Booth Evolution

This year is shaping up to be another big festival year for us.  With the purchase of bubbles (our soapy van) we have the ability for the first time to transport proper furniture to our multi-day shows.  It was a huge change for us and came with some trepidation as we tried to decide what to buy/build to move forward.  Of course, any change like this requires collecting of inspiration via Pinterest (a favorite pastime).

So you get an idea of how far we’ve come, we went digging through old photos and found our very first farmer’s market booth at the Hickory Farmer’s Market when we were still known as Belle Terre (8/2010):

 

Next was our revised booth at Atherton (1/2012):

 

And our more permanent booth build out at Atherton (5/2012):

 

As we started doing more traveling shows in 2012, we added a few furniture pieces and the result was a variation on this booth (10/2012):

 

We really wanted to achieve more of a boutique-like feeling.  With that in mind, here is our most recent booth post Wayne’s furniture build out (3/2013):

 

Although we know that it will continue to evolve, we’ve come a long way and we’re pretty proud of the progress.  We are anxious and excited to hear feedback from customers and fellow artists alike.

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Choosing a Charity

As most of you know, we donate 10% of profits to charity every year.  We’re proud to say that our donations have grown from $200 in 2010 (our first year business) to over $2000 last year.  We know it isn’t a huge amount, but every little bit counts.  Our hope is that Whispering Willow will continue to grow and that growth will allow us to have a bigger and bigger impact each year.

Our past charities include:

2010 – The Nature Conservancy

2011 – Safe Alliance (formerly United Family Services)

2012 – The Humane Society of Charlotte

All that to say that it’s time to make our choice for 2013.  Our two options are:

Heifer International – Instead of sending money abroad, Heifer International provides those in need with animals in order to assist them in providing for themselves.  The charity started in 1944 with cows sent throughout Europe and has now expanded to provide 30 types of animals including goats, geese, bees, and water buffalo.  From their site: “Our animals don’t just provide project partners with a reliable source of food, but also a reliable source of income. Extra agricultural products, such as milk from cows or goats, honey from bees or eggs from chickens, can be both shared within the community and sold at market. This new income, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that our partners receive, allows partners to clothe their families, provide them with medical care and send their children to school.”

charity: water – It is startling to read the statistics on charity: water’s site.  Did you know that one in nine people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water?  As someone who can simply drink out of our tap, it is disturbing to consider.  This charity aims to help those in developing nations with simple solutions.  From their site: “We’re not offering grand solutions and billion dollar schemes, but instead, simple things that work. Things like freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters. For about $20 a person, we know how to help millions.”

Please kindly vote in the comments below.  Voting deadline is 3/31/13.  Have a charity you would like us to consider in future? Email us – we’d love to hear about it.  Thanks ever so much!

Update: Voting is complete, and charity:water was chosen as our charity for 2013.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

New Furniture

Some of you may know from Facebook that we have purchased our first official Soap Mobile.  We’re thinking of naming her Bubbles.  Seems fitting right?

 

 

Well, the reason for adding Bubbles to our lives was two fold:

1 – To avoid any more wear and tear on our personal cars (Wayne’s Civic is getting up in age and we’d like to avoid replacing it anytime soon)

2 – To be able to build out a slightly more upscale booth display

 

With that in mind, we used the first couple weeks in January to look for inspiration.  Oddly enough, we both managed to fall in love with the same piece of furniture at Pottery Barn:

Goregous right?  Unfortunately it also came with a gorgeous price tag to the tune of $1,300 or so.  We knew we couldn’t swing that for a booth setup.  We found one at the Pottery Barn Outlet in Gaffney marked down to $700, but it was still slightly too steep for us.  Instead, I challenged Wayne to build it. It seemed like a natural progression.  To make life easier, I even found plans online for him to use.  🙂

Here’s his first run:

Impressed?  I was.  I need to stage it to make it look a bit more Pottery Barn-esque and would like to find more subtsantial hardware that isn’t $75/pull, but otherwise I think it’s pretty snazzy and with mistakes, and a new saw, the total cost was around $450.

He’s already working on the second piece which will be a variation on this.  Hopefully in another week or so we can share our whole new booth design.  Stay tuned!

