In Bloom

Not much to say today, but I did want to share some photos of our little yard in bloom.  It is a good exercise for me.  Taking these photos forces me to quietly walk around our yard, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.  Join me on the tour?

We have several clematis that grow up and around our garden fence.  They are by no means perfect specimens (see all the chewed parts?), but I love the pops of purple.

Clematis

This is our prized Dwarf Japanese Lilac that we moved with us twice.  Yep.  Really.  Like across the state.   We now have it planted beside our front door so that at least twice a day we get to breeze by and experience the amazing smell that graces us for such a short time each year.   It’s not surprising to find one of us just standing there with nose in the bushes.  The neighbors must love us.

Dwarf Japanese Lilac

I call this one simply “the other lilac.”  I’m not sure the variety and it is much taller and lankier than the one pictured above, and it still smells almost as sweet.

Lilac

Oh, our hellebores (aka Lenten Rose).  I adore them.  We planted them running along the front of the house and below the lilac bush above.  They’ve been in long enough now that they have filled out and taken over their allotted space.  They always remind me early on that spring is coming and they bloom for a wonderfully long time.

Hellebores

Finally, one of our little trees.  I have no clue what kind it is, but I think the blooms are simply adorable.

Tree in Bloom

Stay tuned for more pictures….I’m finding that our little yard changes almost daily.  What’s blooming for you?

Field Trip: Rising Meadow Farm

After returning from vacation a few months ago, Wayne and I had the pleasure of attending a sheep shearing at Rising Meadow Farm in Liberty, NC.

The farm itself is gorgeous.  We pulled in, parked, and walked toward one of the barns.  You see fields on both sides with a house on the hill to your left.  Just past the house is this pasture and barn:

rising meadow field

And everywhere you turn, there are animals grazing.  So peaceful and serene.

rising meadow sheep

The barn closest to the house was the home of the shearing.  It was all being handled quite quickly in stages.

Rising Meadow Barn

First, the sheep had been moved into the barn to await shearing.  You could tell they were a bit restless, but no one looked distressed at all.

rising meadow sheep waiting

The sheep were pulled out one at a time to be sheared.  Two shearers (is that an actual word?) were working simultaneously while we were there.  I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that the sheep didn’t seem to be bothered at all by the process.  The person shearing would just lay them down and begin.  The sheep seemed resigned and completely calm.  Honestly, it seemed most uncomfortable for the shearer whose back must be unbelievably sore after the hours of bending.

The shearers were working manually with what appeared to be over-sized scissors that are called blade shears.

rising meadow shearing

Once the fleece had been removed from the sheep, it is carried outside to a stand.  Basically, the stand has slats or, in this case, grids that are open to the ground.  The fleece lays on the stand and small pieces fall through the openings.  Additionally, the person working the stand will remove the (shall we say) less desirable parts of the fleece (aka the dirty, icky parts).  This is called skirting.

Rising Meadow - Cleaning the Fleece

After skirting, the fleece was placed in a large plastic bag marked with the source sheep’s name, and weighed for sale.  I asked a million and one questions while we were watching and waiting.  When my curiosity was satisfied (and many kudos to the folks at Rising Meadow for having unending patience with me), Wayne and I started digging through the available fleece until we found one with coloring we liked.  We then headed up to the farm store (the house on the hill) to also purchase some roving.

Inside the store there was a collection of yarn available as well as a few other related products.  The owner, Ann, was again patient with us and answered questions for me.  We were told that Rising Farm will sell the fleeces (fleece-i?) directly to individuals.  Whatever is left over is sent off for processing, and then returned to the farm where it is dyed by hand.  When we handed Ann our card from our fleece, she said “Awww, Wilhelmina is such nice girl!”  Wayne and I smiled – it was clear we picked the right fleece.

A short while after Wilhelmina returned home with us, I pulled out the fleece and washed it well.  It was quite a painstaking process.  I have pictures, but I’ll spare you.  The short version is that it was icky, hard on the back, and long.  The end result was worth it though – a gorgeous clean fleece that we can begin to process.  I am experimenting with various carding techniques, but in the meantime we used a portion of the fleece and some roving to make our very first set of dryer balls.  We experimented a bit and have been using a few ourselves for a over a month and love them.  They both reduce static and shorten drying time.  Want a new set to try for yourself?  You can see the listing in our Etsy shop.

Rising Meadow Dryer Balls

If you are in North Carolina and would like to experience Rising Meadow yourself (minus the shearing which only happens a few times a year), you’ll have the opportunity in May.  They are holding an open farm day on Sunday May 6th that happens to coincide with the open farm day for The Goat Lady Dairy.  You can read about our Goat Lady Dairy experience here.   Both farms are high recommended and are a great family-friendly adventure.

Creating Order out of Chaos

Life got a bit crazy for us in November and December, much more so than we had ever expected or anticipated.  Although we worked our way through everything that headed toward us, the end result was a bit of chaos  around the house (understatement).  I know this is a common casualty of a home based business, but I think we ended up at a bit of an extreme.  Although we already have devoted an entire bedroom and most of our kitchen and office to the business, at one point we had two additional folding tables in our tiny hallway just to have enough room to pack orders.

We stepped back in January after everything was done and we were shocked to find this in what we affectionately call the soap room:

And this in the office:

Ugh.  Our “we’ll deal with it later” mentality clearly caught up with us.  Beyond that, I found that it was created amazing amounts of stress for me.  I’m a fairly organized individual.  I don’t like to dig for stuff.  If I was searching for a specific label or display piece in the soap room, it took me significantly longer than it should and I was left feeling frustrated after each attempt.  I was also getting distracted while working in the office.  I would literally find myself staring at the mess that had accumulated around me.  Trying to will it away with my eyes.  Neither healthy nor productive.

