August 31, 2012

Jen's Awesome Chicken Marinade

I've been using this chicken marinade recipe almost every week for over a year, and it still didn't have a proper name. I had it written in my recipe notebook as simply "Chicken Marinade." I used it again last night and I tried to brainstorm a new name. The best I could come up with was "Sweet and Tangy Chicken Marinade." Over dinner I asked my husband what he thought of the name, and he said I should just call it "Jen's Awesome Chicken Marinade," so here it is!

Jen's Awesome Chicken Marinade
Seriously delicious chicken awaits

Jen's Awesome Chicken Marinade

1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbsp course ground or whole grain mustard
3 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 lime, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
ground black pepper
  1. Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk together. Cover chicken with the mixture. I like to use a large zippered baggie.
  2. Marinate the chicken for at least two hours before cooking.
  • This recipe makes enough for 6-8 chicken breasts.

August 24, 2012

Did You Miss Me?

I've been mostly M.I.A. recently, but it was for good reasons. August is usually a pretty busy/crazy month for my family, but it was even more so this year. Here's a glimpse into what August had/has in store for me this year:
  • My birthday
  • Our wedding anniversary
  • My husband's birthday
  • My shop featured HERE
  • My husband slammed with work and gone the whole month
  • Living like a single mom (with all the duties that go along with it)
  • A teething 14-month-old (molars!)
  • Trying to spend time with my next to youngest sister before she goes off to college
  • Working on shop stuff
  • Our neighbors moving - We have a shared driveway and have to deal with the movers, workers, stagers, realtors, house shoppers, etc. outside our front door and blocking our garage and driveway.
  • Cousin's baby shower
  • Wedding dress shopping with another sister
  • A family reunion
  • Blah, blah, blah
It's been an exciting month so far, but I am looking forward to life slowing down a little bit.

August 19, 2012

My Birthday & A Blog Feature!

So . . . it's my birthday!  This is the beginning of my yearly "Three Day Celebration." Today is my birthday, tomorrow is my wedding anniversary, and the next day is my husband's birthday. Crazy? Maybe. Fun? Definitely!

Also, the planets have aligned, and my shop is featured over at the fAveritte Creations blog today. What a great birthday present! Head on over and check it out.  :)

August 9, 2012

Super Easy, Super Delicious Brownies

I first made this recipe a little over a year ago. I was dying for some chocolately goodness and had my mind set on some brownies. I had just had my son and didn't have a fully stocked fridge or pantry, and running to the store wasn't an option. I found it unbelievably difficult to find a brownie recipe that I had the right ingredients to make.

After searching for a recipe much longer than I had anticipated, I found this beauty. The brownies it makes are soft and a little gooey, almost like fudge. What started out as an "OMG, I just need some brownies right now and I'll try anything" recipe has become my go to dessert recipe. I hope you try it and love it!

Super easy, super delicious brownies
Yummy chocolate fix

Super Easy, Super Delicious Brownies

Makes 9-12 brownies - Or one really big one!

1 cup sugar (super fine if you have it)
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cocoa powder
1/4 cup butter, very soft or melted
2 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8"x8" pan with butter or a light coating of cooking spray.
  3. Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly - a hand mixer is best. You can't over-mix the batter, so have at it.
  4. Pour the mixture into the greased pan.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until it pulls away from the edges of the pan slightly. The brownies will still be soft and slightly wet inside.
  6. Let the brownies cool before cutting.

August 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - August 8th

Play Time: Paint Baggie

I've been trying to figure out some fun new play time activities to do at home with my 14-month-old son. He seems to be fine just playing with the same toys and reading the same books day in and day out, but I know it's better for him to have varied activities to get his little brain working (and I get bored)! I came up with a few easy, little to no mess ideas to try out.

My little guy had a lot of fun with this activity. It's a great way for kiddos to start learning how to draw shapes and write out letters and numbers. If you use more than one color in the baggie, they will also learn about how mixing two colors (or more) creates new colors (or what looks like dumpster gravy if you mix every color together!).

For lack of a better name, here is my Paint Baggie.

Paint baggie activity
Baby A playing with a paint baggie


Zippered freezer baggie - Baggies meant for the freezer are thicker and better for this.
Paint - I just used some inexpensive poster paint from the craft store. I got the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) figuring he could play with mixing the colors together.
Tape - I used packing tape. It was easy to get more coverage than you can get with regular tape.

