Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My daughter is napping...

...for the first time in NINE. DAYS.

Yep, that's right. Nine days. To say this has thrown our daily routine into a tailspin is putting it mildly. But I've been continuing to put her down for "quiet time" for an hour or so each afternoon and today, the first day I told her she didn't have to go to sleep but just needed to rest, wouldn't you know it? She laid right down and went to sleep.

Kids. They're such little contrarians.

Best buddies

Another of the newer shirts I've listed in Bellflower Textiles -- this one is called Best Buddies in honor of the two penguins that stand united on its front:

And a little penguin head watches behind you -- don't worry, kid, the penguins have your back:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Watching Curious George

DSCN1056, originally uploaded by Brett&MeganZalkan.

Uber fashionable in her black tights, Miss S lounges out for a while to watch a few minutes of "Monkey!" after a nap.

Fantastic beasts

I've started making and posting some little boys shirts to complement the many, many girls' shirts I've posted, and I find myself in love with these couple of patterns right now -- straight out of any bestiary.

First, we have a sea monster - isn't he cool? This one is a 4T but I have a whole stack of these sitting by my machine in a variety of sizes - look for more to be posted in the next few days:

And of course if you've got sea monsters, you have to have dragons -- right now one in brown and one in blue, both 2T, but again I have a pile and will have more up in the next few days:

Now I need to find a gryphon, perhaps.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting it all done

I'm slowly getting into a rhythm on managing home life and parenting and trying to start a small business, but I have to admit that it's harder to juggle than I thought. I'm putting a lot of hours into getting the shop up and running right now, while being the primary caregiver all day for a two year old (who sometimes doesn't nap), attempting to keep the house liveable, and also cooking at least two meals a day (Miss S demands a hot breakfast most mornings.)

Whew. I haven't read a book or had a nap in weeks. My house is fluctuating wildly between fairly neat and utter chaos. But there's a home cooked meal on the table every night, Sofie is happy and well-cared-for, and Bellflower Textiles is getting up and running, slowly but surely.

Today's new listing

The up side is that I'm having too much fun to nap, most afternoons. It's true what they say that if you like what you're doing, you don't mind putting hours and hours into it. I enjoy this, I'm fascinated with it and driven to do it, and so I'm zooming my way through these massive to do lists nearly every day, grabbing time here and there as I can. I never quite reach the end of the list, but that's ok. Most things are getting done.

Here's a little bit of my system that's emerging:

1. I make or finish making a product for Bellflower Textiles each and every day, without fail. This might be as simple as sewing together a few hairclips at the dining room table while Miss S eats her lunch, or as complicated as drafting/cutting/fusing a whole new shirt pattern. If she has a 30 minute stretch where she's playing happily and just wants me nearby but not necessarily involved, I grab a shirt and sew. In the evening, I sneak in a little sewing machine time right after bedtime and/or hand sew some things while Brett and I are watching television.

2. Every day during naptime, I photograph something -- generally whatever project I finished the previous day, and anything for which I'm not satisfied with the pictures. Sometimes this means dragging out the big or the small lightbox, sometimes I'm doing shirt shots against the wall or an art-paper background, and sometimes I'm down in the basement trying out my new megawatt worklights with a fire extinguisher nearby.

(Ok, this last part was today, and I'm happy to report that 500W worklights neither short out our electrical systems nor burn down the house. Woo hoo!)

3. Every morning, as soon as I can after waking up, I post a new item. This is generally the product I photographed the previous day, if I'm happy with its pictures and have had time to process them. But I try to have a backlog so I have a few things to choose from. Posting in the morning seems to get me the most hits on a new item. I think tired people must sit at their desks at work drinking their first latte and cruising Etsy before they begin their day.

4. As often as I can, I post or renew another item in the evenings, to get back on top of the search results. If I have enough new products to post, I post something new. If I don't, I renew.

As you can see, this list of things is self-perpetuating, since every time I finish posting something I've already got the next thing lined up to have pictures processed, etc.

In between, I'm working on my packaging and shipping process, processing pictures (I'm ALWAYS processing pictures), making templates for new patterns, laundering new fabric or shirts, marketing on flickr and blogs and forums, and doing a gazillion other things. And although I'm a little tired, it's fun.

I do need to find time to mop the floors, soon, though. :)

New Etsy Seller Showcase - Heathen's Hearth

I'm starting a new recurring feature to highlight the work of other new sellers on Etsy. I'll be posting a shop or two every Wednesday to help all my readers discover great new places to shop for the holidays.

