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