Yo Momma Monday: Tiffany McCauley of The Gracious Pantry

yo momma mondayAfter I had Cecilia, I got really interested in clean eating and living a clean lifestyle and one of my biggest inspirations was The Gracious Pantry. Tiffany’s recipes were simple, easy to follow, I didn’t have to search endlessly in a health food store for the ingredients and best of all – they were good! I was even able to trick my boyfriend into eating healthy. I learned about cooking from scratch from her website, and it forced me to slow down a little in the kitchen.

This is why I’m so happy to feature Tiffany in this week’s Yo Momma Monday!

Tiffany, 40, lives in Sonoma County with her son, whom she lovingly calls “Mini Chef” in her Facebook posts and recipes. She became a stay-at-home-mom soon after she found out she was pregnant, as her difficult pregnancy did not allow her to work much. She and her then husband had already planned on raising their son on their own, so that pretty much sealed the deal.

“The balancing act is always something I struggle with. The truth is, if you are giving your full attention to work, you will be lacking something in your mothering. And if you give your full attention to mothering, you will be lacking something in your work. So it really is a juggling act.

I think the most important thing you can do is forgive yourself for coming up short every once in a while. While most moms like to think they can do it all, it just isn’t humanly possible to actually do it all. So you have to focus on doing your best and forgiving the rest.”

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany is a self-taught cook who says the most valuable lesson she could pass down to a beginning cook is that burning your dinner is not the end of the world. She assures that just because you burned it one time doesn’t mean you’ll burn it again. “You can’t give up because of one mistake,” she says.

“I also learned that when you start out with making a casserole and end up with soup, you don’t throw it away, you have soup for dinner! Cooking is a very creative thing. It’s an ongoing experiment. Evolve with the food you make instead of trying to make the food conform. You never know, you might end up with a new family favorite!”

Now that she is comfortable in the kitchen, she heavily involves her son in cooking, and says that she never questioned whether or not he would cook.

“And I think that is the very reason he loves doing it. It’s not a matter of teaching your kids something they already like, it’s a matter of teaching them to like something they absolutely must do to survive. Showing them that cooking can be fun. After all, the memories made in the kitchen just can’t be made anywhere else.

It’s really just a process of getting your kids involved with the everyday functioning of your life. They are definitely their own people, but when you function as a family unit, everyone needs to contribute in some way. Making time in the kitchen a regular thing is important. And I have found that most kids naturally gravitate towards cooking. They love learning about food and how to prepare it. It’s usually a naturally fun thing for them to do. You just have to present it the right way, and set things up so it’s not intimidating for them. 
 
For my little guy, that involved a stepping stool so he could reach the counter, an age-appropriate knife with careful supervision, and apron that was just for him, and even a special pig spatula that he got to pick out at the store himself. When you set kids up to succeed in the kitchen, you’ll find very little, if any, resistance.”
 
Kid-Friendly YoNuggets

Kid-Friendly YoNuggets / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Tiffany realizes the importance of teaching kids how to cook, and she says our society has become incredibly removed  from the very thing that sustains us.
 
“I’m finding that many grown adults these days were raised on boxed and packaged food from a freezer or on food that came through a drive-thru window. I know kids today who get three meals a day from a fast food restaurant. It’s a sad state of affairs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fix it.

 
I think that teaching kids about food is the most important gift we can give them. Because it not only empowers them to feed themselves and their own families some day, but it also gives them power over their own health. Anybody who has health problems can tell you how important that is. Particularly when the life expectancy of our children is now getting shorter instead of longer. All you have to do is step back and take a look at the bigger picture where the health of our country is concerned to see why teaching our kids about real food is so critical.
 
Gone are the days when we could “trust” a large food corporation. And I would argue that those days never really existed. Because if you really dive into food politics at all, you’ll see that the stuff they label as “food” is actually very far from it. Our bodies were meant to run on food. Not food-like products. So it’s easy to see why health can go downhill so fast when you are not giving your body the fuel it needs.”
 
Tiffany talks a lot in her blog about how she dealt with body image problems through much of her life, something she learned from her mother. She says that the hardest thing is to not pass those problems down to her own child.
 
Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Photo from Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

“It’s a constant struggle and sometime I fail miserably. When you have been raised to view your body a certain way, it’s a very difficult thing to change. Sometimes it feels impossible. I don’t think I’ll ever really get past it completely, but I am learning to respect my body for the things it does every day and appreciate it for what it can do.
 
I mean, this body of mine made an entire human being. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!! But I do still struggle with body image. It’s not an easy thing to overcome, no matter how much I try to show it respect. I think becoming a mom has simply made me far more aware of how badly I can put myself down sometimes. Not wanting to pass that on to my child has been a huge motivation for me to overcome this.”
 
For Tiffany, the biggest change she noticed after adapting clean eating to her lifestyle was how clear her skin was.
 
“I also lost some weight and started to feel much better. I noticed I actually felt full after a meal instead of wanting more and more food. I later understood that it was because my body was actually getting the nutrients it needed. I chose this lifestyle because I believe that real food is the answer to many problems we face today. My own personal eating plan is constantly evolving to suit my needs, but it’s always based on real food.”
 
Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Blueberry French Toast Casserole / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Before The Gracious Pantry, she had several other blogs, so she know she loved the blogging process. With this site, she wanted to track her own progress and share recipes she created.
 