Chair Before/After

Several years ago we were on the search for land.  It was a frustrating search, but I loved the rare property that had a house attached.  Like any house shopping, would get a short look into someone else’s life.

One house that didn’t work out for us was full of old furniture and appeared that it hadn’t been lived in for a while.  It turned out that the owner had moved into a nursing home and her family was selling her house and furniture.  For whatever reason, I loved a striped chair in the house that had clearly seen better days. Several days later our realtor (definitely going above and beyond) dropped the chair off on our front porch!  It was a wonderful surprise.

The chair was ancient and striped, but it was/is super comfy and rocks gently when you sit in it.  A bit rough around the edges to begin with, after a few years of love from our dogs, it was starting to fall apart.  Thankfully, I had attended a show along the way and ran into someone who was reselling remanents of uphostery fabric at incredibly low prices.  I picked a few yards and took it home.

Fast forward a year (nothing here happens quickly), I finally had someone local pickup the chair to recover it.  He returned it in pristine condition.  Literally it looks like a new chair.

My favorite part?  The back.  I adored this fabric when I saw it, but knew full well that a house with four dogs does not support a white chair.  So, I compromised.  The white fabric wraps around the back of the chair and under the arms.  It left me just enough fabric to complete a pillow (one day).

And here’s a close up so you can appreicate the design fully.  Lovely right?  Funny enough, I got a catalog from Crate and Barrel recently, and this fabric was listed as an option for their sofas.  🙂

Wrap Up: The Maker’s Summit

Wayne and I were terribly excited to have the opportunity to attend the Maker’s Summit put on by Indie Craft Parade in Greenville, SC this past weekend.  The sold out event was held at a gorgeous space downtown and was filled with an amazing array of creative folks.

The speaker list itself was awesome and included Stephen Fraser from Spoonflower, Grace Kang from Pink Olive, and Kimm Alfonso from Etsy.  Plus there were two seperate discussion panels that provided the audience the opportunity to ask questions.

Throughout the day there were also experts set up in a side room to offer 10 minute one-on-one consultations.  We took advantage of the lawyer (because really?  free legal advice?) as well as a shop critique with Kimm.  Both provided great advice that we were grateful to receive.

I loved Kimm’s slide pictured below.  Really, it is remarkably easy sometimes to get so swamped in the minutia of the business that you forget the most important part.

As if all that wasn’t good enough, Finkelstein’s Center brought Barnum.  ‘Cause really, what’s a conference without a giant squid?

We came home with a fun bag of goodies and a new book purchased from Amy Flurry.  Wayne was particularly happy with his new monkey hat courtesy of Mailchimp.  He didn’t want to take it off.  At all.  Like all day.

The space had two long tables that were used for lunch and dinner.  Down the middle were black cards, white pencils, and stands – all the requirements for make your own centerpieces.  As Wayne and I are try-to-be-creative types with no artistic ability at all, we were in awe of all the cards folks were drawing at the tables and we had to take some pictures.  We’ve posted a few on facebook and instagram, but here’s a small selection that we had to share:

     

So we learned a ton, met some wonderful new people, and got to spend time in Greenville.  A pretty amazing weekend.  We’re hopeful that they hold the event again next year and would highly encourage any small business owners to take advantage of it.

Eating in Month: Spring Rolls

Every January Diana from The Chic Life runs a challenge called Eating in Month.  The idea is to spend the month of January cooking and eating from home.  During the busy holiday season we rarely cook (it’s often not worth turning over the kitchen to cook one meal), so this seemed like a great opportunity/excuse to try to change our habits for a bit.

We started the process making one of my favorite things – hmong style spring rolls.  Although the rolls are time consuming, it is a fun project for us to do together and it is awfully yummy.  As a warning, you do fry these.  This is the one and only thing we have ever fried in our house – neither of us like the smell, but we’ve found that if we open windows and then burn one of our peppermint clove candles afterward, it doesn’t linger long (shameless plug, I know).  {update: we are now making these without frying!  Keep reading below for details}

I adapted this recipe from Annie Vang’s site & modified it to make it veggie-friendly, smaller, and a bit easier for us to put together.

