Friday, October 10, 2014

Let's Talk Business and Get Noticed

I don't pretend to be a business guru by any means, but when it comes to my Etsy shop I will admit I've been quite busy as of late. Etsy is one of many wonderful outlets for all those who have that fire to create, and to also receive a lil dinero on the side as a perk. The only thing is, it seems like errbody and their dog has an Etsy account... so how can one person really stand out?

For this reason I've come up with a series of 3 tips to have success with your Etsy store.


Before I begin, I will admit that even I am not the best and following through with all of these factors, it takes some time you know! Even so, I know they are effective and worth knowing if you hope to make your Etsy store less of a hobby and more of a side income, and I am confident that if your follow through with these tips, you will experience tremendous success!

1. BRAND. Create a name for your store, a logo, and use it on anything and everything! The more you can show that baby off, the more advertising you are producing. More than that, there is something very satisfying about a store that is consistent. It's more professional, and frankly... you look legit. A few places to throw this brand on are:

Labels
Notepads (for personalized thank you notes with purchase)
Business cards
Packaging
Posters
Esty Store Front
E-mail Signatures



There are a lot of different places you can purchase, customize, and order these bad boys. I am biased and am not discrete about my LOVE for TinyPrints.com, so that is where I go for my branding needs. They have beautiful and trendy pre-made designs for those who are not as digital-design saavy, and also offer customizable cards for those who are! I chose cards that folded down so that they would stand out against any other business card in one's wallet, and I throw one of these in with every shipped order!


You can also get any other business materials you could possibly want while you are at it, which I love.

2. ADVERTISE AND ENGAGE. I've heard that in order to really be effective in engagement, you must reach your customers through at least 3 social media sites, and posting on them each at least twice a week. That means having an account for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, and more! Share pictures of your products in use by happy customers, offer deals exclusively for these social media followers, send personal messages to fans. Make viewers want to follow each facet, and as they do, they will be reminded of your company and it's products daily! Most importantly, this gives you a chance to show your customers that there is a human just like them behind the business! On top of this, it doesn't hurt to follow businesses who have the audience you want to reach, and to observe what they do to have success.

3. CREATE AN AMAZING PRODUCT. I will admit that I've had some items that I couldn't sell for the life of me, and others that sold themselves! When you have an amazing product, it will be clear because people will buy it! If people are not buying it, then this means your product is either lost in the hundreds of products just like yours, OR people don't know you are there! That is where #2 previously mentioned becomes increasingly important.

More than anything, do something you love! The love of your product is apparent to viewers just like a teacher who hates their job is apparent to their students.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mormon Missionaries are Such a Joke.

A joke? That seems a bit harsh, wouldn't you say? Not to the viewers and writers of The Book of Mormon musical I suppose.

While getting dinner downtown with my family this evening, we noticed many nicely dressed people walking to the theatre to see the award winning musical The Book of Mormon. The story follows the lives of two missionaries in Africa. It's catchy, crude, and mocks the beliefs of the Mormon faith that I hold very dear to my heart. That, in addition to making fun of raping babies, female genital mutilation, and racism; everything that the thousands of Americans supporting and viewing this musical love, I guess. Good to see $11.4 million hard earned American dollars well spent.



Since the beginning, this musical has really puzzled me. As a nation, I like to view America as a good-hearted place with kind, intelligent, and selfless people. As a whole, we take care of each other and band together in times of need. We defend the defenseless and seek truth, understanding, and overall love and equality. Ideally, I'd like to continue to believe this to be true.... and yet, overall I will admit I feel alienated.

Generally, I think the LDS church has been very accepting and light-hearted about the production, but does that make it ok? Because our general approach is to turn the other cheek, then that's perceived as permission? Just because someone is an easy target, is it morally right? The general leadership of the church, it's members, and it's admirable approach gives a wonderful example, and though I'll continue to try to follow it, they are better people than I am.