“The best part about the blogging community is how small it really is. There may be a million blogs out there, but the community itself has sort of a “small town” feel to it. Once you start to grow, you get to know everybody and everybody gets to know you.”
 
Since starting The Gracious Pantry, Tiffany has also wrote a cookbook, which she says was a long and difficult process, but one that is filled with creativity and passion, one she equates with giving birth.
 
“You work really hard, sweat some, cry some, spend a lot of money, and in the end, you have this wonderful, amazing thing you can hold in your hands. You forget all about the difficult stuff and can’t wait to do it again! And at the end of the day, you are doing something you love and something you hope that others will love as well.”
 
Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad. Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Clean Eating Vegetable Basil Macaroni Salad / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

She posts every other day without fail, because she wants to show people the endless variety of dishes they can make with real food. She wants people to learn that real food is delicious and to not be afraid of the kitchen. She also hopes people will learn that their health really will improve when they focus on real food and that cooking food does not have to take a lot of time, or money.
 
“The best compliments I get are the ones where people tell me that their lives/health/bodies have improved since they started cooking with my recipes. I think that sort of compliment is the most validating thing a health blogger could ever ask for.”
 
Her favorite recipe on her blog is the plum torte, and while she never posts a recipe that she does not like, she has had some fails – like a low carb brownie recipe that she is still working on. As for her favorite blogs and magazines, she likes iBlog Magazine and Will Write for Food.
 
“I tend to gravitate towards the blogs with the magazine quality photos. Really great photos are something I aspire to.”
 
Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious  Pantry

Plum Torte / Photo Credit: Tiffany McCauley / The Gracious Pantry

Now that Tiffany is in culinary school, she would like to host a cooking show in the future and to continue writing more books. “I’d also love to start teaching healthy cooking classes to kids. I’ve taught one or two and they are just so much fun,” she says. Her biggest advice for people who are beginning a clean eating lifestyle is simple: take it slow.
 
“Take it one meal at a time. Realize you WILL make mistakes. But the secret in success is using those mistakes. If you throw in the towel every time you goof up, you’ll never stick to anything. Using those mistakes to learn. A mistake isn’t the end of the world and it shouldn’t be the end of your healthy endeavors. Just keep at it. Success is found in perseverance. Come back to it again and again, no matter how badly you mess up.”
 
You can find out more about Tiffany and her recipes by visiting The Gracious Pantry. And for all you awesome moms out there, I still have two spaces left for a Yo Momma Monday feature so drop me a comment and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google + and Pinterest!

Yo Momma Monday: Maiden Jane

yo momma monday

Meet Jane, 51, a quiltin’ mama of four from Cleveland, OH. She sells her quilts, pillows, totes and repurposed items in her Etsy shop and posts tutorials on her blog – Maiden Jane. I found her blog while searching for upcycled apron ideas, and I instantly fell in love with her story.

Before she was gifted one by her husband before the birth of their first one, Jane had never used a sewing machine. She did, however, love to create things and sewed by hand when she was a little girl. Although her mom never sewed “not even a button,” she supported Jane’s hobby buy purchasing her craft kits.

“So I am largely self-taught. My mother-in-law helped me in the early days and I also attended classes at the Sewing Expos that came through town.”

For Jane, most her inspiration comes from her daily life. If she has a need that she feels is not being met by the products on the market, she will try to create a solution.

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

“That’s how my Oversized Tote came about. My husband and I tried all different ways of carrying all our supplies to the beach – plus the kids! We decided big bags would be the answer.”

She is also inspired by stuff that other people might be considered junk.

“I am a little sad when I go to a garage sale or the thrift shop to see all the stuff that we – first, buy, then, pitch. I hope that I don’t accumulate so much in my own life that will later be sitting on shelves.”

Her customers are also a source of inspiration, as they will ask her to make certain items that may end up spawning an entire line!

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

As a small business owner and mom working from home, Jane does not have a set schedule. She does, however, set goals for how much time she wants to spend on certain tasks. She will take breaks for housework and when her kids come home, and she sets aside specific days for her errands.

“…This year I am trying to be working by 7:30. So that means checking email early and then getting started working on sewing. I rarely work for more than two hours straight without doing something else…

I can fritter away a lot of time on social media, so I am trying to confine that to morning,
lunch, and evening. But it’s an important part of my business. So much of my work is custom and then the product ships out right away, so that means I have to photograph it within a day or two of being done.

When Jane and her husband built an addition to their home, they added a master bedroom. The designer wanted to add a glamorous bathroom or a walk-in closet, but it was Jane’s husband who offered up the idea of a craft room/office. And Jane couldn’t be happier with the decision.

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

“One of the best things I have is a mobile table. It is on wheels so I can move it around the room or out of the way. The height of the table can also be changed. Side flaps on the table change the table size
to make it narrow. So the entire table can slide under the counters. We also have several mobile file
cabinets – which gives us storage and extra seating for when the kids are working in here.

Jane bought an entire Singer sewing book set at a closeout sale years ago, and she still refers to them often. She also likes Simplicity’s Simply the Best Sewing Book, The Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing and the Vogue Sewing Reference Book. For newer books, she likes A Bag for All Reasons by Lisa Lam and In Stitches by Amy Butler.

Jane says she has made and enjoyed a few patterns by Burda, and after she made some totes from Jennifer Paganelli’s fabrics – they all sold out!