 

Spring Rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bagged shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (white or green is fine)
  • 1 package firm or extra firm tofu – pressed to release as much as water as possible.  (TofuXPress is great for this step)
  • 1 package cellophane noodles – pre-cooked and cooled
  • 2 eggs (reserve one egg yolk and set it aside)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 package of 25 spring roll wrappers (buy the frozen ones from an Asian store – not the refridgerated egg roll wrappers)
  • Oil for frying

Start by adding the ingredients into a large bowl.  I suggest sorting through your cabbage and carrots to ensure there are not large pieces mixed in that may come through the wrapper when you are rolling.  Take your pressed tofu block and break it up by hand.  You want small pieces that should be similiar in texture to a ground meat.  Take your cellophane noodles and cut them up into bite-sized lengths and add to the bowl.

Once all ingredients are in, it is time to mix. Hand mixing is easier for this part of the process and Wayne usually takes over.

I’m left to do the wrapping.  A few incredibly helpful hints: take your wrappers out of the freezer just 5 minutes before beginning to wrap them.  You want them to be very, very cold when you are using them – it makes it much easier to get a tighter wrap.  Also, once you’ve opened the package, make sure to keep a wet paper towel on top of the wrappers at all times.  Dried wrappers = a mess.

I turn my wrappers into a diamond shape and add a small line of filling.  I’ll fold the end over the filling as tightly as I can, then fold the edges in and roll up toward the top peak.  It is always a struggle to keep the wrapper tight, but I get better at it every time I do it.  Right before closing, take a small amount of the egg yolk that you’ve set aside and run it across the top of the wrapper.  This seals the spring roll for frying.

We use a very deep pot for frying just to avoid any splashing.  We pre-heat the oil on medium.  Wayne takes care of the frying while I wrap.  Our pot is not overly large, so we usually only fry three rolls at a time. Don’t push the rolls into the oil, but let them roll across the surface, but you do want to make sure all sides hit the oil.  Fry until a light golden brown – for us that’s around 3-4 minutes.

As you can see below, we use a cookie cooling rack with paper towels underneath to drain the oil off the rolls.  Too much oil = yucky, greasy rolls.

We always serve the rolls with a sweet chilli dipping sauce from the Asian store (Pantai is my favorite), but any sauce that makes you happy will work.

 

They are best served hot right after being fried, but I like them enough that we stick them in the fridge and either warm them up or eat them cold.  The crispiness will be gone, but they taste just as good.

{Update: As an alternative to frying, preheat the oven to 400.  Take a cookie sheet and spray it lightly with an olive oil spray.  Place the springs rolls on the sheet with a small amount of space in between.  Cook for 10 minutes, then flip and return to the over for 10 more minutes.  The result is a spring roll that is missing the all over golden brown look, but is surprisingly crispy and much better for you!}

The few tips and tricks above were courtesy of hmong friends who were kind enough to answer my 1,000 questions about their spring roll perfection.  🙂

 

Did you make any amazing recipes to celebrate the new year?

Giveaway: What are you thankful for?

Although we try to be thankful for the goodness in our lives throughout the year, thanksgiving brings it into sharper focus.  Our families have always participated in the traditional “let’s go around the table and discuss what we’re thankful for”.  With that in mind, we started our own online tradition last year.  Just like our families at Thanksgiving, we wanted to share our thankfulness with our soapy family.  We tied in a giveaway {of course} because that’s how we roll.

So, in no particular order, we are thankful for…

…..each other
…..good health
…..our families
…..our pups
…..our little soap business
…..all the amazing customers and fellow vendors we’ve met in our travels over the last year that have taken the time to share a piece of their lives with us

And now, the giveaway! Tell us what you’re thankful for and one random respondent will win a limited edition candle.

A bit about the candle: it is herbicide-free, non GMO soy in a gorgeous ceramic container handcrafted by the talented Janette Zeiss. It has a wooden wick and comes all packaged for giving.

The giveaway closes Thursday November 21st at midnight EST.  A winner will be announced Thanksgiving morning along with our holiday shopping surprise.

So, what kind of loveliness in your life are you most thankful for?

 

Update 11/22/12: The giveaway is now closed and the winner received an email.  Thanks to everyone who participated!