I feel like a finger has been personally poked at me by my neighbors currently viewing the play. I feel laughed at by public figures (like Hillary Clinton) who rave about it's hilarious and "brilliant" script. I feel sad that there is such a draw towards an evening immersed in what has been described as "a nearly miraculous combination of vile and sweet." I feel defensive of my own baby brother living as a missionary currently in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, and my brother-in-law in Antofagasta, Chile.

(The cutie patootie in the top photo, left side is my brother Steven, stud in the bottom photo is my brother-in-law Garret.)


                           

Then there are my other brothers. Bryan (below) actually served his mission in Africa (JUST LIKE THE PLAY?! Yes. Sort of.) If you wanna know what an accurate portrayal of a missionary in Africa is like, I'm sure something can be arranged. I can assure you that proclaiming the F-word in an african language was not a common occurrence.


And Jeff spent two years in Austria. He was the first in my family to choose to go on a mission.

And that handsome blue-eyed guy on the left- that's Michael. He served in the good ol' state of Colorado. Believe it or not, us Americans can put missionaries through the ringer without the language barriers or culture shock.

Serving missions are serious, difficult, and can be trying. They are also selfless, rewarding, life-changing, and uplifting. More importantly, they are something the young men in the LDS faith don't do for themselves; they do it to help and serve others. Missions are strict, and spiritual. They can also be dangerous. My husband can attest to many times that he feared for his life while being a Mormon missionary in Chile. And, they do all this to share a message of faith, along with a belief that is sacred, special, and important to them with others who may be unaware of it, and the blessings it has to offer in their own lives.

This is why a raunchy portrayal of missionary life in the form of a satirical musical bothers me.

Not only that, it is a jab at all organized religion. Though presented in the familiar, yet misunderstood foil of missionary life, the fun is being poked at other christian denominations, sects, and religions as well. Is it still ok? Did they hide it well?

 I like to think I have no problem laughing at myself, I mean come on, I'm hysterical! ;)
But really, I recognize the importance in being able to take a joke, poke fun at yourself in all of your oddities, and I tend to not get offended easily. I also recognize that as this musical is a satire, it's nature is to poke fun. Even so, under every "just kidding" is the hint of someone's true feelings.

Sure, those missionaries in the play are naive, and ill-informed, and want to share doctrine that is downright comedic, but.... we're just kidding!

.... Are you?

I want to tell myself that the supporters of this musical, it's raving critics, and the common American viewers aren't laughing at me. I want to believe that even those not of my faith recognize the true sacrifice Mormon missionaries make by saving their money from a young age to support themselves for 2 years in going to a place unfamiliar to them to serve others, and try to share the sweet message of Jesus Christ and his love for us with others - others who may reject them, laugh at them, and even try to harm them.

Mormon missionaries may just be young guys (or girls!) in suits and ties riding bikes to you, but they are not to me. Those are my brothers, my husband, my cousins, my friends, and my future children.

I want to believe that those who go to see this play recognize that. But part of me wonders... if they truly did, would they be seeing it in the first place?

Having friends who are of many defining characteristics, faiths, orientations, races, and the like, I would like to believe that I would not support a production that openly ridiculed their beliefs and made a mockery of their lifestyle. I really, really wanted to believe that others would feel the same way about my faith.. but 9 Tony awards and a Grammy seem to disagree with me.

And frankly, that hurts. I cannot speak for all members of the Mormon faith, but it does. hurt. me.

Even so, people will continue to see it. The play will continue to be a roaring hit, and for years to come will continue to tour in cities that surround me.

That being said, I have a request. As a friend, family member, reader of my blog, acquaintance, or stranger, I hope you don't have the desire to see this broadway musical. If you are at all human, I've maybe even piqued your interest, but hope you understand my view.

Please don't see this play for all that it represents, that being it's crudity, cruelty, and straight-up ignorance.