“I get a little frustrated with the traditional pattern makers. It seems they have forgotten how to write a pattern for beginners.”

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

Not only does Jane share her love of sewing and quilting on her blog, she also shares tips on practical living. Since she and her husband are both engineers, they thrive on order and solving problems that arise in their growing family. They are constantly changing and organizing things to adapt to their evolving lifestyle – like simply storing plastic grocery bags in an old milk jug with holes cut on the top and sides.

“Do you know, we still use that jug after 20+ years? My husband jokes that it saved our marriage! Since I am practical in nature and some of my products were borne of the idea of being practical, yet pretty, I used it as a basis for developing my brand.”

Jane gets tremendous satisfaction from working with her hands and making as much as she can. She started sewing for herself and her kids and would make gifts for people when she could. She created t-shirt blankets for her nieces and nephews as High School graduation gifts, and after encouragement from a friend, she opened an Etsy shop. Soon after that, she started a website and her business has continued to grow in the last five years.

“I almost feel selfish because I enjoy it so much…I love doing it for the creativity but I am motivated by the financial gain.”

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

Even though her kids and husband help out when it’s needed – doing chores, make pickups and drop-offs, help with laundry and set the table – she remains an one-woman operation. Her oldest daughter, who has modeled on her website before, is now off to College so her other daughter, Annie, has taken over modeling. She also has her own Etsy shop called Pink in Mind.

Jane’s work and has been featured in quite a few websites, such as Craft Gawker, Craft Gossip, Totally Tutorials and All Free Sewing. She says that it has been a mixture of her submitting her work to different sites, and getting sought out by different bloggers.

“I was thrilled to have a few projects featured on Craft Gawker because that forced me to improve my photography. But I’m clearly not “there” yet because I continue to get rejected! I haven’t made it into a magazine or book yet, but that might change soon!”

Jane is inspired and motivated by piano music, and since her oldest son is a jazz pianist, her house if full of music! She loves both classical jazz and New Age – like Jamie Cullum and George Winston. She will also listen to musicals and soundtracks while she sews.

Photo from Maiden Jane

Photo from Maiden Jane

Since Jane sells patterns for some of her quilts, she wanted her customers to be able to share their creations that they made with her pattern. So, she added a board on her Pinterest for all of her customer creations. If a customer puts their work on their own blog, she can also add that to her Pinterest board.

“If my customers send me a photo, I put it on my blog and then pin it. Then I have a reference board for other customers to see finished blankets.”

When I asked her what her advice was for new moms who are also starting their own businesses, she had this to say:

“First, enjoy your time with your babies. When they are young and on schedules, you can use nap time and evenings. That’s when I sewed a lot. Then again, I was only sewing for fun at that point. It was a wonderful outlet for me. I see so many amazing business women and bloggers and wonder how they do it all with young kids.

In my opinion, it gets harder when the kids get older. When my kids hit the teen years, my life turned into chaos. Suddenly, I was running kids to practices. No longer was the evening my own as the kids were staying up later. So my point is, life goes by so quickly.

Here I am, starting a business in my late forties. When I went to college for engineering, I realized that I didn’t really love it by my junior year. But I also decided that I would have many careers in my life. So I was open to whatever path my life would take. If you are starting a business at home, go for it. Dive in. You’ll learn as you go. It’s so easy to start an Etsy shop. But find what works best for your family.”

Customer Creation from Jane's pattern. Photo from Maiden Jane.

Customer Creation from Jane’s pattern. Photo from Maiden Jane.

Jane hopes to continue to grow her business and says that she always has new ideas for products if she has some time to design them, and she has also been percolating with products she could have made with a small manufacturing house or collective.

“I only have two hands and although I love to create with them – and I always will – I can’t see how to grow my business without additional help. I love collaborating with other makers and have some new bag fabrics in the works. Usually my mind is overflowing with ideas.”

If you would like to find out more about Maiden Jane, visit her here. If you or somebody you know would make a perfect feature for this series, share a link in the comments and on social media or e-mail me with the information!

Meet the Maker: Kate Payne

meet the makerSometime last year, I was virtually introduced to Kate Payne, the author of The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. I don’t remember how the introduction occurred, but from the moment I visited her website, I’ve been hooked. I was so hooked that I purchased her book last November, and I love reading it in the little snippets of free time that I get.

I’m hoping to put a lot of her homemaking tips to use when we get our house, so I will do a full review of the book then. But for now – I just want to share her amazing story.

Photo from Kate Payne

Photo from Kate Payne

Before this book, Kate was what she calls “a flashy cook” – cooking food that would excite, but was not necessary by any means. She has also donned titles such as grant writer, half-assed homemaker, nanny, after-hours poet, doodler and gardener. She studied anthropology and sociology in the Sonoran Desert and once worked on an organic tomato farm.

Kate started the blog in 2009, when she was living in a ground floor apartment in Brooklyn, NY. She wasn’t making the money she was used to, but she still wanted the comforts of home. She dug inside for a little creativity and improvisation, and there the blog – and subsequently the book – were born.

“I started the blog specifically with the intent to write a book. The blog was a sort of sounding board for me to see if what I was thinking about writing was of interest to anyone besides me. I was not a blog reader at the time and my background in grant writing didn’t factor much into my blogging endeavors. I think the rigors of writing well–proofreading, syntax, punctuation, grammar, etc.–should go into any style of writing one does, whether it’s books, blog posts, magazine articles, or grants. “

She decided to write a book because she felt like there wasn’t enough resources out there for women who weren’t so hip on homemaking and keeping a clean house. Aside from that, she found herself questioning if it was normal for a modern, empowered woman like herself to actually enjoy the domestic life.

