Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shocked and Furious

Appearances can be deceiving. This looks like a jack-o-lantern platter that I got at a thrift store for $1.99. It is, but it's also a souvenir of a very negative thrifting experience, something that will remind me to never shop at a particular shop again.

If this post is visible, this means that my email to the overseeing organization has gone unanswered. Services to Enhance Potential (STEP) operates Tried and True Thrift Stores in Wayne and Southgate, MI and employs several adults with disabilities. It's a shop we supported and visited when we could, but not any longer - our last visit was, decidedly, our final one.

On Wednesday, August 24th, my husband and I visited the Tried and True thrift shop in Wayne, MI. On this visit, I didn't fine many items that I wanted, but I had to have the platter pictured here. While we were in the part of the store with the register, we witnessed an employee who appeared to be a manager of some kind berating the other staff. (When we discussed this incident in the car, I found that both my husband and I had determined at this point that we probably wouldn't return.)

A sweet young girl, A-- (name withheld for privacy), checked us out and asked the woman for help with a bag. The woman held open a bag and A-- tried to insert the plate we'd purchased; however, the plate was in a box with an open side and the plate slipped out and fell. The plate wasn't damaged, and we were not upset by this; however, the woman slapped her pretty hard on the shoulder and yelled at her, and I thought the girl was going to cry. We were kind of in shock, or I would have yelled at the manager, but all I could do was assure A-- that there was no harm done and everything was fine.

I beat up myself for awhile afterwards for not yelling at the manager, but later realized that if she would strike an employee in our presence, who knew what she'd do in retaliation after we were gone. Instead, as soon as we got home, I fired off an email to the address listed on their website. I'm writing this post on Friday, but am giving them until Wednesday to respond in some way. Since you're seeing this, they did not respond and I'm going to be taking steps to report this incident to whatever licensing board I can find.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smash Book - Follow-up Pics

My book is ready for smashing!

  • I made the little case to go with my tablet, but it wasn't quite big enough for everything I needed to carry (reading glasses, microfiber cloth & earphones). I made a replacement for it today and was wondering what to do with the old one. Well, the strap needed to be shortened about an inch and it fit my Smash Book perfectly!
  • The orange polka-dot Washi Paper Tape is from Cute Tape, which had great shipping prices (<$2), and comparable prices on the tape. The green roll is from a pack I got at Michael's Crafts (Martha Stewart line?).
  • The squirrel clips are from Jet Pens.

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Smash Book

My Smash Book arrived this afternoon. I got the orange one, because it's the "simple" version and you can't see the interior pages before ordering. One of my two favorite colors is orange, so that was also a factor. I'm a little bummed that the pen/glue stick combos only come in black, pink and blue, and none of my faves, but it's still a new venture. If all goes well, I'm sure they'll come up with more.

These actually premiered in the spring, but I'm a bit out of the loop, since I don't scrapbook anymore (these books are big with scrapbookers), but when I heard about them, several thoughts went through my head:
  • I could probably make one. But they're only $12.99 each, so it wouldn't hurt to get the official one and try it out.
  • This would be a good exercise to get away from all things digital. Nothing wrong with digital, but I'm online a lot. I used to be the person who collected ephemera: ticket stubs, fortune cookie slips, etc.. Mostly, I kept it in a box, but sometimes I stuck it up on bulletin boards, etc. I can't remember the last time I held onto a movie ticket.
  • I am SO getting one for my niece for Giftmas. Maybe my nephew, too. (She's 13 & he's 9.) It's good to have plans for a couple of gifts already.
 This book seems very solid and well-put-together. If I felt the need to make my own, it wouldn't be to save money (time is worth money and it would take a lot of time to make one), but if I wanted a highly customized version, then it might be fun.

The thing is...I'm a little intimidated by it. Where do I start? What do I put in it? I'm going to spend a little time on the blog to get some inspiration.

There's a demo video, if you want to see more. Once I stop holding my breath and start smashing stuff into the book, I'll post again.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reopening the Etsy shop for a limited time

I've temporarily opened my Etsy shop and have added a variety of items, mostly related to crafting. Here are just a few items:

Bag and Pouch Mosaic 1

I've also added some button stitch markers and twine dispensers. All purchases of knitting-related items come with a free stitch marker. Thanks for looking!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brownie Coins

 Third post of details from our little "dinner party" over the weekend. Ages ago, I posted about making miniature brownies in my acorn "cakelet" pan. The pans are still around, but A) it's spring, and B) the pans are a serious pain to wash. So I looked around for something else to make brownies in.

Now, regular brownies that you put in a square or rectangular pan and then cut up are all well and good, but I have to say that I love these brownies. My husband named them "Brownie Coins" and they're great on their own, but would be even better with a tiny scoop of ice cream between two of them.