Today's featured seller is Heathen's Hearth, maker of beautiful bath and body products. They've been open since the end of July and seem to be doing really well -- and one look at their gorgeous soaps will tell you why.

Here are a couple things I'm coveting from their shop - mmm, pumpkin pie goat's milk soap:

Can't you just imagine how good his would smell? And just perfect for fall.

I'm also really intrigued by this chocolate mint goat's milk soap - it's beautiful, for one, but I also bet it smells decadent.

Owners Amy and Misty say this:
We practice our craft in the heart of our home-the kitchen, which has, in modern
times, replaced the hearth, and heart, of homes that existed in times gone by.
We hand craft all of our soaps in small batches, using only the finest materials
available to guarantee their quality, including Creamy Goat's Milk or Silky Shea
Butter bases. Starting with these high quality soap bases, we add fresh cosmetic
grade natural botanicals, pure essential oils, and cosmetic grade fragrance oils
to provide you with beautifully handcrafted soaps that look and smell as good as
they will make you feel.

Check out their shop at http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=6062671, and she's got a blog you can check out for more information (and for info on getting yourself some free goodies!) at http://mycozycreations.blogspot.com/.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lessons learned from an amateur product photographer

A few lessons learned so far include:

1. Light balance is the key. The daylight shade setting is the most useful thing on my camera, for pictures both inside or outside the house. If you use the incandescent setting indoors you better have really good light, like a lightbox or worklights. Daylight shade, used indoors in a well lit spot with no flash, produces good pics that you can modify slightly to brighten up.

2. Angles are more interesting than straight on shots. (Doh.) And pictures cropped really really close up look great in Etsy listings.

3. Stuffing a little cotton batting inside a shirt or onesie before you photograph it makes things look a lot nicer.

4. Don't use zoom when you're in macro mode to get closer in to a product - just hold the camera really really close to your item. It focuses better this way, at least on my camera.

5. Photoshop is your friend. A few things to note:

  • If your picture is high res enough the auto adjustments can do wonders; however auto levels sometimes go crazy and turn your picture blue for no reason at all so be ready to revert.

  • Play with the curves and saturation - the results can be really great. I don't totally understand what's going on with the curves feature but I've figured out a few things to try in there that often bring about dramatic improvements.

  • And keep an eye on the tiny little thumbnail picture that shows in the upper right hand part of the screen while you're working because that's what your listing will look like when seen in search in etsy, which is what people will look at when deciding whether to click through to your store or not, so it's really important for that 1x1" picture to look good.

At the moment, I'm photographing new products nearly every day, and rephotographing old ones in new and improved ways all that time. (Thankfully, there's no fee to change the pictures in an etsy listing, because I do it all the freaking time.) I'll try a bunch of things out and then find a great new angle or a background color that really makes things pop and then suddenly I'm pulling out fifteen things I've already posted to rephotograph. The tinkering never ends.

I'm fortunate to have a husband who doesn't mind me modifying the house, commandeering various lamps and electrical cords, and using enough wattage to light the neighborhood (ok not really) in pursuit of my etsy obsession.

Case in point, yesterday while he was sleeping I painted several different-colored squares on our white basement walls to be used as picture backgrounds. The dining room table and several lamps have been commandeered for light box pictures. Extension cords around the house are disappearing from their usual spots. The front corner of the living room has become "shirt on a hanger picture" central because of its good light and warm yellow walls and may have a few tacks hanging in it that weren't there before. And sometime this week I'm plugging in some work lights that are of a wattage that may just blow up our whole house in an effort to take some pictures in the basement. I'll report back on how that goes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doesn't everyone wear diapers on their head?

Here's Miss S, proudly wearing a swim diaper on her head, while modeling:

a) one of Mommy's shirts that didn't make the grade and thus became hers,

b) her winter boots, and

c) infant-sized mittens.

All carefully chosen by her. Who says this kid doesn't have fashion sense?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A little wild...

Here are a couple new onesies I've listed in the shop -- I love how the traditional shape and the super bright prints interact on these.

As always, you can click on the picture to go directly to the listing in the store!

Wild child red duck onesie

Wild child red duck onesie

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two year old progress report

Sofie went to the pediatrician yesterday for her two year old checkup. And despite lots of talking about what to expect and practicing for how folks would look in her mouth and touch her belly, and despite what seemed like real eagerness to go there on her part, she proceeded to melt as soon as the nurse came in.