Image from Kate Payne

Image from Kate Payne

“The stigma and history surrounding women and domesticity fueled my intrigue in exploring my own relationship with the kitchen and household chores. With my book and approach I hope to shed a new light on DIY and eco-oriented homemaking. We all need somewhere to call home and shifting our attitude toward our homes is a good first step.

I’m of the opinion that you should pick and choose what you do yourself based on what you actually like doing, and then dedicate money you save there on quality items or services you don’t particularly enjoy. What makes the most sense for certain people to do themselves, doesn’t make sense for others. “

On top of maintaining her blog and writing her books, Kate also writes grants part-time for a nonprofit and maintains a quarterly column for Edible Austin. She works with her Marketing Coordinator Christina Valentine on the blog, tour event planning and managing workshop preparations. And because that is clearly not enough, she also works with a local farmers market group and helps maintain their website and social media.

“Freelancing means I’m working nearly all the time, but working on things I feel passionately about makes it worth it. I always carve out time to eat dinner with my wife, who does most of the sustenance cooking around our house. (I manage the fermenting, canning, desserts, ice cream and bread making, the projects we love, but can ultimately live without.)”

Meyer Lemon bath salts. Photo from Kate Payne

Meyer Lemon bath salts. Photo from Kate Payne

Kate started canning in 2009 and peach jam was among her first projects, which she was afraid to eat because she was terrified the jars were full of botulism. She also made a triple citrus marmalade, from Eugenia Bone’s book Well Preserved.

“As I endeavored to learn more about canning, I soon discovered that all the hype surrounding your imminent death by canning was not really likely if you followed USDA-approved canning methods and practices. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for beginners.”

A self-taught cook, she gets a lot of her recipe inspiration from Joy of Cooking and many of her gluten-free recipes will start from there and from pastry chef David Lebovitz. She will then make the recipes gluten free-friendly by substituting the flour for a flour blend based on what she is making. As for her preserving projects and recipes, she’s inspired by Linda Ziedrich, Eugenia Bone and Sandor Katz.

She and her friend started the Food Swap Network, which provides hosts and attendees with a bevy of resources and information. Existing swaps that are registered on their site are searchable for anyone nearby who wants to join the fun.

Gluten-free Cinnamon Cake. Photo from Kate Payne

Gluten-free Cinnamon Cake. Photo from Kate Payne

Kate’s new book The Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen comes out next month and is available for pre-order now. She says it will be in the same style and format as her freshman book – it will just focus completely on the kitchen, which really is a world of its own.

“I took over the cooking for the year I wrote the book as evidence that even someone like me who doesn’t enjoy daily sustenance cooking can reasonably and affordably incorporate cooking into their busy lifestyle.”

She hopes people will just simply focus on doing their best, and will relax when they hit the learning curve that comes with working on new projects. And as for the best compliment she’s received:

“A single mom told me how she’s never had time for any household things, but my book and small-batch preserving recipes on the blog inspired her to try doing some kitchen projects with her daughter. They now spend more time together cooking and canning, which means the world to her.”

Photo from Kate Payne

Photo from Kate Payne

Kate will be kicking off her HGGK Book Tour (hooray!) on May 24 in Ann Arbor, MI and the tour will close in Albuquerque, NM on July 1. I have listed the dates and locations of her book tour, and you can also see her full classes, demos and signings schedule by visiting her at katepayne.net.

      • May 24 – Ann Arbor, MI: Literati Bookstore, time TBD
      • May 27 – Austin, TX: BookPeople 7:00pm
      • May 28 – Houston, TX: Blue Willow Bookshop, 7:00pm
      • May 29 – Brooklyn, NY: Greenlight Bookstore, 7:30pm
      • June 13 – Tucson, AZ: Antigone Books, 7:00pm
      • June 17 – La Jolla, CA: Warwick’s, 7:30pm
      • June 23 – Seattle, WA: Book Larder, 6:30pm
      • June 28 – San Francisco, CA: Omnivore Books, 3:00pm
      • June 30 – Phoenix, AZ: Changing Hands Bookstore, 7:00pm
      • July 1 – Albuquerque, NM: Bookworks, 7:00pm

You can find Kate Payne by visiting her on The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking website, you can find neat stuff in her store and you can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. If you know an awesome maker who would be perfect for this series, please leave a link in the comments, share on my social media or e-mail it to me!

Yo Momma Monday: Karen LePage

yo momma mondayMeet Karen LePage, 42, a sewin’ mama from Michigan. I met her through Oh My! Handmade and I instantly swooned over all of her work. She not only sews up a storm, but she also creates patterns, sells custom-made garments and shares tutorials on her website at One Girl Circus! Oh, and she also co-wrote a sewing book for boys, appropriately named Sewing for Boys.

Before she started working for herself, she sang at weddings, sold cars, managed a coffee shop, taught German and worked in Strategic Planning. To say she is well-rounded would be an understatement.

Karen started a blog after she read and loved blogs from other people. Initially, it started as a means for documenting her children’s special moments.