These brownies are thinner than the average, and have a crispy edge all the way around. This isn't so much a recipe as my list of steps. This will come in handy when they note I have stuck to my fridge with a magnet falls off or something.

Brownie Coins

Mini Muffin Top Pan. Non the same thing as a mini muffin pan. These might be tough to find (I've had mine for well over a decade). This one on Amazon looks right: Fat Daddio's 24-Cup Mini Muffin/Teacake Pan. I don't know how silicone would work.  Mini muffin pans would be thicker and the cooking times would differ.

Spray pan(s) with cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 325ยบ.

Shh, don't tell, but I usually just use a box mix and follow the standard directions (not the "cake-like" ones with the extra egg): In a bowl, mix the egg, oil and water together, then add the mix and stir until moistened. If you have them laying around, dump in some chocolate chips. I used about a cup this time (whatever was in the bag), but  would either use fewer or smaller chips next time.

Plop the batter into the oiled cavities. It's hard to gauge, but you want them about half full. A tablespoon was too much.

Bake for 12 minutes (your mileage may vary). Cool and enjoy.

The bonus is that one mix should make at least 3 dozen tiny brownies, usually more. 

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Canapes #2: Peppered Parmesan Crisps

So easy! In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, mound freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, about 2 teaspoons per crisp. Sprinkle liberally with black pepper. Heat until the cheese is melted and the edges are brown. Cool on a rack.

They spread out a little, but you should be able to make several at a time. I just did one on its own (left) for the picture. 

It takes a little longer and is a bigger pain, but they came off the pan for me a lot easier if I turned off the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes. If you're handier with a spatula than I am, just get them ont a rack right away. (If I didn't wait, they were perfectly edible, but not even remotely close to round.)

These were also yummy, but I found the flavor of the cheese to be a little strong for my taste. I will try this again, but with a milder cheese, or a blend. The "recipe", from A Slob in the Kitchen, called for 1 T. per crisp. We liked them a little smaller, and my husband suggested the pepper, which added a great flavor.

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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Canapes #1: Parmesan & Onion Canapes

Years and years ago, I had this little appetizer cookbook. I never made anything out of it, because I didn't entertain much, but I liked to flip through and read the recipes. There was this one recipe that sounded really yummy and I always intended to make it someday. But, during the course of a move (more than thirteen years ago), the book was misplaced. It actually didn't occur to me to just search for the ingredients - I just kept my eyes open for that one book. Silly, right?

A few months ago, I bought a copy of this (now out-of-print) book called A Slob in the Kitchen. I stuck it with my cookbooks, and then forgot all about it, until a couple of weeks ago when I did some reorganizing and spotted it again. I spent some delightful time reading through it. And I found THE recipe. Or at least it's close. I couldn't wait to try it, but I had to wait until I had company coming that would eat them with me.

When I knew my friend Julie was coming over for an afternoon, I verified with her that the ingredients sounded yummy, and put my plan in action. They turned out great, but I have some notes. Plenty good though, for the two of us to plow through. (My husband doesn't like mayo and our other guest didn't make it in time.)

Kiss-Me-Not Canapes, adapted from A Slob in the Kitchen

Thin white bread
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. finely-diced sweet onion

Use a round cutter to make small rounds. (The book called for 1" - I just used the cutter I had, seemed about right.)

Optional: lightly toast the rounds in the broiler (keep an eye on them - it won't take long)

Mix the other ingredients and spread onto the bread. (See my picture? Spread it a little thinner than that. Set the canapes onto a cookie sheet covered with foil or parchment paper.

Broil for about 7 minutes.

Serve while warm. (We just ate them right off the rack. Informal gathering and all.)

Notes: My friend Julie and I really enjoyed these. I went a little heavy on the toppings because I wasn't making that many and didn't want the stuff to go to waste (didn't think it would keep long). After about ten minutes, they seemed a little soggy, so I popped them in a non-stick pan and toasted the bottoms of the canapes that way. Using a little less of the topping mixture or toasting the rounds first might help. I would probably get (thinly) pre-sliced bread to save some time. Also, larger slices would probably result in less wasted bread.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sweet Tooth

Marshmallows (with tie) and Caramels
packaged up for my niece & nephew.
I kind of have a new hobby, and it's not good. First of all, I'm diabetic with some impulse control issues. Second, I'm seriously trying to eat healthier and lose weight so I can get that pesky diabetes under control. So candy-making? Probably not the best hobby to pick up.

Friends and family aren't complaining, though, because after my husband and I eat a couple/few pieces of my experiments, I package up the rest and mail 'em out. With the summer approaching, I'm going to have to take a break, and only do this when I have a special occasion to cook for, but it has been a blast - all two weekends of it.

It started out innocently enough. Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a book on Amazon and wishlisted it: Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar. When I have a chance to get myself a small treat, it's usually a book, so a wishlist is a great way to see what I want (in case I forgot) and what's on sale, etc.. So, when I had the opportunity to pick out a new book, this was it.

