Monday, October 31, 2011

Dressing Up

Until she was 9 or 10, my daughter's favorite holiday was Halloween. She liked the candy, of course, but I think what she liked best was to dress up. She never seemed scared of masks or makeup, only intrigued by the transformations. It started to spill over into other days, too: sporting a beard—usually paired with a top hat— she'd waltz right onto the bus without hesitation. Stricter school dress codes keep her looking like a "normal" teenager most days now, though her school photographer might argue with that.

Isn't it interesting how dressing up allows you to be someone (or something) else, if only for a few hours? You can be scary or funny, or big and strong. Both of my kids will be ninjas this year, likely one of our last times trick-or-treating. (If you see a bearded ninja, it's probably my daughter).

Do you ever dress up? What's your favorite thing to be?

"Acting is like a Halloween mask that you put on." ~River Phoenix

"If human beings had genuine courage, they'd wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween." ~Doug Coupland

Thursday, October 27, 2011

3 Ways We Can Help In a Hurry

How often do you find yourself saying, "If I only had an extra 2 hours in the day..."? If you're working AND running a household, where do you ever find the time to put together party favors, never mind a whole party?

I know that lots of you are in a hurry because you share it with me in your calls and emails. "How quickly can I get my favors?" is a common question! We have three ways we can help the harried mom, grandma, sister, aunt, or friend acting as last-minute party planner:

1. Emailed Proofs
Everyone loves surprises—except the bad kind. When you order something special for a party, you want it to look just right. Especially when you're down to the wire, there may not be time to reorder or fix your favors if there's a mistake.

That's why every one of our personalized favor orders gets an emailed proof. We like to have each order approved before anything prints. The only surprise we want is the Squee! kind when you open your box and see the perfect favors.

2. Pre-assembed Favors
If you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wrap and decorate your party favors after they arrive. Did you know that some favor companies send you the pieces (sometimes in multiple shipments) and you have to stick on the labels and tie the bows?

We don't do things that way. All of our favors are assembled before they ship. Your job?
a) Unpack.
b) Share.
c) Enjoy the applause.

Yes, you too can be the star at your next party! Talk with us to find out how!

3. Rush Service
Most of you want personalization, but you've learned not to get your hopes up when you're ordering at the last minute. "Those other people say two weeks for personalization," you tell me. To which I say, "Nonsense." Our schedule accommodates yours as much as possible, so talk to us! We have in-house Rush Service and use Express Mail so that when your order leaves us it reaches you overnight (to most locations—talk with us for exact times!).

These are three of the ways we help you when you're in a hurry, but we're always looking for new ways to be helpful. What other ways can we help? Please let me know!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Falling Apart

I'll admit that even as I'm enjoying the beautiful colors of autumn, I still feel melancholy. If you've been reading here for any length of time you know that I share photos from my garden, and now my garden is dying. This weekend my task was to pull the last of the plants and prepare the others for cold weather. At first I was dreading this, but I had forgotten how beautiful dying things can be.

While the leaves on the maple in my yard approach oblivion like the phoenix, positively ablaze, most of the other growing things are less dramatic. They have bent and dried, faded to gray or at least a paler, ghostly version of themselves. Greens have become browns, or black; bold, rounded shapes are now prickly, pointed, jagged.

The Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic recognizes the beauty of these things. The "wisdom of wabi-sabi" shared by Leonard Koren in his book, "Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers," looks to nature for these truths: "All things are impermanent. All things are imperfect. All things are incomplete." It finds beauty in ugliness, in simple, earthy things, and in the inevitability of change.

That's an oversimplification, of course, but others talk about this process, this "falling apart," as the natural course of things. In her book (titled—are you surprised?—"When Things Fall Apart") American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says, “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” We know this, don't we? All of this end-of-season work in the garden, pruning and removing the deadwood and weeds, feels like falling apart. But it's making way for things to come back together again in the spring. None of it is permanent: it's a process of growing and dying, a process of changing.

I've been struggling lately with some upcoming business changes. These decisions have made me feel like things are falling apart. I just want to put them back together again so I can keep things the same, but I know that I can't do that. And today I feel better about it. As Pema Chödrön says, things "come together and they fall apart." This is how things are supposed to be. Now I'm looking forward to seeing how the new things come together.