“I guess it’s not surprising that I’m not very consistent with it, however, because I was never a child who could keep a journal beyond “dear diary” for more than a few weeks.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

After her mother bought a sewing machine when Karen was five, she started experimenting and made every project in the booklet that came with the machine. From there, she spent several years making wardrobes for all of her dolls. As a kid, she started watching Sewing with Nancy when it came on PBS, a show she still watches to this day.

I always say Nancy Zieman taught me to sew…I still watch it.  I still love it.”

Karen still remembers her first sewing project – a drawstring bag – and she says there have been plenty of disasters along the way. When she first got started, she would wear her disasters; now, she tucks them away until she’s ready to try again. Her latest creation was a Japanese double-gauze newborn outfit that was in a box for six years because she couldn’t stand to look at it.

“I’m so happy I could rescue it!”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

As a mom, Karen says that her children not only inspire her work, but also keep her balanced and admits that if she didn’t have her kids, she would probably just work all the time.

“I love making things, and having humans relying on me for comfort, food, and shelter ensures that I nourish myself with their companionship while meeting their needs, too.”

The creativity bug has definitely hit both of her kids, as her son likes to design the garments she makes for him, and her daughter is a quilter. Her son also shops at thrift and vintage stores, so he has become quite the master at button replacing, and he already has an eye for what can be fixed, and what cannot. Her daughter will often work up a patchwork when she’s in the sewing space.

“She has an amazing eye for color and pattern.”

Karen describes her workspace as chaotic yet comforting. While she is always moving things around in there, she still keeps an open space for her kids to visit while she’s working. She does like to take some time tidying up in between projects.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“But as soon as I have a clean space I’m inspired to start making again – immediately.

Although there’s no such thing as a normal day, there is one consistency in her morning routine – coffee (ain’t that the truth). Her daily activities are determined by deadlines, inspiration and commitments – and she does try to get some sewing in every day.

“I start to get twitchy when I’m away from my sewing machine for too long.”

Karen says that the best and scariest thing about running her own business is that everything – from what get made to what gets published – is all her.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Sometimes it’s wonderful and sometimes it’s terrifying and sometimes it’s wonderfully terrifying.”

She started teaching classes after someone asked her to do it, and that is one of her favorite things about what she does.

“There’s something super-satisfying about nudging my students toward sewing confidence.  I love that it’s a skill they can use forever. I love holding their hands through the tough part and saying “Look how awesome you are!” when they make it through and realize they can make something they didn’t think they could make.”

When Karen is not teaching classes and making clothes –  or thinking about new classes and new projects – she loves reading, hiking with her daughter, yoga and cooking.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“Actually, strike that, I like reading cookbooks.”

And of course, she loves all forms of crafting. There isn’t a craft she hasn’t stopped, and thanks to Creative Bug and the craft section in her local bookstore, that won’t be ending anytime soon. She loves making anything from  baby clothes to formal gowns – all of it.

“If it goes on a body, someone will wear it and love it, and that’s something that makes me happy and keeps me going.  There’s always something new I want to try, whether it’s a technique or material I haven’t yet attempted; I incorporate my latest learning into each new project.”

She gets the majority of her fabric from local fabric stores and loves visiting new stores in any town she visits. When she cannot find a fabric she wants locally, she will shop online.

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

“I spend my dollars locally whenever possible.”

Karen loves being a part of the handmade community because she has always been just one of a handful of people she knows that love sewing. Of the four high schools she attended, she only found one friend who could sew. ONE! Now that she has a whole community of friends who also love the same kind of things, she counts it as a blessing.

“I feel so energized and inspired when working collaboratively; even when working on my own thing amongst fellow makers.  The handmade community is what has made my 30s and 40s the best years of my life.”

She currently has two patterns in the Stitch Magazine Spring issue and there will be another one in the Summer issue. She is also working on a handmade garment line and is hoping to hire some local people to help with the sewing and sales of her products.

“I’m really excited about it, but I’m also thrilled to have a steady stream of consultancy projects.”

Photo from Karen LePage

Photo from Karen LePage

Karen hopes to inspire people by being an advocate of all things handmade – whether its making, buying, spreading the word, or all of the above.

“I also hope I can inspire people to try something new every once in a while, and to really enjoy the process of making.”

Thank you to the lovely and wonderful Karen for participating in this series! You can find her blog here, buy her stuff here and read the book she co-wrote here.

If you enjoy this series and would like to be a part of it, or know someone who should, please leave a note in the comments or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and Instagram. Next month, I will be talking with Jane Skoch from Maiden Jane!

Meet the Maker: Print Therapy

meet the maker

Meet Melissa, 30, and Nicholas Wert, 32 from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. They are the adorable and creative couple behind Print Therapy, a handcrafted paper expression company, and I am honored to have them as my guests today. And how perfect (and not planned at all) is it that Valentines Day is officially less than a month away.

Melissa and Nick decided to start Print Therapy while Melissa was in a hotel room during a business trip. She still works full time as a project manager and has one foot in the creative world, one foot in corporate America, as she would put it.

“After several weeks of travel (for work, not for pleasure!) and too many moments of not feeling like my best was good enough and not being able to truly stand behind my work, I called Nick and said “Dang it! We’re starting Print Therapy. For real!” A few hours later, we registered the name and had filled out all of the legal paperwork.”