My first caramels, using Hungry Girl's recipe.
In the meantime, one of my friends on Facebook (Hi, Debbie!) shared a link to a recipe for some yummy-sounding Demerara Caramels. There I was, all in the mood to make some candy, and the book wouldn't get to me by the weekend, so this was destined to be my first candy-making* experience.

My attempts to procure a candy thermometer could almost earn their own blog post! In just a little over a week, I have owned four thermometers, three before the Sugar Baby book arrived and I just followed her recommendations and got a classic Taylor Thermometer (around $10 at my "local" grocery (local is relative in the country)). The first one broke in the utensil cup of my counter-top drain rack before it could be used once. The second one, although found with the caramel apple-making supplies at a concession-supply store,** was really for meat and the temperature did not go nearly high enough. Number three would go high enough, but was digital and I got it wet somehow when I rinsed off the probe (should have just wiped it down, yes?). It's what I used for the first attempt, but it was a little glitchy.

It turns out that we own pretty decent pans for candy-making: heavy-bottomed stainless steel. I didn't think I could get the Demerara sugar called for in Hungry Girl's recipe (turns out I didn't look closely enough), so I used Turbinado sugar and dark corn syrup instead. Despite have a glitchy thermometer, I actually managed to get my first batch of caramels done on the first try! They were the perfect (to me) consistency/texture, and the flavor was deep and rich. We had a couple pieces each, and the rest went to family & friends. (I posted a message on Facebook, offering up caramels to anyone that wanted them (in the US -- I wasn't sure about mailing them internationally.) The folks that chimed in got a package of sweets in the mail.) They were pronounced "yummy," and it was good.

Then, the book arrived. Being a very novice beginner candy-maker, I'm probably not the best reviewer, mostly because I don't know what I'm talking about. From my limited perspective, it's fantastic! Great pictures, clear directions and tips that made this beginner comfortable enough to dive in.

One batch of Marshmallows. I actually got
a plate dirty to take the picture.
First up: marshmallows. Oh, yes, I can see myself making these again. I'd like to try piping them or, if poured and cut again, I need to find a way to keep the goop from sticking to the sides of the pan. (Wondering if cooking spray would work?) I did the full recipe, adding in the (optional) egg whites. Since I've never done it before, I'm not sure if I did it all exactly right, but they sure looked and tasted like marshmallows when I was done! The only thing I think I'd do differently next time is add more vanilla, just because I think I'd like the flavor even better. I also want to try some variations -- strawberry marshmallows are calling to me.

Fleur de Sel Caramels, poured and salted. (Next time,
I'll measure the salt for the top!)
Caramels, take two. These had the perfect, traditional caramel taste, with the sea salt making the flavors pop even more. I kind of had a reading comprehension fail while I was making them and added the butter, salt and vanilla too early, so I don't know if that accounted for the texture difference. (Basically, I skipped a step, but was able to get the mixture to the right temperature anyway.) These were much closer to a hard candy than the first type I made (they also called for twice as much cream, so I'm hoping that's the explanation). Seriously, these were beautiful. (I don't have the book handy, but I think they're called "Fleur de Sel Caramels.")

Cutting the caramels. (That's a pizza cutter, not a machete.)
They hardened up pretty quickly and that, along with the
butter, kept the pieces from sticking until wrapping.
The only real problem with these? Cutting the caramels into smallish pieces as I did was a good thing, because bigger pieces could give you a sore jaw if you insisted on chewing them (I have little patience with "sucking candies"), but cutting them small yielded way over 100 caramels and wrapping them seemed endless. Oh, that and the fact that they were there, all weekend, taunting me. Yup, that's my big complaint: it made a lot of candy and I ate way too many of them.

It became immediately clear that I had to get most of those caramels out of my house! I went through a rough patch recently, and several people helped cheer me up by sending surprises in the mail (and email - knitting patterns are a great pick-me-up!), so I made cute little bags out of gift wrap and put together little "Thank You" packages for several of them. A few people commented on the pictures on Facebook again, so some packages went to those folks as well.

PS: There's a companion blog for the cookbook, with extra photos, video tutorials, etc.: SugarBaby Cookbook.

*As fun and cute as they are, I don't count melting those candy discs and pouring them into molds as making candy. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking it, and my collection of molds is staying put -- but it's a different thing altogether.

**I need to write about that. Fun times!

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shopping Online - Pros & Cons

I kind of live in the country, so my opportunities for shopping are limited and I do a lot of shopping online. Most of the time, everything goes smoothly. On Monday, I placed an order with Adagio (feel free to ask me for a $5 gift certificate) for some tea and paid for their basic shipping. The box arrived yesterday (that's 2 days). I'm thrilled, but if it had been shipped within a couple of days, I'd have been happy as well.