How about you? How do you deal with change? Do you feel like the "falling apart" of things is something to be avoided? Or do you enjoy the process?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spooky Juice

If you need a "fangtastic" drink for Halloween, I think Spooky Juice is a great choice! You'll need:
1 oz vodka
2 dashes blue curacao liqueur
1 dash grenadine
orange juice

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in vodka, curacao, and grenadine, then fill remainder of glass with orange juice. Stir for a ghastly green drink!

You can easily make a version of this drink that's appropriate for kids. Use blue Gatorade in the bottom and top off with orange juice if you want a greenish color. You can also start with a dark purple juice like grape and top with OJ for a brownish, murky brew. Serve with decorated straws for spooky sipping.

What are you serving on Halloween? Bloody Mary? Dracula's Kiss? Trick or Treatini? Do tell!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Send an SOS

You may have seen this article last week about the family who called 911 from a corn maze. I shared it with friends not to make fun of this family, who had a toddler and newborn in tow. (My own personal meltdown with a newborn happened in a Sears, so I feel fortunate that I had no cell phone at the time. Can you imagine that 911 call?) I keep coming back to this part of the story: "Within a minute or so upon arrival, the police officer located the family. The family didn't realize they had almost made their way out; they were just 25 feet from the street, (farm owner Bob) Connors said."

We live in a time when it's so easy to seek help, and I've wondered lately if it's becoming too easy. At a recent social gathering one of us had that "tip of the tongue" moment where we couldn't remember a name. Within seconds a handful of smart phones came to the rescue; name remembered, anecdote shared, end of story. Remember how just a few years ago our brains could "surf" like that? And we'd all make connections and tell stories until one of us came up with the forgotten name? I miss that.

If we get in the habit of seeking help so often, do we come to rely on it? Do we lose trust in our own abilities to figure things out? I think so. I love it when people ask me questions, but I find that lately I'm answering questions that are better answered by Google. I think this is a matter of trust: some of us have lost that sense that we can use the tools available to make choices and solve our own problems. We seek help from others even when the same tools and information are available to us.

I've written before about how hard it is for me to ask for help, and how different people are about asking for and giving help. I read the advice of business experts who talk about working through difficult things, encouraging people to keep going even when things feel hard. To ask for help in that environment can feel like giving up, or worse: failure.

And sometimes I think we avoid asking for help because we don't want to look foolish. Here we are, wandering in our own personal corn mazes for hours (days? years?) instead of asking for help. I think it's valuable to remember that help is always just 25 feet (a phone call, a holler) away, but that this unprecedented access to help also means more ways to help ourselves. Sometimes floundering around in that maze, feeling scared and tired and alone, is what you need to do to get where you're going. And sometimes it's just a waste of time. Trust yourself and your abilities and you'll know the difference.

What do you think? Do you try to figure out everything yourself before asking for help, or do you send an SOS right away?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apple Pie

We had the most spectacularly beautiful October days last weekend: temperatures in the 70s and 80s, sunny skies and warm breezes. It really felt like we were back in August again—except for the gorgeous foliage and the sweetly ripening apples.

We spent Sunday afternoon at Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine, picking about 65 pounds of apples. I can't tell you how many bushels that is, but it resulted in a dozen bags of sliced apples in the freezer, a couple of quarts of applesauce, a handful of dried apples, and a pie.

If you think I could get away without making a pie, you don't know my husband. He happily peeled, cored, and sliced apples for hours, dreaming (I'm sure) about the pies I'd make this winter. I have to agree with him: there's no better way to enjoy an apple (unless it's right off the tree). Here's what you need:

Crust (this recipe makes one 8 to 9 inch pie crust, so you can double it or whip it up twice for a 2-crust pie)
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup shortening (I prefer vegetable oil)
- 2-3 Tbsp cold water

- 6 or 7 large apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (We chose some sweet and some tart apples, several varieties including Cortland and Jona Gold.)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- dash of ginger (optional)
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 Tbsp butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425° and get out your pie plate. In a medium bowl, combine the white and whole wheat flours and the salt by stirring with a fork. Add the shortening (I stir in vegetable oil, tossing with the fork to make it resemble coarse crumbs) then stir in water until you can combine the dough in a ball. You don't want to overwork pie crust, so there's no kneading at all. I find it easiest to roll out the crust between two pieces of wax paper, then gently peel back the top layer and flip the crust over to place into the pan. Then you can peel back the other layer of paper (which is now on top) and pat the crust into the pan. There will be extra dough hanging over the edge of the pan, but we'll trim that later.