Supplies need for the paint baggie activity - paint, zippered baggie, and tape
Supplies needed for this activity

The Crazy Easy Instructions:

  1. Open the zippered baggie.
  2. Pour some paint into the baggie. The amount you need is dependent on the size baggie you are using and how full you want the baggie to be. Play with it to find what works best for you.
  3. Carefully seal the zippered baggie (super important!).
  4. Tape the baggie to a low window or sliding glass door. The light coming through the glass helps your little one see all the designs they are creating. I ended up having to tape all four sides of the baggie to the window because Baby A was obsessed with trying to rip the baggie off the window. After adding more tape, he played with it correctly for a long time.
  5. Let your little one have fun.
 * So far, this baggie has been taped to the window for three days. It's still going strong despite being in the sun a lot of each day and having a kiddo smacking it repeatedly. We'll see how long it lasts.

August 4, 2012

The Evolution of a Light Box

Before I opened my Etsy shop, I did a lot of research and read a lot in the forums and in the Etsy Sellers' Handbook to prepare myself, hoping to set myself up for success. One thing that you hear and read over and over and over again is that good product photography is key to having a successful Etsy shop. It makes complete sense; your photos give the buyer their first impression of your item. If your pictures are blurry, unfocused, or dark, the buyer may never click on your item to get to the awesome description you wrote.

I know that good lighting and clean backgrounds (especially white backgrounds) are what many strive for, so when setting up to take my first product photos, this was my aim too. I started out with a very basic set up and have ended up with a pretty sweet, homemade light box.

Here is the evolution of my light box:

Basic photo shoot set up using white poster board
My super basic photo set up

#1: As Basic As It Gets

White background - check.
Natural light - check.
My pictures should be awesome, right? - nope.

So, how basic is basic? As you can see in the picture, basic for me meant white poster board propped up against random household objects and placed on the floor in natural light. I probably looked really silly laying on my stomach on the floor trying to get in close to take my pictures. I'm glad my husband wasn't home during my photo shoots!

At first, I thought that my pictures looked great with this set up, and I was super excited about getting all my items photographed. After being on Etsy for a short while, I realized that the pictures I took with this set up were not great and that the grayish background had to go. Here's an example:
Example photo before and after - basic photo set up vs. light box and photo editing
From my first photo shoot to my new light box + minor editing

#2: My First Light Box

I won't go into great detail here because this light box sucked.

My first light box began its life as a plain old brown cardboard box. I used this tutorial to help me. The materials were easy to find (a cardboard box, tissue paper, tape, white poster board), and the process took less time than I thought it would. I removed the top flaps of the box and cut out panels on the left and right sides. Then, I taped sheets of white tissue paper over each side cut out. I used the poster board as the background for the picture. I got two cheapy desk lamps from Target and pimped them out with full spectrum light bulbs from Amazon. Full spectrum bulbs are more expensive, but they will help you get a nice, white light that you can't get with regular bulbs. They really help improve light box photos. The lamps are positioned next the tissue paper covered cut outs, shining into the box.

Using this light box, I was able to control my lighting much better than I could with natural light, but I still couldn't get nice, white photos (even with photo editing). I always had shadows in the corners/edges of my photos, and cropping didn't always fix the problem. After reading more about light boxes online, I realized that one problem was that the inside of my box wasn't white. Light wasn't bouncing off of the brown areas, which created the shadows. I could probably have gotten away with taping some white paper inside the box, but I had a better idea. I'd start with material that was already white had a stronger structure.

I wish I had a picture of this light box, but after many hours trying get good photos using it, I destroyed it in frustration.

#3: My Second Light Box

One panel of a collapsible light box showing the "tabs" you cut
An example of the "tabs"
I used this tutorial to help make my second light box. This set up seemed to fit all of my needs. Since it's made out of white foam core, the inside is white, which helped reduce the shadows I had in my photos using my first light box. Foam core is more rigid than a regular cardboard box, so the light box is a lot more stable. As an added plus, it's collapsible, so I can take it apart for flat storage. The pieces fit together without tape, so it's easy to assemble and disassemble. This is a very nice feature since my photo set up is on the dining room table. We don't use that table often, but it's nice to be able to easily stash my shop stuff away when we have company.

To make the light box, you start out by cutting down your pieces of foam core into squares. Then, you have to carefully plan out where you'll cut out tabs on the edges of intersecting walls of the box. If you cut the tabs correctly, your box walls should fit together like a 3D puzzle. Use the poster board inside the box as a seamless background. Shine desk lamps on the inside walls on the left and right (this is the thing that ultimately didn't work for me and led to my third light box).