I was a little nervous about ordering John's Giftmas present from a place I'd never heard of, but had to take that chance. Luckily, did everything that I expect from an online store: when the item I ordered was unexpectedly backordered, they contacted me right away and offered a refund or some bonus goodies if I wanted to wait. The present arrived, packaged very well (with the promised bonus items), exactly one week after Giftmas, but because of their communication, I wasn't panicking (much). John knew all about it (we picked out our own gifts this year - I got a vibrant orange (persimmon) Kitchen Aid mixer because I've wanted one for just ages) and has been having all kinds of fun with his Archos 101. (Now I'm saving up for one!)

Sadly not all experiences go like this. Because I'm a knitter, I hear about questionable yarn shops all of the time, although I'm sure that all hobbies have similar scenarios. What's terrible is that people frequently allow themselves to be bullied into waiting. What everyone should know is that some payment options have limits to how long you can request refunds. Credit cards might have longer windows, but with PayPal, you have 45 days from the time of your payment to file a dispute. After that, you're SOL and the shop owner gets to keep your money and your product. There might be other ways to get the refund, but PayPal is out of it.

Rant: don't get me started on the "it's only yarn" thing. No it's not. It's money. My money, which I paid in exchange for a product. If you don't deliver the product within a reasonable amount of time, and you don't communicate with me, I'm going to want that money back.

There's no excuse for an order to not be in the mail within a week, unless you ordered something custom-made. Never, ever wait a month for someone to send you yarn, unless they're spinning it and dyeing it to order, and even then you are going to want it before your 45 days are up!

It had to happen eventually
Yesterday, I filed my first dispute with PayPal. It had only been eleven days since I'd placed my order, but I couldn't get a response from the shop about the status. Not that I was expecting it in my  hands a little over a week past Giftmas, when I'd placed my order during the holiday, but I started getting nervous when there was no word about the package shipping. After a week, I sent an email asking about the status. I waited a little over 24 hours, and sent a communication via the website. Another day went by. I tried to call, after finding a phone number on file with PayPal. After finding the voicemail box full, I filed the dispute.

Turns out, if I'd done a little more research, I would have found that this is a pretty common-place experience for customers of The Backwards Loop. I found a conversation on Rav that started six months ago, with people waiting over a month for their orders. If I hadn't read this thread, I might have assumed the full voicemail box was due to the holidays, but no: it was mentioned at least three months ago.

It appears that filing a PayPal dispute is just about the only way to get this shop owner's attention. Eleven days after I placed my order, but just a little more than 24 hours after I filed the PayPal dispute, I had a refund. I wonder how long I would have had to wait for my yarn if I hadn't filed the dispute?

Note: PayPal doesn't involve themselves immediately. All communication about a dispute is handled in their system, though, so they can make a determination. If a refund is issued, as it was in my case, the dispute is closed. If the the other party doesn't respond (I think they have 20 days), they money is automatically removed from their account and refunded. Assuming there is money in the account.

Now that I have the refund, I'm going to try ordering from one or two small, "indie" yarn dyers that I've heard good things about. I'll report back once I have some news.

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Catching Up

Sorry I haven't been around much. I sold my soul to Blizzard and have been playing lots & lots of World of Warcraft, thanks to a surprise gift card from an unexpected source. I have in the past had difficulty treating myself or deciding what I want. Not this time. I opened the envelope, saw the card and couldn't get it activated fast enough. We immediately started downloading all the patches and the Cataclysm expansion. It had been over a year since we played, so it took several hours to get all the files downloaded. (Luckily, I learned this last time and had zero expectations of playing that first night. We set up the downloads and watched a couple of movies.)

We decided to start new characters and try to level them together. As of last evening, I now have a level 32 Goblin priest (shadow, naturally) named Sereknity (dorky, I know, but I wanted something knitting-related). I love everything about playing a goblin except the transportation (motorized trikes, which are cute, but loud). I'm getting close to the point where I can get a wolf mount from Orgrimmar and then I'll be happy. (John is playing a warlock, and they automatically get a horse, so he's already set.)

Other geeky fun
After watching the crazy prices for years, we found a pretty good deal on season 1 of Star Trek and I'm really enjoying it. I watched it in the 70s, mostly under duress because we had one TV and it seemed like the males in the family dictated the TV-viewing a lot of the time. I didn't become a geek until I was in my mid-twenties. Watching it on my terms is fantastic.

Before the holidays, I also got a great deal (better than shown now, although these prices aren't bad) on the first 6 Trek movies and the Star Wars trilogy with the original theatrical versions, which is the only way I'd consider owning them. (Han shot first, dammit. Stop messing with my childhood memories!) Firefly will always be my favorite, by a narrow margin, but I love the other two. (Pic found online - if anyone knows the source, I'd love to credit it. Update: friend Kristin IDed the source - a meme called either "Nerd Rage" or "Troll Quotes," a collection of which can currently be seen @ know your meme.) We've stalled on watching the Trek movies at #5, which is our least favorite. But we'll get through it eventually.

