Thursday, January 31, 2008

Inclement Weather

It's snowy/drippy down here in the valley today. We have so needed the moisture. It's really good to see, and it was heavily predicted, so everyone I know can stay home and safe and warm.

Being house bound has enabled us to take the time to look at the stormy economy and check out some options for shelter there. Most of you know our main store front is on ebay. We love the community and our customers there. It is a wonderful portal to the world and has done well for us. But ebay is making changes in their pricing structure which are going to significantly increase our costs there.

We have been promising many of our customers who don't like the ebay format that we would get our store front back up on our Laffing Horse web site. Shawn has been working on that today, in between nailing looms, which he can do in front of the woodstove! We utilize Google checkout there and it has been working well in limited test mode. Check it out over the next few days and see what he gets listed. The graphics I can see over my shoulder look really nice.

I spoke with a business consultant on the phone who recommended that I check out Googlebase, which I haven't done yet and get listings on both Amazon and Etsy. So, I started an etsy store and listed a few items. I think we'll use that mostly for my one of a kind weavings and felted creations, but put trilooms, crochet hooks and knitting needles up too.

And then I turned my focus to Amazon. It is a whole different format. The listings are database style and the language is more formal programing. The colors allowed in your photos are given in Pantone code.

I figured out how to do single item listings (I think... does this link take you to a Learn to Triweave Kit?) but then trying to figure out how to do the drop downs for different sizes and different woods and I still can't figure out what the fee structure is and how to set up reasonable shipping costs and ...

I wanted to just close out the Amazon seller account that I had just opened and say that Amazon is not our format. Database is not a language that I speak very fluently. Time I spend elsewhere is time that I am not working on our main bread and butter ebay store. I am an artist! grumble, grumble, excuse, excuse...

So, I went out and did chores. Shawn came and helped me and listened while I muttered to myself. Or at least he did a good job of pretending to listen - he was probably running design ideas through his brain while we worked. And I convinced myself to leave the Amazon account alone for now and to look at it tomorrow morning with a fresh eye.

I know that I didn't learn the ebay listing format overnight, in fact it has taken me years to get some things right and there are still features that I do not use adequately or correctly. But it is comfortable. And I like comfort - like being inside next to the woodstove in a snow storm.

I don't know how long we'll be snowed in and I'll have the time to work in this direction. If you have any hints for setting up listings on Amazon, please let me know!

And stay tuned to see which way the wind blows.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Of sewing machines and Victory gardens

"I don't sew anymore," I said last summer. I don't mend, I don't make curtains, I just don't sew any more.
This is a statement that does not make any sense in my family. My parents both quilt. My mom has carried her sewing machine on an airplane as carry on luggage. I think they bought their fancy new camp trailer in part because a sewing machine would fit on the kitchen table.
So my mom's response to that statement was to loan me her old Bernina for the summer. Obviously, the only reason you don't sew is because you don't have a sewing machine, right?

Everybody else just ignored me. In the Renaissance Festival culture where grommet setters are as common as square wooden plates, it wasn't a statement worth commenting on.

So, I was probably the only person who was surprised to find myself in the back room yesterday, building a table for my Kenmore sewing machine. After 14 years as a costume designer, I am very picky about my sewing tables. I found extra bobbins, a whole box of sewing machine needles and a rolled hem foot in my desk drawer. I moved my rocking chair in front of the table, settled the sewing machine and went back to sewing.

What caused this turn-around?


When I went to get the canvas bags that we have been using for our Learn to Spin and Learn to Triweave kits, I found that they had almost doubled in cost. Suddenly, it made economic sense to make the bags.

Price increases are showing up everywhere. Did you ever think you'd be paying $2.00 a dozen for plain old store bought eggs!

Suddenly, my friends who have market gardens are getting excited. They'll be able to sell their produce for less than the Evil Giant. They don't have the huge transport costs built into their cost of growing and marketing their produce. Most of them are planning bigger gardens.

We are hoping to have a market garden, too, this year. And toward that goal, I planted peas and lettuce today. Peas along the fence, lettuce under the tent. As I was planting, I was musing about the whole "buy local" movement and economics. While I love the idea, heck, "know your food producer," has been my soap box for decades, I was wondering where it was headed and which direction our nation's food focus would go next.