Melissa has both a Bachelors in Business Management and a Masters in Communication and Information Management. She and Nick started Print Therapy a year after she got her Masters. She admits that at first it felt like a waste – paying off a whole bunch of student loans after realizing that she wasn’t all about corporate America.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“But when I stepped back, I realized how much they would help me run my own business and handle the non-creative portion of my work, which I love almost as much as the creating!”

Melissa says that she wouldn’t rather work with anyone else, and that the secret to their success is working in separate offices. She adds that having her husband as her business partner gives them both an understanding of all the work they put into it.

” If one of us needs to take a break or step away from it for a while, then it’s totally okay. We both know that we each love this business and want it to grow, and that we’re 100% committed to that. Nick doesn’t get on my case if I devote an entire Saturday to Print Therapy or if I fall asleep on the couch at 8pm after a long day of work. We appreciate each other for the work we’re putting in – and make sacrifices together to keep it all going!”

Since Melissa is an early riser, she is able to get a huge chunk of her work done before anyone else gets up and the neighborhood is still quiet. She makes a cup of coffee, checks her email and visits the blogs and social media sites of her favorite creative people. Then, it’s time to handle business. Some days, she works on all the of business aspects and other days, she’s creating a new design.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I am a methodical planner (hence my project management background), and have had to learn that you cannot plan creativity. It’s not something you can schedule on the calendar (yes, I’ve tried), or slot in a certain time of the day. When it happens, it happens.”

The upstairs spare bedroom of their 52 Cape doubles as her office, where she says all of the white space inspires her; yet the beautiful charm and character are her favorite. She has a desk, some storage racks, a Print Therapy design board and a Yoga Dogs calendar. Her only office mate is her dog, Sawyer, who is always hard at work on his comfy bed under the window.

“The bones of the room give me  a warm and fuzzy feeling…being surrounded by color would limit my design sense.”

While Melissa does get a lot of her home inspiration from Pinterest and creative inspiration from Instagram, she is most inspired by things that are not related to stationary at all, a nod to a subject she studied in College.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I studied architecture in college before switching to business, and I tend to find a lot of inspiration in different architectural pieces and in interior design.”

Before Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud, Melissa and Nick were creating all of their cards on Microsoft Word (yowza!). After watching all the Adobe TV tutorials they could handle, they now use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign for all of their designs.

“It’s opened up a new level of creativity and confidence for me. We print most of our items at home, but are slowly beginning to work with a great printing company that prints out of California. They will greatly expand what we can offer, and can help keep our prices reasonable for bigger orders.  It’s hard to let a big piece of the business go like that, but we’ve found someone we trust and really enjoy working with, so … baby steps!”

Since both Melissa and Nick work full-time aside from running Print Therapy, they don’t get a whole lot of downtime. So when they do get a chance to unwind, they will get burgers or Chinese take-out and snuggle with Sawyer on the couch and watch a movie or catch-up on their favorite shows.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“As much as we love working together, getting to unwind together is even better! Both of our families are about 10 minutes away, so we love getting to spend time with them, too. We also treasure dinner dates with our closest friends – whether they be out to a restaurant or home cooked at someone’s home. Quality time together is where it’s at!”

For Melissa, being responsible for it all is both the best and scariest thing about running her own business. She loves having control over every aspect of her company, but also admits that it can get a little hairy when there’s not an IT Department or a paycheck, for that matter.

“You get to know yourself pretty well when you’re the one behind it all, and you have to learn to work within your strengths and weaknesses, and to push yourself farther than you thought you could go.”

When they need to buckle down and get to work, Melissa and Nick have different ways to get in the creative mood. Melissa will turn her workspace into what she calls a “safe space” and shuts the door, turns up the heat, lights a candle and turns up the emotional music. Nick, on the other hand, revisits the 90s with his musical choices. “Method Man, Wu Tang, all of it”

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Nick often jokes how much I love sad music – it’s true! I feel most creative when I deeply, deeply feel something. To me, that’s the point of stationery – to put feelings into text and images that can be shared with someone else.”

And when there are simply no creative juices flowing? Melissa doesn’t force it, and just stops trying. She will start cleaning and organizing and comes back to it later. If there is still nothing, she will just start designing something and eventually the creativity will reemerge.

“Sometimes walking away is the best option though – becoming frustrated with the process certainly isn’t going to help that creativity to start flowing.”

And when there are design flops, Melissa has learned to not rush the process and to work on a design until it feels right. And if she doesn’t love it, she will not have that innate urge to sell it. And when she’s not jumping up and down to promote it…then maybe it shouldn’t be up for sale.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the trends and to try to make something because you think it will sell. But, if it doesn’t fit you and your brand, good luck”

Melissa loves the familiarity of the handmade movement and community, and loves how it feels like “we’re all in this together.” She has a lot of friends who run their own small businesses, and she feels inspired being able able to purchase items that help people support families, fund an adoption and give back to their communities.

“You just don’t get that feeling from a Wal-Mart. There’s nothing better than purchasing a product you love and knowing that that maker is excited by and appreciative of every purchase coming his or her way, and is using that money to live their life. Double whammy goodness.”

She discovered Oh My Handmade! while on Twitter when she was starting Print Therapy. She checked out the website, and ultimately decided that the small monthly fee was worth all of the support she would get from the online community.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“Through my OMHG membership, I’ve learned that I’m not alone and that everyone struggles. Everyone has off days. No one feels like a creative successful genius 365 days a year. It’s been eye opening for me, in the best way, and has helped me better accept myself as a maker.”