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Friday, December 10, 2010


This kind of made my day yesterday. I was going about my normal day, when I got an email (actually a forwarded PM) from someone who found my Leia hat project on a knitting site and wanted to let me know that the picture of the hat was currently on the front page of CNN. What!? I was kind of useless for the rest of the day.

The pic isn't on the home page now (I did get a screenshot (below - click to make bigger)), but the article is up (hat pic is in the slide show) and it's a really great article about Katie and all the support she's received. Totally worth a read.

The pic was also used on the Cake Wrecks blog in one of the funniest entries ever, Star Wars: The Next Generation. (Imagine trying to work out the plot of the Star Wars saga based only on how cakes were decorated.)

Today is "Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars" day. Details on the Facebook page.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Brownie Pop Display

This summer, on another blog, I wrote about my experience making brownie pops (and the steps I followed). One thing I've struggled with is exactly how to serve/display the pops.

Because I make the pops the most basic way (add the sticks while baking), the bottoms are rounded, so the pops really need to be served brownie end up. I haven't had the patience to go through the steps needed to invert the process. Maybe the next time I make these, I'll give it a go.

A few weeks ago, I made some pops for a bake sale. Once again, I had to figure out how to display the pops. Somewhere online, I saw a picture of the pops displayed in a flower pot. I liked the idea but, to my surprise, the huge craft store I visited (the only one on my way home from work) had only terracotta pots, which I did not to deal with.

I found a planter that I liked, and a foam disk fit inside. I weighted it down with a bag of pebbles. It was almost perfect - I'd like it better if the foam was up a little higher, but for a practically out-of-the-box solution, it worked okay. (Sadly, they didn't sell well, so I'll stick to making them for parties.)

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pretty Tape, part 2

tape2Continuing from this post.

My order (placed on Tuesday) from TapeSwell arrived on Friday. So already, I'm impressed. The shipping was a little steep, until I considered the weight of the tape. And, like I said, the discount coupon code (link in previous post) helped make that easier to deal with. Since it arrived in 3 days, I have zero complaints.

This was a 2-roll combo pack. If you don't need the canister, order the rolls separately. (This was on sale, so it was worth it to pay just a tiny bit extra for the canister). In fact, if they're not on sale, I wouldn't buy the combo packs unless you're really bad at math (2 rolls of tape + empty canister = $16; combo pack, regular price = $20)

tape3I was pretty impressed with the packaging. The 2-roll set was in a clear drawstring bag (reusable), and the single roll and 2 blank containers were packed in a second bag.
tape1The test
As stated before, most of the decorative tape I've purchased isn't sticky enough. Most of it has required a strip of clear tape over it, so it may as well have been a strip of scrapbook paper. What I wanted was a tape that would add a bit of interest to my packages, but just stick on its own. (Not so much to ask.)

The Result?
So far, so good. I used 1 strip of the Faux Bois tape on the top and the bottom of the box (to ship my POS cell phone back) and waited several hours. By that time, most of the other tapes would already be lifting at the ends, and there is no indication that this will happen. I can't give rave reviews until I've used it a few times, but I'm cautiously optimistic.
Just for fun, I gathered up all of my packaging stuff. It doesn't all quite fit, so it has to be piled on top, but it's organized as neatly as possible (click on the pic to go to Flickr and see notes):

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

An Open Letter to LYSOs - Promotional "Goody Bags"

After the very disappointing goody bag I received some time ago at an LYS which shall remain nameless*, I started thinking about how many other cool things they could have done without a huge outlay of money. A lot of these would have the store's info. on them, to reinforce shop identity.

Back story: Some time ago, I attended an event at a Local Yarn Store (LYS), Around the same time, friends of mine attended several. At each of these, some kind of "goody bag" was promised. To keep this preamble short, let's just say that our combined experiences were less than positive: a couple of the stores had nice, or useful, bags, but the rest (and my experience matched this), appeared to be a way for the stores to offload all kinds of crap that hadn't sold. (And for good reason.) While talking about it with one friend, I started telling her about all kinds of ideas I had to create promotional hand-outs for my imaginary LYS (many of which were ideas I implemented for my Etsy shop when it was active). I realized, of course, that with the economy the way it is, the costs of the bags needed to be low. They also need to remind people where the goodies came from (something that the goody bag I received did not). The cost for these could be kept low, with time being the biggest investment. With planning, they could be worked on well in advance of an event. 

Goody Bag Ideas
Business Info is very important. Make sure that, at minimum, your store information (logo, website, address, etc.) is in/on the package at least twice: a business card with a stitch marker tied to it, a stamp or sticker on the bag, or a tag stapled to the top of a mini goody bag. If the bag is good, you do not want people forgetting where it came from, especially if they're hitting several stores in one day (shop hop kind of thing).

