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.