Because it's really disturbing to go to a strange place and have someone expect you to take all your clothes off and sit on a scale, man. We don't even know this person, she tried to say to me. Why do I have to be NAKED?

Sofie, if I haven't mentioned it already, is what the wonderful sitcom Arrested Development termed a "NeverNude." She does NOT like to be naked. Not for a second. She's even taken, in the last month, to wearing her bathing suit in the bathtub. So you can imagine how much she enjoyed being naked at the doctor's office, and then having to keep her shirt and pants off for another ten minutes after we put the diaper back on.

Anyways, the report is that she's doing great. She gained two inches and two pounds since her 18 month checkup, and still has a great big giant head (over 95% in circumference, but I'm like that too.) When I asked about all the fears and nightmares, the doctor said this is usually more of a three-year-old phenomenon, so it probably means she has a very highly developed imagination.

Which is cool! Way cool. But also bad. Cuz, nightmares. At an age where it's hard to talk about them. But still, kinda cool.

She's now supposed to have a vitamin a day, which we went out and bought. Flintstones, mmm! She was dubious about the first one I gave her, though, sucking on it for a few minutes before taking it out and trying to feed it to the cat.

Phoenix may be about to get all the iron and vitamin C he could ever need. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New toddler tricks

Today, after her nap and before I woke up from my own nap to go get her (it's been a series of very bad nights around here lately), Sofie carefully removed her poopy diaper, folded it up into nice ball like mama does, and waited butt-naked, as they say, in her crib for me to come change her.

Without even making a mess, really.

I should add that I heard her saying, "Uh oh. Diaper." a few times on the monitor as I was waking up before realizing that yikes, better get down there pronto.

If I'd just left some wipes in her crib she might've taken care of the whole job herself!

Onesies, made fancy

Here are a couple of my latest posts in my Bellflower Textiles etsy shop -- embellished and appliqued shirts for toddlers and babies:

Red chick onesie
, all wool felt with hand embroidery, also available in blue. Isn't he sweet?

Duck patch onesie
, made from cotton flannel. I love how cheerful this is.

Hand-painted batik flower patch onesie
made from fabric I brought back from Hawaii

These little shirts are such fun to make, both the ones where I'm creating designs on the fly from wool felt and the ones where I'm creating fusible patches from my own fabric stash. I'm just loving making these! And the whole point of this Etsy idea, for me, was to have fun making things I love to make. So far, so good.

Have you visited the shop yet? Please come have a look! I'm offering a free gift with all purchases in September.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hardworking toddlers, lightboxes, and hair clips.

Well, we decided that Sofie's had a good two years of duty- and responsibility-free childhood and have put her to work earning her keep as a hair accessories model.

Isn't she lovely? And yes, while her pictures will appear in listing in my shop, I'm taking them all from this angle so that her face isn't splashed all over a commercial enterprise. And we're compensating her well in goldfish crackers. Please don't call the labor lawyers.

On a side note, the hardest part of this online shop endeavor has been getting good enough pictures. I thought I was a pretty good photographer before this, but taking product pictures for an online store very quickly kicked my butt and disabused me of this notion, leading me to spend endless evenings reading about product photography. I also figured out (*gasp*) how to actually use some of the features of my camera, like white balance and macro mode. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that if you're using macro mode you don't use zoom - you just put the camera realREAL close to the thing you're taking pictures of. Duh!

And yesterday I built a light box. Woo hoo! This made SUCH a huge difference in my pictures of tiny little things like hairclips. There are lots of great tutorials out there -- I happened to use this one at Digital Photography School.

Here's mine:

It's basically a box with the sides and top cut out and covered with white muslin, then a piece of posterboard inserted on a curve inside to act as your product background. You can change the background out to be colored too:

Point to big shiny lights in either side (no shadows), prop your camera up on a tabletop tripod ($9, OfficeMax) and you're good!

Here's the end result - some of today's new products:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pretty things for Etsy

I haven't been quilting a lot of quilts lately, but I've been turning out lots of things for the Etsy store I'm putting together, Bellflower Textiles. I've been slow to get it going since we've been traveling so much lately, but I'm adding new things almost daily now to the shop, including baby and toddler embellished tees, housewares, plush animals, and hair accessories.

Stay tuned for more - I literally have a dozen or so shirts almost finished and various other things in a near-ready stage!

Here's a peek at a few of my tableware products. Click on the pictures if you want to see a product listing.