Cute (or clever) packaging is both fun and (in my opinion) essential. Size is not as important as quality. Doesn't have to be a big bag, or even all that fancy. Cute, clever, useful, memorable (in a good way) are the adjectives we're going for.

  • Get creative. A store I used to shop at (until the owners retired, happily) used (new) flat popcorn bags with their store info. stamped on it. These were used for small, flat items, but would make cute goody bags as well (fold over and seal with a label that has all the store info. on it). Mini shopping bags (3/$1 at the dollar store, probably less somewhere in bulk). That kind of thing. Chinese take-out containers totally rock. They're not cheap in small quantities, but I'll be a hundred or so at a go would garner a nice discount. Add a tag and shredded paper and you've got an adorable package.
  • Other packaging. Clear cellophane treat bags (sold in packs of 100 or so) with an easy topper, folded and stapled = adorable and memorable. Stick a couple of small, cute, USEFUL goodies in there, with a business card, coupon, etc. 
  • Not new, but always handy: needle index cards. Very easy to make. I used these as freebies with my first sales on Etsy, along with other things. Business info on the front of a business card, needle index on the back. Consider a crochet hook card, too.
  • Stitch markers. Shown here are a couple different kinds I've done for promotional use. All were original ideas of mine, although I'm sure they've been used by other people, coincidentally. (Great minds think alike.)
    A: simple marker in the acorn/gumball capsule with a tiny tag (acorn shaped) upon which was printed my shop's URL.
    B & C: Shrinky-dink markers. I've done 'nekkid guy' and some hand-drawn ones of my sheep character and an acorn. Some special materials required, but you can make tons of them with 1 package of good shrink material, permanent ink (contact me for specifics), a hole punch (1/8") and some jump rings. I punched 2 tiny holes in business cards and tied the mini acorn/sheep markers to the cards with string or thin ribbon.
  • Samples of things available in the store. This one might cost a bit, but not being an LYSO, I'm not sure how easy this stuff is to get, or how expensive. Eucalan sells samples of their wool wash in little one/two use packets. At the time I inquired about the price, I thought it was pretty reasonable. I don't know how much Gloves in a Bottle samples run, but I do know that after trying a sample, I went back and bought a bottle.
  • Samples of yarn. Divvy up a couple skeins of sock-yarn into several-yard mini skeins. One person at an event balled up samples, stuck them on a lollipop stick and wrapped them like suckers (cute packaging makes SUCH a difference).
  • Patterns. Most patterns that are available for free online have a statement that they are not to be copied and distributed by stores. Perhaps a designer would be willing to release a version of the pattern with permission on it for a particular store. I shouldn't have to say this, but just in case: it's not okay to buy 1 pattern and pass out copies, or to reprint tons of copies of free patterns if the designer hasn't given you permission to do so.

    I've done this with my Emergency Yarn Ornament pattern: the store in question can print out and distribute that document, with my blessings. It has their logo on it, plus all of my info. Nice partnership. I think it would be a really cute goody bag to get a small (empty) glass - or plastic = ornament and the pattern together, so the recipient could make one right away.
  • Other notions: mini emery boards, whatever oddments knitters/crocheters like to have in their notions pouches. It would be cool, although I don't know how expensive to get mini boards with a store logo. That or a small needle gauge if that can be done inexpensively.
  • 1" badges/pins (flair!) Individually, they're not cheap, but in bulk they can be a deal (even Cafe Press gets reasonable with 100-count bags). Some pro-yarn sentiment (just one more row) or something, on a pin.
  • Doorprize kind of thing. Let it be known that in one random, unmarked bag, a coupon for something special (class, %-off coupon, gift certificate, etc.) can be found. (Only worth it if the volume of bags given is high.)
  • Moo Sticker BookStickers with yarny sentiment (something with store logo is not a prize, but an identifier to put ON the bag). Make your own or see if there is an inexpensive source for ordering. makes fabulous books of stickers that can be used on packages or cut up to give away.
  • Pens or pencils with store name. Kick it old school. Everyone needs a pen or pencil in their knitting bag.

Successful promotion gifts I've heard of. These were memorable enough that people mentioned it positively to friends:
  • Pricier gifts, available when a certain purchase limit was met. One store gave out tape measures (with store logo) when people spent a certain amount. Another gave out a tote bag (again, with store logo).
  • Coupon redeemable at a later date. Certain %-off, usable in the next month, encouraged a return visit.

*I'm going to avoid giving any information that could identify the store in question, because this is not about a single store.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

May the Force be with Katie (& with you, too)

If you're a self-proclaimed (loud & proud) girl geek, you may already be familiar with Katie's story. If not, in a nutshell: at the tail end of Anti-Bullying week, Katie's mom, Carrie, wrote about her daughter's recent experience of being teased at school for - gasp! - carrying a Star Wars water bottle. (Doncha know? Star Wars is for boys?!)