Prepare the filling by combining the sugar, salt, spices, and flour, then adding this combination to the apple slices and stirring to coat. Pour the sugared apples into the prepared crust, then dot the top of the filling with butter (if desired).

Roll out your second pie crust, removing the top layer of wax paper as before. If you want to cut out a decorative top, use your cutters or a knife now, leaving the bottom wax paper on so the crust is easier to move. Once it's finished, flip the crust again so the wax paper is on top and center the crust over your filling.

Now you'll need to trim and finish the edges of your pie. (If you've done this before, you won't need to read this next part! Just finish your crust as you always do and pop it in the oven!)

I take a knife and trim the crust so there's about 3/4 to 1 inch of crust beyond the edge of the pan. Don't worry if there are some open spots along the edge: you can take a bit of the crust you trim off and pat it into place so the crust covers the filling all the way around. Once the edges are trimmed, I hold the two layers of crust together and fold them under so they sit just beyond the rim of the pan. I fold all the way around, then I go back around pinching the dough with my thumbs and fingers to make ridges along the edge. You could also use a fork or a more decorative pattern.

If you didn't cut a pattern on the top of the crust, you should poke a few holes in the top before baking. You can also use the extra scraps of dough to make decorative leaves or other shapes and set them on the top crust before baking.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool, or serve warm with ice cream.

What's your favorite way to eat apples?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink Ribbon Soap from The Pig and the Peacock
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you know what that means: it's time to think pink with purchases that benefit breast cancer research and education. Here are just a few pink products to choose from.

Pink Ribbon Soap from The Pig and the Peacock is a gardenia and tuberose scented soap made with shea butter, coconut oil, and other skin-loving ingredients. Half of each sale of these pink ribbons (three 1-ounce bars are included with each purchase) is donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

Pink Gelato Lip Gloss from PRIIA

If you're looking for a pink to pucker up with, PRIIA Cosmetics is donating $1 from the sale of each Pink Gelato About2Pout Natural Lip Gloss to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. PRIIA describes Pink Gelato as "sheer luminous swirls of opalescent pink with a hint of shimmer." PRIIA lip glosses are handcrafted and contain no chemical preservatives, petroleum by-products, or synthetics.


Pink Ribbon Sock Monkey
by Mister Sockmonkey

I just love this "monkey with a cause." This Pink Ribbon Sock monkey was handmade by Mister Sockmonkey in Toronto. The Pink Ribbon Sock Monkey is 18 inches tall and has a hand-stitched pink heart. Inspired by the special breast cancer survivors they've known, Mister Sockmonkey donates 25% of the purchase price to The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Breast Cancer Awareness BuNnY MoNsTeR
by StarMonkey

Breast cancer seems like a big scary monster, but I'm pretty sure this little pink monster will help to scare it away. Breast Cancer Awareness BuNnY MoNsTeRz are hand made to order by StarMonkey and a portion of each sale will go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Each bunny is unique, though on average they stand about 8 - 9 inches tall and give big 5-inch hugs.

The Hope Candle (see below) is created from organic vegetable wax by Blue Moon Candles. Each 8 ounce candle features a Pink Sugar scent and is packaged in a pink silk bag. Profits from the sale of The Hope Candle go to the American Cancer Society.

Hope Candle by Blue Moon Candles

Pink Kisses Balms from GCDSpa

In addition to the Pink Lady moisturizers we have available year round at GCDSpa, we're also pleased to offer a Limited Edition Pink Kisses lip balm flavor. Balms are wrapped in cello bags with special tags and pink ribbons. Help us kiss cancer good-bye: $1 from the sale of each cherry-vanilla balm goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. 

Preparing special baked goods for a fundraiser or other event? The Posh Event has posted free printable cupcake wrappers and toppers for breast cancer awareness. If you're preparing to do some pink baking, make your treats even sweeter with these wrappers.

What do you think? Do you have any favorite Pink Ribbon  products that you like to buy? Or do you support breast cancer awareness in another way? Please share your thoughts!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Playing with Blocks

I've had this idea for several months now but for some reason it just isn't working out. I feel like I've tried everything and it's not going anywhere.

If you're a writer you might call that "writer's block," but anyone who creates anything experiences these inner battles. Sometimes you're on a roll and things move freely and feel easy. Sometimes, no matter what you do, things don't budge.

When all else fails, I go back to basics. Today I'll be playing with blocks. What does that mean?