While Melissa agrees that starting your own business is incredibly tiring, she also knows how exhausting it can be to work at a job that you don’t love. So, she knows this is the right path for her, and if she does have children, she hopes it will be an inspiration to them.

“Every day that I look at Nick, and the family we’re building, I am inspired to go down this path, because it makes me the happiest person I can be. That’s good for me.”

Now that they finally have their website launched (yay!), Melissa hopes to work on a Wedding collection and add more “just because” cards to their shop. “Those are my favorite to send, and to receive, so I want to offer more of those as well.” Next year, they hope to move into wholesale.

Photo from Print Therapy

Photo from Print Therapy

“I hope to inspire people to do what they love, and to not feel constrained by what they think they should be doing or by what someone else thinks they should be doing. I hope to inspire people to find a partner to share their life with that fully supports their dreams and visions.

I hope to inspire people to rescue their next pet versus buying from a breeder, because man, rescue pets are the best. But mostly, I hope to just inspire people to tell someone else how they feel about them in a way that will always be treasured. Leave a love note, send a card. However they choose, I want to inspire people to tell those they love, that they love them. I want to inspire people to send happiness; from their mailbox forward.”

You can find Melissa and Nick on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and you can order Valentines cards (like I did) and any other cards you like from their Etsy shop. If you would like to participate in this series – or know somebody who should – leave a note in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you want to be all private, you can e-mail me too!

Thrifty Thursdays: Holiday Edition!

thrifty thursdays

There is one thing that is certain when you have a little one: you will never struggle with a gift idea for your parents again. Grandparents LOVE photos of their grandbabies just as much as they love photos of you – if not more. The good thing is that you don’t need to go to a photo studio to get expensive photos of your babes, all you need is a camera and little creativity.

Photo from love grows wild

Photo from love grows wild

These DIY Photo Clipboards from love grows wild are perfect for grandparents because they can change them as the children get older. All you need is some wood, these cute little clips and a photo, of course! You can paint the wood any color you like, or any color you think you parents will like.

Photo from This Heart of Mine

Photo from This Heart of Mine

These Transfer Image Canvases from This Heart of Mine are perfect if you have a photo of your little one with their grandparent (or whoever you are creating this gift for – even yourself!) or if there is a special moment you wanted to share. You just need a gel medium, a canvas, a large high-resolution photo that will cover the canvas, a foam brush, spray bottle and a cloth! Another awesome tutorial from one of my favorite ladies, Amy.

Photo from See Kate Sew

Photo from See Kate Sew

I love these DIY Instagram Magnets from See Kate Sew! Not only are they super cute, they are also super affordable! Use them as stocking stuffers or attach to your gifts as cute photo tags. You just need some adorable photos, adhesive magnetic paper, an x-acto knife for super precise cutting and an acrylic ruler.

Photo from The Gold Jellybean

Photo from The Gold Jellybean

These Waterless Snow Globes with Photos from The Gold Jellybean are perfect for the Holiday season! Since the season is pretty much over after Christmas, I would give it to them for Thanksgiving (obviously this would have to wait for next year) so they can have it up! Or simply turn them into photo frames and decorate them however, and gift them at Christmas! This would also be something cute to decorate your house with for the Holidays.

And what about those Christmas cards that you have been putting off?

Photo from The Paper Mama

Photo from The Paper Mama

This Christmas Card Tutorial from Flavor Pink was featured on The Paper Mama’s 50 DIY Days of Christmas. As a Photoshop newbie myself, I am always excited to see new tutorials – especially when they are for something fun and creative like this! This tutorial centers around Photoshop but I imagine you can get the same effect with most photo editing programs.

Do you have a fun DIY photo Christmas gift tutorial, or did you use one of these tutorials? Share your link in the comments and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ with the hashtags #thriftythurdays and #whatimgifting. You can find more DIY Holiday ideas on my Pinterest!

Meet the Maker: Elizabeth from Delightfully Tacky

meet the maker

Meet Elizabeth, 26, from Tacoma, WA, who runs the wonderful blog Delightfully Tacky – which I started when I first got into blogging, and continues to be one of my favorite weekly reads. Not only is Elizabeth a blogger, but she is also a graphic designer and a photographer. To sum it up, she pretty much does it all.

Elizabeth created Delightfully Tacky in 2008, after she discovered style blogs and it seemed like “a really cool community of inspiring girls.” Over the past five years, it has turned into a style, food, diy, home and design blog and serves as inspiration to bloggers, makers and designers alike. She started blogging during College and working as a barista, so it was pretty casual in the beginning. After she graduated School, she got more serious about her blog.

 “The progression happened organically, I suppose…After college, blogging was an amazing community that helped me make that transition that can be kind of rough in that post-college-graduate-living-at-home-trying-to-find-a-job-or-maybe-apply-to-grad-school phase.  My blog started getting more views after I was featured by a more popular blogger and I decided to try and give it more attention and blog more consistently with quality content.”

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Creativity has always been running through Elizabeth’s blood and she spent her childhood drawing, creating and “always running around the woods, creating scenarios in my head.”  An art major in College, Elizabeth says art is an integral part of who she is and she never once thought of changing majors.

“I remember once in 4th grade we had our art projects hanging in the hall at school and one day I walked past them and mine had a sticky note on it from someone who wanted to buy it to hang in their house!”