Chrysanthemum coasters - such a beautiful fabric that I couldn't stand to cut it up any further, so viola - whole cloth coasters rather than pieced:

And this fabric used to be one of Sofie's dresses until yesterday, when I decided it was just too pretty to be sent to goodwill. Now they're another gorgeous set of coasters, with a contrasting white and blue back from my stash:

Daisy print potholders
- my friend Lisa sent me this gray fabric because she just didn't care for it, but I fell in love with it right away. I love how retro it looks. These are lined with insulbrite to protect your hands from heat:

Apple green and bright red roses on a set of four placemats -- I just love this fabric, from Swell, and am in the process of making a bunch of things from it:

More pretty coasters - I love the bright citrus and raspberry colors in this set:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Toddler fears

I was just googling toddler fears and reassured to see article after article saying that sudden, irrational anxieties at this age are not only totally expected but a sign that your toddler's development is right on track. Here's a fun read that made me feel a little better - at least she's not afraid of blue potholders!

So good, this is normal. Because so far, my daughter has suddenly developed a terror of all of the following:

  • Flies - this one showed up first; buzzy flies in the house reduce her to a lump of jelly.
  • Moths - a random moth flapping around on our living room wall gave her bad dreams for three days.
  • Snails - I thought she was just putting us on with this one, since she used to love them, until I pointed out a teeny tiny little snail sitting on the side of the watering can she was carrying around the yard and she dropped it with a shriek and leapt about a mile out of her shoes. Oops. I guess she's sincere.
  • Oscillating fans - this one took us a while to pinpoint; all we knew was that we'd take her in some stores on vacation and she'd have a total meltdown, burying her head in my shoulder and screaming in terror. After a while we realized it was the oscillating fans which are EVERYWHERE in Hawaii. Partly because, realizing we weren't getting it, she started being more explicit. "Fans. Hurt. You." she tells us two hundred times a day. No amount of explaining or discussing has been able to undo this mantra.

    This, I suspect, is my fault for telling her not to stick her fingers in the box fan we have upstairs or she would hurt her finger. But this was months ago and wasn't delivered in a big scary way. Why did this turn into a full fledged phobia months later? I don't know. But she literally will not enter a room if a fan is running right now. Good thing we're back in Seattle where it's cool.

Add to this a few things I wouldn't call a terror but which still make her extremely nervous:

  • Toys that make noise - she just doesn't like anything that unexpectedly makes noise, or toys or inanimate objects that move on their own, like her cousins' remote-control robots. I guess this makes sense.
  • Non-oscillating fans - she'll tolerate them, just barely, but she keeps an eye on them and whines a little. "Hurt. You." Sheesh.
  • Spiders -- if she sees one she'll ask me to remove it from the premises but then will spend the rest of the day muttering to herself, "Piders. Not. Fraid. Of. Piders friends. Not. Fraid. Piders. Like." Like she's trying to convince herself.

Poor kid. It's a scary world when you're two. Who knows what those big fans swinging their heads from side to side could be thinking?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The life of a flower girl

hawaii2008 169, originally uploaded by Brett&MeganZalkan.

This plumeria branch was supposed to be Sofie's flower girl bouquet, but she immediately picked all the blooms off it as soon as we gave it to her and she ended up just holding an empty stem. So we were glad we just picked it from the backyard instead of buying her a real bouquet!

She prepared for her big moment by organizing some cups on the kitchen floor. Cleaning gives a girl focus:

She spent most of the ceremony completely ignoring all of us and messing with a couple of old leis someone had left on a rock, so it's just as well that the bar was set pretty low for flower girl responsibilities. :) About all she managed was to show up and look pretty.

And then she ate a plateful of messy spaghetti in her flower girl's dress. Which is now in the laundry.

Mr. and Mrs. Buckley

Say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Buckley - my sister Dana and her (now) husband Kevin were married last night at sunset on Shipwreck Beach in Kauai.

It was a very low key and lovely ceremony - just them and us and a local minister who we met in a parking lot ten minutes before the ceremony and then followed to the wedding location, a picturesque corner of a local beach. They exchanged vows and leis and rings:

and then had their marriage announced by conch shell to the four winds.

And then we all went out to a great local restaurant - Keiki's Paradise - to celebrate.

Congratulations to both Dana and Kevin - Kevin, we're delighted to have you in the family, and we're so happy for you both!

Mama and Sofie at the wedding

hawaii2008 205, originally uploaded by Brett&MeganZalkan.