• If I'm trying to draw something and it doesn't look right on the screen, I'll step away from my desk and pull out a sketchbook. I'll grab a handful of markers or even crayons and try again.

• If I'm writing and the words won't come, I might squish some play doh into the desk next to my keyboard (those little party-favor-sized jars of doh come in handy). I'll think about my topic and try to "say" it with the doh, instead. I'll brainstorm new topics by making different shapes with the doh. Or I'll stab it with my pencil a bunch of times because hey, writer's block sucks! (Incidentally, play-doh is a great stress-reliever.)

• If the packaging I'm trying to design doesn't look right, I'll build something with Legos or wooden blocks instead. Think about a kid dumping out a pile of blocks every day, and every day making something different: same blocks, new creations.

Your "blocks" may be words, or colors and shapes, or wood or clay or paint or pixels, but play is what keeps them fresh and new. "In the beginner's mind," Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, "there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few." Playing with blocks takes us back to the beginning.

I'll be sketching with my crayons this afternoon, hoping to see more possibilities with this project. How do you play with blocks?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Baked French Fries

I'll start by saying I'm probably the last person in the world to figure out how to make decent French fries in the oven. On the off chance that there are still a few others out there who haven't looked it up or stumbled upon the perfect way to make those crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside potato slices without a gallon of extra oil, I bring you today's post.

I tend not to deep-fry foods very often, but the gorgeous, fresh Maine potatoes from our CSA were tempting. I really like to roast vegetables and usually throw sliced carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and onion in there with the potatoes. I figured I should be able to roast just the potatoes to approximate fries; though I've tried, I never seemed to get the fries just right.

My problem nearly every time has been potatoes that stick. You just don't get perfectly golden, crispy fries when they're shredded all over the pan, am I right? So this is what I did differently:

I started by preheating my oven to 400-425°. I greased a baking sheet with about a tablespoon of oil and set it aside. I peeled and washed my potatoes (I always prepare more than my family would eat if they were baked because...well, they're "fried." So for my family of 4 I usually use 5 or 6 medium potatoes.) To make the French fry shape you can either cut potatoes into slices and then the slices into sticks, trying to get each piece roughly the same for even cooking. OR you can use a French fry cutter like this one at Bed Bath & Beyond. This is very similar to the one I use and I love it. If you have kids, put them to work; what kid doesn't love demonstrating great feats of strength?

OK, now you have a pile of potato sticks. I pick out the really teeny pieces because they will burn, and the remaining potato sticks go into the colander for rinsing. Very important! I was always rinsing my potatoes before chopping, but they need to be rinsed afterward, too. Then dry the potato pieces in a clean towel or paper towels. Dry them really well. (Also important.)

Put the potato pieces into a ziploc bag with another tablespoon of oil, zip the bag, and shake well to coat. You may need a bit more oil in order to coat all of your potatoes. Once they are coated, spread them over your baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully stir and flip the potatoes so you can crisp the other sides, then bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. For crispier fries, you can give them a stir and another 10 minutes. Then place the fries on paper towels to absorb any excess oil, add a dash of salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.

I love my fries with salt and vinegar, but my kids are ketchup fans. What do you like on your fries?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Making Happy

What makes you happy?

I remember the day I took this picture of my kids. There were other days like it, days when a popsicle or ice cream would make their whole day. Why do we stop having days like this when we grow up?

I feel like so much of my time is spent working on something: myself, my business, my relationships. Most of the time I'm OK with that, but sometimes it really does feel like work. This particular day with my kids didn't feel like we were "working" at all. They were themselves, enjoying the sunshine and a treat, playing in the sandbox, running in the grass. And I enjoyed the day just as it was. Looking back, this was probably some of the best "work" I've done on my relationship with them: I enjoyed them without scolding or correcting or all of that other "mom" stuff. I remembered why I wanted to be a mom in the first place. It was a pretty happy day for all of us.

"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?" - Albert Einstein

What makes YOU happy?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Enchanted by Blue Moon Candles

You may remember back in August that I was talking a little (OK, a lot) about sharks. I had a Shark Week celebration of sorts on Facebook, and this Shark Bite candle was one of the amazing products I mentioned. It was so cool I had to buy one for myself.

The candle is a beautiful color, and of course the label is terrific, too. But what you can't experience from the picture is the extraordinary fragrance, or the gorgeous blue glitter that sparkles just beneath the cover. You also miss out on the "squee!" that results when you open a package and find your purchase gift-wrapped in a special black box with a shiny label reading, "Blue Moon Candles: Intensely Fragrant Handcrafted Candles." (It's something you just have to experience firsthand—I highly recommend it!)