Victory gardens, of course. Probably not with that name - but definitely the concept of producing your own food, growing your own garden, taking your food choices right back to the earth.

Not you, you say?

Well, I don't sew any more...

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Day in the life

Woke up late, about 6:30, fire out, house cold. Restarted fire, about 18 degrees outside on porch.

Checked glue on tile on kitchen counter. Dry and solid, one tile tilted. Will just have to grout it that way, it's stuck on now.

Milked Yampa, Beth (Erie is dry now). Grained 2 horses, 2 llamas, 24 sheep, 4 angoras, 8 dairy goats in their various pens. Lena went out later and broke ice and fed hay and took care of the rabbits. She and Ziffer came in to tell me they were done.

Checked email, listed Learn to spin kit and Learn to triweave kit on ebay. Replied to several email queries. Updated a few listings in the ebay store. Took pictures of Shawn's new carved crochet hooks. They are stunning! I think the Sun/Moon is my favorite. Started color/contrast correcting photos. The one here is not cropped or corrected, just a quick un-edited shot. Now you see why editors are so important.

Lena and I rode the horses out to pasture after they finished their breakfast. The pasture is a dry lot right now, until spring rains bring up new grass.

Next - Telephone conversation with business consultant. Some great new ideas for getting our products up there in the search engine rankings. She suggested labeling all product photos so they are picked up on Google. Now I need to figure out how to add alt tags. Some ideas for getting our cost of sales down. Lots of great ideas - lots of stuff to work on! Do you know how many pics we have out there - thousands, literally. And no time to work on it today, sigh...

Now pack the orders that are ready to ship. Not much today. A single crochet hook, even those are so beautiful and gracefully carved. A crochet hook set and a one foot triloom. I am out of the bright rainbow cotton I've been using to wrap the hooks. Used a light blue plaid cotton flannel.

I set up a sale on Spirit Bells and wrote a quick marketing email. I totally forgot to mention Mardi Gras!

Got list from Shawn and Lena for trip to town. Get grain and hay, groceries, gloves for Lena, nails and thumbscrews for Shawn, go fill out some paperwork at the Folk Center, go to bank and take the chainsaw into repair guy, it won't keep running.

Shawn and Lena left for workshop, took dogs. I gathered everything to take to town, packages, library books, yarn to deliver, checks to deposit. No keys! Walked the .6 miles to the workshop in very frosty weather. Found Shawn working on a beautiful set of hand turned knitting needles on the jet lathe and Lena making spindles. Shawn said he left keys on his desk - instead of on the key rack where they belong!

Brought dogs back with me so they could warm up by the fire and went into town. Stopped at the Fox post office to mail packages and check mail. Two bills and one check...

I can't believe how much the cost of everything has gone up! Items I swear we spent 13 dollars on last month are now 23. Food that was 62 cents is now 78... very scary. I spent all our money and headed back up the mountain. I forgot Lena's gloves, but I did get a bow saw to cut wood until the chainsaw problem is figured out.

I loaded the rest of the fleeces from the Fox store and went to Foxbriar to cut wood with new bow saw. It's slick, works real nice and is quiet. I cut about 8 truck lengths, loaded them on top of the hay, grain and fleeces and headed back down the mountain.

Lena helped me unload the truck and we did all the evening chores except milking. Nugget was a brat and wouldn't let me get on to ride in to her stall. I think the cold has her grumpy. High today was 25 degrees.

It must be some kind of a sign - the chicken I got to roast for dinner had 5 hearts! Put the chicken in and went to check on Shawn. He was putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous 6 foot cherry triloom. Said to give him a while to finish up.

I grouted the kitchen tile while Lena cut firewood. Ran out of grout... We sorted fleeces and put the old, crispy or buggy ones in the rock garden for mulch. Started making coleslaw to go with chicken.

Went to pick up Shawn. Brought back knitting needles to ship - I still need to finish the felted case for this set, and the cherry loom to nail.

Mom called. Lena finished coleslaw and garlic bread while I talked and stoked fire. Arjuna called, he and Lena talked about his new computer and his planned trip out here. He is planning on flying here in March.

We ate dinner. Then Shawn started nailing loom and watching Alien Resurrection while I did dishes and milked. Lena made butter from the goat's cream she's been collecting. After I put away the milk and finished dishes, I started doing my Friday marketing on the computer. The new cherry trilooms seemed a good feature.