I was so excited to have this new light box finished. I wanted to retake all of my photos and update all my Etsy listings. But, I took one series of photos with it and knew something still needed to be tweaked. My photos were just as bad as the ones I took with my brown cardboard box, ugly shadows everywhere. Shining the lights on the solid inside walls of the box made it very difficult to bounce the light in the right places. But, then, I had an idea! What if I made cut outs on the left and right sides, covered them with white tissue paper, and shined the light through the paper like I did with my first light box? Brilliant!

I really wish I had taken step-by-step photos of the process, but when I made my light box, I wasn't planning to share it with anyone. You can see step by step pictures in the tutorial I linked. And, again, I don't have a picture of this version of my light box, but it's the same as my 3rd/current light box except that the sides were left whole.

#4: My Third (and Hopefully Final) Light Box

My current light box set up made from white foam core and tissue paper.
My current light box - I'm very happy with it.  :)
One light box cut out before being covered with white tissue paper
One cut out before being covered with white tissue paper
I used my second light box as the base for this box. I made cut outs on the left and right sides (marked two inches in from the edges), covered the cut outs with white tissue paper (tape in place), and got my lamps in position on the sides. Done.

Another realization I had while putting this together was that the "white" poster board I was using wasn't really pure white, and it was affecting my photos negatively. So, I used some very white drawing paper meant for an easel for my back drop. It's lighter weight than poster board, so I needed to find a way to anchor it in place so it wouldn't slide down inside the box. The solution I came up with was to cut tabs at the top end of the paper and feed the tabs through the gaps at the top of the light box. The top piece of the light box helps hold the paper in place. You can see what I mean in the picture below. Another thing I like about using easel drawing paper is that I have a whole roll of it, and it's easy to swap in a new piece if my background paper gets dirty or marked up from moving things around on top of it.

Paper background "tabs" hanging out the back of a light box
Paper "tabs" hanging out the back of the light box
This set up has definitely been the best of everything I have tried. My pictures still need a bit of editing to get a really white background, but it's nothing compared to what I was working with before. I've had a lot of luck using a combo of PicMonkey and FotoFuze to get my white backgrounds.

* In my pictures, you can see that my box is sitting on top of another piece of white foam core. This piece is not necessary for making or using your light box. I had an extra piece laying around, so I use it as a base for my box.

August 2, 2012

Wordless Thursday - August 2nd

I'm doing Wordless Thursday this week because I couldn't miss celebrating my shop's half birthday on Wednesday, and I needed words for that.  :)

Doberman doesn't like the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

August 1, 2012

6 Monthaversary!

It's my Etsy shop's half birthday! The last six months have flown by at warp speed, so it's nice to sit down and look at how far the shop has come. Even though I could be considered a "creative," I am addicted to number crunching, spreadsheeting, and color-coding. I have fun analyzing sales and revenue, which items are more or less popular, the ups and downs of views, and all the love my shop and items have gotten (love those hearts!) - Not all of these end up in spreadsheets!  :)

While putting together my six month reach map, I realized that I had missed two countries on my last map (Afghanistan and New Zealand) - Oops! This month I got to add two new U.S. States, Colorado and Missouri - only thirty-one more to go!
Six month reach map for Acts of Craftiness on Etsy
Six Monthaversary

July was about the same as June as far as views and sales go, but I'm not really surprised by that. I didn't add very many new items in July, but I did do a lot of work in the shop, tweaking listing info and photos.

Yesterday, I got to be the center of attention for the SF Etsy Team's first shop critique Twitter Chat. I was a little nervous about having people checking out my shop, specifically looking for changes that could be made, but it was a really awesome experience. When you think about a "critique," you automatically think about "what's wrong with what you did," and that can be intimidating. But, good critiques also point out things that you did well. The SF Etsy Team gave a great critique. It was really nice to get positive feedback about things that I've done well in addition to constructive comments about things I could improve upon. And, instead of just leaving me with a general list of improvements that could be made, they also helped brainstorm ways to implement those changes. I often find myself wanting to make a change (or knowing that one needs to be made) but not knowing where to begin. This is where having more heads is better than one. Now, thanks to my shop critique, I have more awesome shop updates in the works.

August is a happening month in our family. My birthday, our wedding anniversary, and my husband's birthday are coming up; they are actually on three consecutive days! Plus, we have some other events for family and friends to attend. I'm hoping things will be exciting in my shop too. I'd love to have even more to celebrate.

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