Blue Moon Candles is the creation of Lisa Kasper, who has discovered how to combine her "passion and obsession" in magical candles, perfumes, and bath and body products. I couldn't wait to share Lisa's story with you and I hope you're as enchanted with Blue Moon Candles (and Eden's Alchemy) as I am!

Tell us about your background: where did you grow up? What did you study or think you'd be doing for work?

I grew up in Fontana and Claremont in Southern California. Most people do not know that I studied Dentistry right out of high school and have been in the dental field for 25 years. I currently work part time managing a dental office as well as running Blue Moon Candles. I have always loved candles and have fond memories of enjoying them with both of my grandmothers. My gran Millie used to always have candles on her dining tables (she was a world class cook) and my gran Sabra had a beautiful back yard and would float candles on lily candleholders in her pool during all our family parties. I was entranced by candlelight from an early age. Potions and lotions have always intrigued me as well and I suppose it is only natural for that passion to come out by making my own creations.

When did you first start making candles?

In 1996 I wanted some black candles that were gardenia scented but could never find any. While visiting my favorite beach spot I came across the cutest beekeeping candle shop where I struck up a conversation with the owner Emma. She laughingly says she could sense my passion and awe and offered to teach me if I was willing to make the hour and a half drive back to learn. That drive flew by let me tell you! I could not wait! Just like magic—passion and obsession united and the rest is history. In 1997 I started crafting by giving our handmade candles and tarts to family and friends. The real business of selling began later and has grown to include customers as far away as Australia and Italy. I always love packaging our orders see just where our candles will end up; it never ceases to amaze me.

What sets your products apart from other similar products and companies?

We use all natural wax in all of our candles. Several of our candles use an Organic vegetable blend of wax. Blue Moon Candles is different in that we are extremely picky about the ingredients that we use. When using Soy wax we use wax from non-modified soybeans. We are one of the first companies to use fruit and nut waxes in our candles. Some of the ingredients we use are Apricot wax, Walnut wax, Olive Oil wax and Coconut wax. We support renewable resources and small farms for the raw ingredients that we use. We have always believed better ingredients make a better clean burning candle. All of our fragrances are pure uncut and phthalate free or Essential Oil blends. We also offer a refill program on our glass container candles for our local customers. Our candles are Made to Order, so that you can get your choice of color in the style and fragrance that YOU want, fresh and fragrant.

What are your best-selling products? What's YOUR favorite?

Our Eden's Alchemy apothecary perfume is a huge hit right now in our Fall fragrances, Dark Kiss and Vamp. Our best selling product is our Gothic Drip Pillar candle in Celtic Moonspice. It is our year round best seller and just so happens to be my favorite as well. (Well, that and my black Gardenia candles). I love the drip finish; especially with a little matching glitter added. They just look enchanted and magical to me.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I am inspired by the strangest of things. Fairy tales and love stories, the night sky, a crooked smile, the ocean shore, the Moon (of course), nature, music. There is no end—every day there are hundreds of things around that inspire me, the trick for me is narrowing it down.

Yesterday I was inspired by an oil slick believe it or not and just wait till you see what I am going to do with that! Some of my favorite new products are our Halloween tumbler candles, they come in two designs: Spiderwebs and Black Cats.

You must have something special in store for Halloween!

For Halloween and Fall this year I have decided to focus on Fragrance. We feature several scents inspired by dark New Orleans, as well as Gothic and Vintage Horror. Our Drip candles and decorated pillars are the perfect backdrop for your Halloween haunt. You can view our main Fall and Winter fragrances here. Our one of a kind decorated pillars will be listed on our Etsy and Facebook page. (If you "like" them on Facebook you also get a discount!)

Where do you think (hope!) your company will be in 5 years?

I would love to see our products in more retail and Spa venues. I hope our brand continues to grow and people can enjoy all the things we have to offer. I never want to become a huge company out of touch and forced to give up the personal service that defines our products, but I am looking forward to growing and branching out over the next few years.

You can find Blue Moon Candles and Eden's Alchemy online, as well as the Blue Moon Candles blog. You can also connect with Lisa and Blue Moon Candles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.

I'm thinking I need a Gothic Pillar for Halloween this year! How about you? What's your favorite Blue Moon Candle?


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