Suddenly - it wasn't Friday any more! Shawn was done with loom and movie and working on his computer. I still hadn't replied to any personal emails or updated my blog... but I headed to bed anyway!

No wonder I can't get anything done - all that stuff I do gets in the way!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Share your passion for Laffing Horse - a contest!

I was going through my e-mail this morning and found a message from ebay, asking me to review some of my recent purchases. I don't mind writing a quick review of the gardening books and cheesemaking supplies I just bought and I will probably write them up this weekend.

But the e-mail gave me an idea. Shawn occasionally cruises the web, looking for reviews of his Laffing Horse trilooms, crochet hooks and knitting needles. He gets so excited when he finds a review. (He's kinda like a kid that way.)

So, for those of you who use and love our products, (and you can include my soaps, herbal, felted, crocheted and woven items!) I'd like to offer you an incentive to write a review.
You can post a review on your own blog, on Ravelry, on ebay, on Google or probably on a variety of sites that I don't know about. E-mail me a link to your review and I will add a link to it from our website and give you free shipping on your next order from our Common Threads fiber arts and more ebay store, or our store, our new Commonthreads etsy store, (which is empty at this time!) or any direct phone or e-mail order.
(You will have to send me a note with your order to remind me, our bookkeeping system has room for notes, but they often don't stick where they are supposed to, and my brain is pretty full of holes lately.)

Then, on Feb. 15, we'll have my mom (Hi Mom!) go through all the reviews that have been submitted and pick the best one. The winner of the review contest will get a special, one-of-a-kind, one-foot Laffing Horse Triloom done in cherry & oak and inscribed with their name.

So, crack your knuckles and get ready to type up a quick Laffing Horse review, send me an e-mail with a link to it and know that you'll have Shawn dancing all the way to workshop... well, most of the way, it's a mile to the workshop and mostly up hill!!

Smiles and hugs, Jen

Monday, January 07, 2008

What was that commercial?

Ok, let me preface this by saying I don't watch tv. We live in an area that doesn't get any reception. I have never seen an episode of Simpsons, Survivor or Cheers. But off and on over the years, I have seen snippets of shows and commercials.
There was that one commercial, about chocolate and peanut butter...

Tonight I was wrapping up in the kitchen, finishing the dishes, straining the milk to chill and scooping the last of the cheese curd into the drainer. Shawn came in to siphon off an evening glass of the Framboise (raspberry beer). Just to test it, he says. "You've gotta check it every evening to make sure it's coming along ok."
(I'm thinking at this rate, by the time it's done fermenting, there won't be enough to worry about bottling!)

So, just as I was scooping the last of the curd over the sink, Shawn swung the siphon hose into the sink. "Hey, keep your beer outa my cheese!" I griped. But now, thinking about it.... I wonder....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The right signs for making felt?

As part of my learning to grow things here in the Ozarks, I've been studying planting by the signs.
Now I understand planting by and working with and being aware of the phase of the moon. And that makes sense to me, my body feels it. The moon has a powerful affect on water, tides rise and ebb with its gravitational pull. And more than half of most everything - plants, animals and peoples is water.

But I don't understand the zodiac signs in relation to the daily calendar. Each day has a different sign related to it, the signs are related to different elements, they always flow in the same order but sometimes there are 2 0r three days of a sign... I think I'll take the word of people who understand the process, or be aware of it in my almanac, but it isn't native understanding to me.

Now people who understand the signs, say they affect everything - health, business, growing, creating, building - and on and on. Perhaps the signs explain why I suddenly can't felt!

Over the last few years I've grown to enjoy the process of felting, in all its forms - felting, fulling and needling. For the purist, felting is the wet process involving wool, hot water and soap; fulling is the process of washing a woven, knit or crocheted animal fiber item in hot soapy water to shrink, tighten and harden it and needling is the process of using barbed needles to tighten and tangle fibers into a felt-like mat or three dimensional object.

Mostly I felt my woven rugs, needle felt stress balls and felt cases for Shawn's knitting needles and crochet hooks. I use all the felting processes in making the cases and each case is unique. It kind of depends on the colors of wool we have on hand, the wool scraps I have felted, the buttons I have found and any new design ideas I've had.