A nice shot Brett caught of me and Sofie at Dana's wedding last night...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Trip report

Time for a little update, instead of just posting endless pics.

First the kid stuff.

It's hard to know exactly what to say about traveling with a toddler. On the one hand, she's doing really well. Better than she did in Jacksonville in most ways -- less of the "everything is different here!" meltdowns, and she genuinely has seemed excited to be here right from the start. 80% of the time, she's really doing well, happy, enjoying herself, fairly adaptable, loving being with her aunt and uncle. I shouldn't complain - 80% with a toddler is doing really really well.

At the same time, though, I have to admit it's really tiring and a load of work traveling with a kid this age. Change makes her cling to Mommy and refuse all others, which means I'm solely responsible for all bedtimes and naps and feedings and any other maintenance that has to be done. Putting her to sleep no longer means going through our ten minute routine and depositing her in her crib but laying on a bed with her for 30-60 minutes until she falls asleep and then leaving her there for an hour or so until she's out deeply enough to be moved to her playpen. The meltdowns when they come are really tough to deal with in unfamiliar surroundings. The three hour period tonight of tantrums and whininess really tried both our patience -- Brett's usually unflappable about this stuff and more patient than me but even he was getting really tired of it by the end of the interval.

None of it's so bad, but it's tiring. I know she's doing her best, and she's a real trooper, but if we could just get a little more sleep... She's not sleeping well, and is therefore ending up spending large portions of the night in bed with us, which isn't something I enjoy very much, and then she gets up at the crack of dawn all revved up and ready to go play. With Mommy. Cmon, Mommy, get up. Let's go fwimming!


That all said, we really are having a very good time. The 80% of good is very very good. Our beach house at Anini Beach is freaking phenomenal. Here's the outside, with it's huge front lawn and really comfy, breezy porch:

Yes, that's Sofie with a bucket on her head

But the best part is that we're literally across the street from the beach with a totally unobstructed, 180 degree view:

View from the living room

Spending time with Dana and Kevin has been really great - we tend to do some things together in the morning, then they go off to have adventures while we get Sofie down for a nap, and we meet up around dinner time. Sofie adores them both and follows them around like a puppy. When Dana got up this morning, she was reportedly greeted by the sight of Sofie standing outside their bedroom door holding a broom, waiting expectantly. "Need me to clean anything up in there?" (I was out running and didn't witness this, darnitall.)

The happy couple

Sofie also had her third and final birthday party yesterday, on her actual birthday, with chocolate cupcakes and a couple of great little presents from Dana and Kevin. She enjoyed it greatly, although I'm worried that she now believes that birthdays happen about once a week instead of once a year and will be shocked and disappointed when there's no fourth party next week sometime:

Chocolate, mmmmm

This morning we all went off to Ke'e beach, literally located at the end of the road in northern Kauai, the furthest you can go by car on the island. It's a gorgeous beach, backed by craggy mountains and with the clearest water I've ever seen. The four of us took turns snorkeling and swimming with Sofie, who clutched her pink noodle like a pro and practiced her kicking and floating (she's getting pretty good!) while being carefully shepherded by Mom. Not only was the snorkeling great there, we saw big huge fishes going by even when we were just standing in a few feet of water near the shore, so Sofie got to do some fish spotting too.

The secret here was supposed to be that you go out through a reef opening and find all kinds of turtles and big sea life just on the other side. We tried. I went through but immediately got really freaked out by how deep it was and how strong the surf was and being out there alone, so I turned around and had one of the harder swims of my life getting back in, even with flippers. I think Kevin went out for a few minutes too but felt the same way -- too much current, too much surf -- so in the end none of us saw a turtle, but nonetheless the fish inside the reef were plentiful and bright.

And there were monk seals:

Tomorrow we're trying to get out early to go up to Tunnels beach for more snorkeling, then probably a lazy afternoon playing at the house and/or wandering across the street to swim in the shallow surf here, then cooking dinner at home. Friday is the wedding, and then Saturday is our last day here. It's all gone really fast, and tired as I am I know I'll miss it terribly when we leave.

That's all for now - more soon!

hawaii2008 082

hawaii2008 082, originally uploaded by Brett&MeganZalkan.

Sofie is dubious about the flock of chickens that gathered at Ke'e beach after she dropped a goldfish cracker.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Today's postcard

DSCN0151, originally uploaded by Brett&MeganZalkan.

This little bit of lovely is across the street from the house we're staying at in Anini Beach. Wow.


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