With all the changes going on around us right now, we wanted to have a fresh start, so we resolved to fix it.  One day after the market, I headed to Ikea and picked up a few things and we spent the entire next day (literally), removing everything we could from each room and putting back only what we needed.

The end result is below.  Our new soap room contains an extra gorilla rack that does a better job of holding our glass and liquids and allows us to have extra curing space on the racks that were already present.  We also now have a packing station that is long and thin – perfect for laying our multiple orders at once.  The bottom shelf holds tape, boxes, labels, and all the miscellaneous mess that is required to get an order out the door.

I am most proud of the end result in the office.  The room before felt cramped and disjointed and although we had two desks and a filing cabinet, we were always running out of space.  Wayne had a really simple Ikea desk that we had purchased some time ago, so I bought another.  Pushed together, they fit perfectly across the back wall and now make me feel like we’re truly working together instead of sitting back to back.  At the same time, we each have our own space, which was important and all the items we use daily are within arms reach.

I can now sit down to work without feeling agitated by the space around me.  Although the project was a hassle, created major chaos before establishing order, and did require a bit of money spent, the end result was definitely worth it.

Wrap-Up: Greensboro Spring Arts & Crafts Market

Hello again!  Another week and another fun filled craft market.  This week I headed to Greensboro, my hometown as well as the place where Julia & I first met , to peddle our wares at the Greensboro Spring Arts & Craft Market!  This market was held in the old national guard armory building which now houses the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market just outside of downtown.

Before I get into the market and vendors I want to give a special shout out to Emily, who drove all the way from Danville, VA to stop by, say howdy and pick up some of her favorite soap.  We first met Emily and her mom at Atherton Mill & Market in Charlotte over a year ago and they have been enjoying Whispering Willow products ever since.  Thanks Emily!

Ok, on to the market!  The space was great and the market had built in booths so I had to improvise form our normal table setup!  Here is a view of the market as vendors are filing in and setting up!

Here is a pic of our booth:

This is the display that was directly across from my booth.  A combination of dried and fresh flowers grown locally on the Rumley Family Farm made quite a statement.

Bird! Bird! Bird is the word!  These birdhouses from Nest Dwellings were stunning.  The creativity and craftsmanship was quite remarkable and the fact that they are all made from reclaimed material is super cool.

Adam Wiley, a Seagrove potter had some very nice pieces.  I remember one of my grandfather’s favorite ways to spend a day was to hop in the car and head down to Seagrove.  He could spend hours wandering through the shops and studios.

From clay to wood you could find incredible crafts all over the place.  This display of woodwork caught my eye from across the market.

Last but certainly not least was Metal Art By LC.  All of the metal used in these sculptures is reclaimed from local salvage yards.

Many thanks to all the folks that came out to check out these local arts & crafts.  It was great meeting everyone and I hope to see you again at the Fall & Holiday markets!

Live Simply, Be Well

Wayne

Etsy Success Symposium: Lessons Learned

Wayne had the pleasure of attending the Etsy’s Seller Success Symposium online that was held this week (the videos are still available on Etsy).  When I got home from work, he was all a buzz and wanted to chat with me about what he had learned.  He had taken notes (I know, amazing huh?) and chatted a bit about the details of the talk.  When I asked his one take away, there was no question: work toward a cohesive shop.

I honestly had been pondering this for a while.  The photographer we were using up until now is amazing.  We couldn’t be more thankful for her help, but we were going through our already painful name change and she was having computer issues.  In spite of her best efforts, we were left with several missing photos and I had an overall feeling that our shop just didn’t match well.   Some backgrounds were light, some were darker, and several photos still had our old name on them. Like I said, all gorgeous photos, just not consistent.

Example of Our Shop

Wayne and I discussed this for a while and debated about what to do.  A few weeks ago after our photographer warned us of her computer problems, I purchased an inexpensive light tent online.  I had set it up a few times and taken a shot here or there, but really hadn’t spent much time with it.

After Wayne’s excitement from attending the symposium, we decided the time was now.  I borrowed my Dad’s camera this weekend (Nikon D300 – I am officially in love) and got to it.  We set up the light tent on the back porch, propped open the back door, and started carrying things back and forth.

Wayne setting up the Light Box

Wayne, who is amazing at merchandising, would do the initial set-ups.  He would step back and survey  his work before letting me take a gander through the lens.  I would shoot and then we would adjust as needed.

Light Tent Setup

We tried to use the props we had around the house and vary them when possible.  By the end of it, we had quite a mess on our kitchen table.

Our Kitchen Table - Mid Photo Process

All told, we spent 6 hours shooting pictures this weekend. The end result was close to 600 pictures that we had to sort through, so I spent an additional 6 hours processing them.  It wasn’t an easy process at all, but it was enjoyable and I think it was worth it.  I’ve included a sample of our new images below.

The Lemon Lip Balm shot Wayne was setting up above:

Lemon Lip Balm

Goat Milk Lavender Oatmeal Soap:

Goat Milk Lavender Oatmeal Soap

A stack of our soap – I love the colors in this one!

Whispering Willow Soap Stack

We still have quite a photos still to re-shoot, but it was a huge step in the right direction and we’re awfully proud of the result so far.  You can see all our updated photos in our Etsy Shop.