In 2010, Elizabeth finally purchased a 73 Winnebago Brave, after being obsessed with 70s Braves since she and her family went on a family trip in one across the country in 2007. She did a huge, photorealistic painting of the 73 Brave for her Junior art exhibition in College and ended up getting one that was nearly identical! After her purchase, she saved up enough money and went on a trip through the West Coast.

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

“It was one of those things where it was something I wanted to do and I just decided to do it instead of thinking about doing it…I had always wanted to do something like that with a husband, but I’d decided to stop waiting for a guy and instead just go for my dreams.  Ironically right after I got done with my trip my now-husband asked me to be his girlfriend and less than a year later we were married.  Maybe someday we’ll go out for a big trip in the Winne together!”

She and her husband, Dan, recently purchased a house and Elizabeth has been blogging about their renovations. Since both of her parents love home renovations, Elizabeth was always involved with their process. Her dad and uncle came down from Alaska to help work on the siding, and after that she and Dan finished up with painting, and they have a few more projects in the works.

“My dad was a carpenter when he was younger, so he knows a ton about home building and repair.  I learned a lot from him, but mostly I learned that I could do anything I set my mind to if I wanted to do the work and figure it out…It was really fun to be able to work alongside family on our home.  I had always wanted to get a fixer-upper, having seen my parents fix up a few homes throughout my childhood, so it was fun to finally be able to do that with a home of my own.”

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

At the moment, Elizabeth’s office is in a converted attic space, which is near freezing in the Winter as the insulation is minimal. She just got a new desktop computer that’s in her office, so she uses that space for editing photos and then blogs on her “ancient” laptop downstairs, where all the action is happening.

With everything that she does, Elizabeth says she gets the most fulfillment from blogging. While she loves working on graphic design projects, she admits that it does not give her the same creative freedom. Since the client has the most control over the design, she says that sometimes you may create something you absolutely love, but the client doesn’t feel the same.

“In that way graphic design can actually be pretty taxing as a creative person.  Blogging is something that I get to do for myself. I get to share what I want, create what I want, and no one has a say about it”

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Her background in art and design has definitely helped Elizabeth’s blog, she says. She has always designed her own blog and her knowledge of Photoshop has enabled her to edit photos and include other graphic elements. Since blogs are a complete visual package – layout, colors, textures, patterns and photography – Elizabeth says it’s helpful to have a brain that is very visual, itself.

Elizabeth gets most of her inspiration from local restaurants, TED talks, documentaries and magazines. She also finds inspiration from some of her favorite bloggers – Orchid Grey, The Clothes Horse, Maidae and Bluebird and her favorite handmade shops – The Velvet Bird, Vanilla & Lace and Moorea Seal.

Although there was a period when Elizabeth was focusing on being a DIY project blogger, she says that while she loves working on DIY projects, they just don’t have a huge a presence in her life. And while Pinterest is an inpsiration for her crafts, she says a lot of her motivation to create something simply comes from seeing something she wants but can’t afford, and looks relatively easy to make.

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

“If I want to make something I’ll make it, but it’s not a daily thing.  This is probably why my blog is such an amalgamation of different things.  Recipes, DIY projects, outfits, photos.  I don’t really focus on one thing, so it allows me more diversity in what I choose to create that day.  I might be in an outfit mood, or a cooking mood, or a project mood.”

After attending NYFW for the Chictopia and IFB blogger conferences, Elizabeth and Tieka from Selective Potential decided to offer e-courses as a virtual alternative for people who couldn’t make the trip. People can buy passes to the e-courses at anytime and they will be privy to the same information that is shared at the conferences.

“Since then I’ve created a couple more e-courses, one about self growth and one about developing personal style, and I’m in the planning stages of creating an e-course on photography!  I get a ton of emails every day asking for tips on blogging, photography, and personal style so it just made sense to compile everything in one place in the form of an e-course.”

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Elizabeth has put her influence to good use, and started featuring organizations that she believed in on her blog. Most recently, she wrote about Umoja Women in Kenya. She will be donating all of the small ad sales to this nonprofit, and she has also featured Musana Jewelry, a nonprofit organization that gives all of their beaded jewelry sales, grants and donations back to the artisans.

Like many of us, bills serve as a constant motivation for Elizabeth, though she considers herself lucky that she gets to do what she loves in exchange for a normal paycheck.

“Sometimes blogging can feel trivial and silly as a full-time or part-time job but the emails I get from readers telling me their stories and opening up make me feel like I might actually be doing something that positively impacts other humans, which is encouraging.”

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Photo from Delightfully Tacky

Elizabeth wants to continue creating more women empowerment, and feels that her blog is headed more in that direction. She hopes to inspire people to get off their asses  and out of their comfort zones, starting with herself.

“I personally love blogs because the people in the photographs are real to me, I hear their voices in their writing, their bodies are un-retouched, their style is procured on their own budget, not pulled from designer collections.”

She wants women to feel empowered to create their own futures – to simply be who they want to be.

“In yoga they say it’s not about doing the pose perfectly, it’s about moving in the direction of that ideal pose doing the best you can at that moment.  “

You can find out more about Elizabeth by visiting Delightfully Tacky, and connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Help Umoja Women by purchasing small ad space on her blog here. Hang out with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and find more Meet the Maker inspiration on my Pinterest.