So, when the last case was ordered, I set to work with the drum carder, blending soft white wool, a bit of turquoise, some black mohair, a highlight of jewel tone angelina. I carded and blended 5 soft fluffy batts and then began needling them into a square, 24 by 28 inches. I usually figure about 40% shrink, so was rather shocked to pull a 6X8 inch brick of wool felt out of the washer.

So I deconstructed a wool sweater, and needled a grey wool backing onto the resulting square fabric. It came out of the washer pretty well, but between the pattern, the way it wanted to fold, and the size - it was a crochet hook case. I needed one for knitting needles.

So I needled up some white wool, purple roving and highlights of yellow mohair. Kinda wild and 60's looking. The white wool turned a murky grey in the wash. The angles of the felt were interesting, but the grungy look just doesn't cut it. This one I might finish and perhaps someone will like it at a craft show or maybe I can find a way to brighten the colors.

Next, I decided I would needle a felt sheet and not wet felt it afterwards. The case would be fluffy, but I should be able to make it strong.... I wore out my arm, Lena wore out her arm, we tried steam ironing it and finally, about midnight last night, I finished hand sewing a backing on it. It's kinda pretty.

Now I just have to finish decorating it and find the right button and fastener....

Maybe the whole process just took long enough that the moon and the signs are now right for felting.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Got Rocks!

We live in Stone County, Arkansas. It is aptly named. We have lots of rocks.

There are the beautiful big rock formations on the bluff behind the Spring House. There are the rocks that make up the bridge over the spring creek on the path to the barn. Rock walls grace the paths of Meadowcreek. And then there the thousands of rocks that jump up and trip you when you are crossing the lawn or driveway in the dark.

I love them all - well, except for maybe the jumping rocks. I grew up in a family that has collected pretty rocks from around the world. I have taken pictures of rocks around the world.

Right now, with the daytime temps staying in the 20's, my very favorit-ist rocks are the "hot rocks". We collected these rocks from the Arkansas river, near Rocky Ford, Colorado about 10 or twelve years ago. (YES, we moved rocks into Stone County!) They are smooth river rock and have been time tested to make sure they have no moisture or gas pockets in them that would explode when they are heated. We keep them on top of the wood stove.

Then, when ever you are chilled or if you are sitting and working on the computer, you can go grab a hot rock to put under you feet or hold in you lap to rest your hands. If someone complains about being cold, we just remind them to go grab a rock. We wrap them in towels too keep from burning our hands. Last week, Lena crocheted a wool "rock cozy", now I want to make one. I'm not sure that there is a big market for them, though.

And hot rocks are super to put into the bed about half-an-hour before you go to bed. Then the bed is nice and toasty!

Of course, the critters think there is nothing quite like a human to keep the bed warm!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Riding in on hope

Ok. how did it get to be 2008?

What a year 2007 was - and for all the positive changes - it still wasn't easy. And it has me feeling kinda old and ache-y.

One of the decisions I made in the whole moving process was to sell my horse. It was very much the right decision, Liya went to a home where she is loved and ridden daily and she is key to the health and happiness of her person. A pretty wonderful place to be in life.

We did bring two horses with us to Arkansas, though. Fria is Lena's mare. She's the black rear at the edge of the picture. A spritely 25-years-old now, Fria has been Lena's partner since the horse was 13 and the girl was 9. And Fria still acts like a teen.

And because I think animals need company of their own kind we brought Nugget. She is Shawn's old mare and we figure she's about 22 now. We rescued her in 2001, she had been abandoned and almost starved to death before somebody called the local authorities. She is a good mare, though she gets nervous and worries about things. Nobody's ridden her in a few years, she's gotten a bit old and ache-y.

So, a few days ago, I was feeling sore and leading the old horse out to pasture. I thought about the wonderful healing that Liya brought to her new owner, and the hundreds of other horse healers I've known.

I asked Shawn if I could borrow his horse and got him to help me up on Nugget's back (quite embarrassing as she is a pretty short horse!). I just wanted to check it out. I sure didn't want to cause the old girl any pain.

But after a quick walk down to the creek and back - both Nuggs and I were moving better.

That was right about Christmas. Now a short morning jaunt is part of our daily routine. And both Nugget and I seem to feel much better for it.

Here's hoping that we are all riding into a better, healthier, happy new year!