the cost per serving as some of it cooked down before I started canning. Plus, it was dinner for 6. I'll come back and edit the numbers when I'm done canning and get a better idea of what it produced.

Update: 21 pints plus I am guessing we consumed 2 quarts for dinner so that would have been 25 pt = approx .77 a pint (or 1.54 a qt.) Oh and I added a bag of frozen corn to the remaining stew in the pot so half of my jars will have corn...just to change things up a bit.

Like the beef roast, I cut the pork into 1-1.5" pieces. I'm trying to eat healthier so I cut off as much fat as possible. (Heck, I do this anyway. Cooking meat with big globs of fat just grosses me out.) This time I browned it on my big griddle to get the caramelized edges vs the oven method of quick browning that we did before. Into the stock pot went the pork alongwith 6 chopped onions and the 5 pounds of carrots that my children peeled & chopped for me last night. I really would have liked even more carrots! I covered everything in the pot with water, added salt & pepper + some chicken base for extra flavor. Oh and I put quite a bit of garlic in, too! I love onions and garlic.

I started making the stew around lunch time but I waited until the kids were home from school before I started the actual canning process. (I could have started the canning earlier but I didn't feel like I could leave it on the stove while I did school pick-ups just in case anything held me up.)

Came home, got my jars ready, heated up the water in the pressure canner and got a load started. I did pints instead of quarts because I specifically want to have easy lunch meals for me. So often when I head to pick the kids up, I realize that I haven't eaten lunch and I stop and pick up fast food or I eat some highly carby food that I don't even cheeze-its.

Not sure what I'm doing wrong but my canner says it can hold 10 pints but I was only able to get 8 in there. I tried stacking them but that didn't work either.

Gotta cut this one short or I'll be late to an appointment!

I had some of the stew for dinner and it was....fantastic. Very yummy. The pork just flaked apart. The kids, minus one picky 9 yo, all loved it as did the hubby.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pressure Canning Session #3

I made a double batch of 15 bean soup, following the recipe on the back of the bag. It was the perfect amount for 7 quarts, the capacity of my pressure canner. I used a meaty hambone that we froze from our last ham, not too long ago.

Ham bone 0
Hurst Soup Beans (x2) - 4.78
2 cans crushed tomatoes - 2.98
Onions - .50
Lemon Juice - .25
Chili Powder - .05
Garlic - .10

8.66/7 = $1.24 per quart

I should note that we had to go buy MORE canning jars and they can be pricey! 12.59 for a case (12 jars) of the quarts and 11.49 for the pints. I decided to go with the wide mouth style which are a bit more money then the regular ones. The wide mouth ones are easier to fill and clean. I have been searching for cheaper sources and even put a request on craigslist but haven't found any yet. I've heard thrift stores and yard sales are good places to look for them...but I haven't been doing much thrifting lately...too busy! At some point, we can stop buying them because we will just be emptying the ones we have and reusing them over and over. Gotta buy new lids each time though!