Carrie asked her female readers to chime in if they were Star Wars fans, too, so Katie could see that the boys at school were misinformed. It kind of snowballed. I read about it after someone posted a link to the epbot blog (which I read, but was behind on) entry Geek Girls, ACTIVATE!! Since Carrie's blog was tough to comment on (I tried & tried), Epbot's Jen (also of Cake Wrecks fame) invited people to comment on her blog instead.

As of this date, the Epbot entry received over 3,000 comments. Carrie had to create another entry in her blog to handle all the comments (over 2,000 in the combined posts). Katie's story even has it's own Twitter hashtag (#maytheforcebewithkatie - still active).

Katie hass read many of the blog comments, or maybe all by  now (that's a lot to keep up with) and they'll all eventually be put into book form. She's worn a Star Wars t-shirt to school and is, of course, back to carrying her water bottle. (More updates on Katie - An Ordinary Story with an Extraordinary Response. -- check it out for info. on the Dec. 10th event "Wear Star Wars - Share Star Wars.")

So, what's with the pic? Well, I immediately wanted to comment on the original post, but was unable to get my login to work. I had a picture I wanted to share with Katie anyway (one of my niece ("K") dressed as Leia for Halloween a few years ago), so I tracked down Carrie's email and sent a little note along with it. On a whim, I offered to knit a hat for Katie, too. They accepted my offer, and I got to work. My niece even got into the act after she heard about Katie and helped me knit a bit of the hat on Thanksgiving. I mailed it off on Monday of this week, and Katie got it yesterday. Word is, she wore it to school today, with Storm Trooper tattoos on her arms. (Pic by Carrie Goldman, used with permission.)

Follow-up on Carrie's blog: Adopted by the Geeks and Nerds.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pretty Tape, part 1

The first thing you need to know is that I have a thing for stationery. This includes office supplies of all kinds, pens...and tape.

I love sending packages to people and one of the highlights of the experience is adding a row of fun, patterned tape to keep the envelope/package closed. Note: from personal experience, I don't recommend using the pirate/skull-and-crossbones tape on the exterior of a package being sent via US mail. The last time I did this, the package eventually showed up, but it took waaay longer than it should have!

Some of these pics are a little old - I just went with what I had on Flickr - some of it had to go. As fun as some of this tape looks, it's not really usable. It doesn't stick well at all. (Pout)

I recently discovered a company that sells some tape that looks promising: TapeSwell.I immediately ordered a couple rolls of tape and a couple of their canisters. The canisters are way cool -- the small ones will either hold a roll of tape, or can be decorated with a length of the tape. (I'm also a sucker for all kinds of packaging!) I found an coupon code online at RetailMeNot (a place I check before I order anything online), and saved almost half the shipping. (I imagine that 3 rolls of packing tape might be a little heavy.) I'll come back & share the results. Will it stick, or not?

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Care Tags

caretagQuick Lunchtime Post.
I made these care tags a couple of weeks ago to attach to hand-knit gifts, and thought I'd share. They're still a work in progress - I want to add a "for:" line in the next set - but I'm pretty happy with them.

The images were snagged from a nice PDF of  care instructions. Since PDFs can be resized, I set the magnification very high, then used a screen capture program to grab each image. In Photoshop, I switched them from black to white, and made them transparent.

I've been printing them out (6 to a sheet) onto cardstock, then punching a small hole in each and using some of the baker's twine (that I'm never going to run out of) and a tiny safety pin to attach the tag to the knitted item.

PS. I'm not sure I'm back to posting regularly, but I do have a few topics, so I'll be around for awhile.

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Monday, June 21, 2010


Hi, all. I thought I'd officially announce that I'm taking a break from the blog. (As if my absence since March wasn't already saying that.) There's a lot going on in my life, but:

  1. There's not a lot that's all that interesting to blog abou
  2. The stuff that is interesting to blog about has to stay confidential for now, or needs to.
I'm going to try to post at least weekly on my Halloween blog, but am going to take a break from this one for awhile. Thanks to everyone who has been reading, here and on LJ, all these years. I hope to be back when I have something fun to share.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Redux - Play Food: Felt Cherry Tuturial

Shamelessly reposting the occasional tutorial from my old blog. About three years ago, I had some kids in my life that I thought would get a kick out of play food. I gathered up a bunch of felt, embroidery floss and poly-fill (etc.) and made up quite an assortment. Following are the steps for making my favorites, the cherries. (Inspired by the second section on this page.)

Materials: Felt (I used a wool/poly blend in a splotchy red/black), .5 mm brown leather cord, embroidery floss, needle, scissors & filler (e.g. felt scraps, polyfill, etc.) Note: I really recommend felt with some wool content.

Play Food: Felt Cherry Tuturial
Top row, left to right:

  1. Cut 2 circles (1¼ - 1½") for each cherry.
  2. Don't cut the leather cord yet. First, tie a double knot about ½" from the end (don't need to be real precise - just need to have something to grab and pull), then about 2" from that, tie a single knot and pull TIGHT.
  3. Cut close to the second knot. This is the tip of the stem.
  4. Cut about a 15" length of embroidery floss and separate. I used 2 strands. Thread needle and tie a knot. Insert the needle through the first knot in the "stem" and push the needle through a single layer of the "cherry." Pull thread through. The 2 knots will be hidden inside of the cherry.
Second row:
  1. Lay the second layer over the first. Start sewing by stitching very close to both sides of the stem, then continue around the circle, using a tight whipstitch.
  2. Continue stitching until you're just a little past the halfway mark. Stop and stuff the cherry with felt scraps or polyfill. Sew shut.
  3. You could be done now, or you can take another step and SQUISH the cherries so they look a little rounder. Tip: if your cherries have some wool content, then you can mist them with a little water prior to the SQUISH, and they should dry in a somewhat round shape.
My method: I cut out a few sets of circles and followed all the steps up to sewing past the halfway mark (partway through step 6), assembly-line-style. I cut short pieces of floss on purpose: so I could just stop sewing and pick it up again later, without wasting a lot. Then, once I had a bunch, I'd stuff them and finish sewing them up.

For fun, I used parts of a felted wool sweater to make a huge, catnip-stuffed cherry for our cats. It was quite a hit. (Craft felt is not recommended for cat or dog toys, regardless of what they sell in stores. Take it from someone who has had a cat ingest and poop out an entire toy.)

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Patience is hard

vivid cowl button detailBack in my early days of blogging I was pretty quick to rush to the keyboard and report whenever a company had pissed me off. When I moved over to Blogger, I decided that I'd be a little more patient and hold back when it came to reporting my frustrations. Now, I still get annoyed and do my bit by "voting with my wallet;" I'm just a little more restrained when it comes to what I'll share. Oh, the stories you have all missed! (Pic is because there has to be a pic, right? Also, the buttons on the cowl are from the store I'm about to rant about, from a previous trip.)

I think of myself as a fairly easy-going, responsible consumer. But I won't beg a store to take my money, and I will reward poor customer service with my one-woman boycott for months (or years, in the case of Target, and that ain't easy!). On the flip-side, good customer service will gain a store/company/chain repeat business. (Oh, JetPens, I am SO coming back and ordering more!)

The economy in Michigan is not good right now. Stores are closing left and right, there are near-empty malls & shopping centers everywhere. Many people have less money to spend. So why on earth would a store allow their employees to turn customers away? Especially when they have a competitor in the same shopping center!?

One sacrifice we made when moving to the country is the lack of local shopping. The only grocery store nearby is scary, so we have to drive several more miles to a Meijer. It takes John over 3 hours to do the grocery shopping at 2 stores (1 fruit & veggie market, plus Meijer or Walmart). There are no book stores, no yarn stores. There aren't even any craft stores. It's inconvenient, sure, but we traded for space. And more quiet. I was pretty excited to realize that I could get off a couple exits early on one route home from work and, just a few miles out of the way, I could stop at a JoAnn Fabrics, sort of on the way home. (It's not LYS, but I'll take what I can get!)

I'm not a "customer is always right" kind of person. I don't make unreasonable demands. What I do want is to be able to pick out my items, pay and leave. Imagine my surprise when I got to the register the second time I stopped in at that store and as the cashier started ringing me up, she was interrupted by a senior staff member and sent to another part of the store to help another customer. I was left standing at the register with a pile of greeting cards, yarn and other crafty "necessities."

Help a customer? What was I?

I know some people would have picked up all their stuff, and gotten back in line or even demanded that the woman who sent the cashier away ring them up. But that's not how I roll. I don't beg people to take my money. So what was I? Not a customer anymore, that's for damn sure.

What cracks me up is that there is a Hobby Lobby just a few doors down from that JoAnn! Must be nice that they're doing so well they can send people away. (I'm not a huge fan of HL, because of the music playing, but I can tune it out well enough to grab what I need and get out.)

That all happened a couple of weeks ago. Two weeks ago yesterday, to be exact. Two weeks ago today, I fired off a letter to corporate and haven't heard "boo." (I win the bet I made with myself.) I decided to wait and see if they responded before I blogged about it (I immediately posted to Facebook, naturally). Of course I haven't been back to that JoAnn. Well, not any JoAnn, but I'm not going to say I'm never going back to any store in the chain. That one, though? Nope. And since it's the only convenient one for me to go to, that does mean they'll lose a good portion of my disposable crafty income.

I bought what I needed at the drugstore, Walmart (yes, Walmart. This is the country) and Hobby Lobby, or went without.

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