If you should choose to see it though, I simply ask this: educate yourself. There will be points where you might think "Is that true?" or "That's what Mormons believe?!" and when those moments come I hope you are driven to really know. Want a free copy of the actual Book of Mormon? Tell me, I will get you one. Ask questions. Ask me. Ask a pair of real, live, bonafide Mormon missionaries (after all, that's what they are here for!) and learn what is real, and what is half-baked satire concocted to sell seats.

You are not a bad person for seeing this play, nor are you ignorant, but to believe everything said in this play is a whole other story. Though there are factual truths in the play regarding our beliefs, the presentation of them can be misconstrued, and belittling. It's hard to grasp the full and accurate representation of a story when you have only read chapters 3, 17, and 38. Out of respect for me, and the things that I hold sacred in this faith, I beg you to get the facts straight!


If you want to see a TRUE story about a pair of Mormon Missionaries, see The Saratov Approach (About two missionaries kidnapped and held ransom in Russia, available via Neflix) or movies like The Best Two Years, or The Other Side of Heaven (featuring Anne Hathaway, and I think available of YouTube). These are all pretty darn accurate, uplifting, and at times funny :)


There's a scene in the movie What's Eating Gilbert Grape (with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio) where the main character's mother is made a spectacle of because of her large stature and weight. Children peek through the windows to catch a glimpse of her, people take pictures when she steps outside of her home, and in the end of the movie, she dies. Gilbert is distraught with how he will remove her from the second story of their home without a crowd gathering to watch in awe. Finally, he chooses to burn down their home, with her resting inside. A line in that movie always stood out to me when he says, "I can't let her be a joke. ... I will not let her be a joke."

That is the line that flashed in my mind seeing the crowds of people on their way to see The Book of Mormon musical.

I will not let my Brother be a joke.

Blood related, or the one that died for my the remission of my sins.

I hope you won't either.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

For The Long-Distance Daddy

Father's Day is just around the corner and if you have a daddy that is not-so-close or, say, a few states away like mine then you are probably thinking a little ahead too!

I have been racking my brain for ideas for the man that appears to have everything. Shopping for dad is hard because (like my husband) if he needs or wants something... he buys it! I mean, when you make the money you can do that kind of budget shattering stuff.

For this reason at every holiday or birthday my dad gets one of the following items:
1. Mixed nuts
2. A tie
3. Some sort of unique bottle of hot sauce
4. A blog post (if I'm your daughter)
5. All of the above

I'm sure that was dandy from each of his 6 kids for the first 20 years, but eventually that's just got to get old! In an attempt of lazy creativity, I turned to tinyprints.com and their photo gift section. If you are not familiar with Tinyprints, they are a sister store to shutterfly.com, though I might actually like them more! Their design team is spot on with the times, and they offer so much cool stuff. Like, can I win a million dollar shopping spree to this store PUH-LEASE?! I'm really obsessed and they aren't even paying me to say that, it's true. What am I saying, you can check them out and see for yourself. Anyways...

I browsed their site for a while and eventually came to the mugs. It's my auto-pilot. After looking for a while, I decided to make a image in photoshop that shared all of the memories or things that reminded me of good ol' daddio, but then I got thinking... my dad doesn't even drink coffee... or hot cocoa even for that matter so why get him another mug aside from the fact that it's affordable and I can fill it with goodies?

Think Val, Think.

I want to share reasons I love him, but don't want it on a mug. Then as I scrolled the hallelujah chorus sang from above. I found it, by golly.

The cutest easel art where I, or anyone could write reasons we adore the boss.

I loved this because as much as I enjoy making items of my own design, sometimes it's nice to just click "add to cart" and be done with it.

... Wait... that's it? No tutorials? No DIY? Oh my faithful friends, do ye knowest me not at all?

That easel has to go inside something so I aimed my creative juices in that direction!
One dollar store box and some leftover scrapbook paper later, VIOLA!





And of course, I wouldn't forget the nuts ;)

Happy Father's Day to the loins of my fruit. (?... Nope. That doesn't sound right.)

Happy Father's Day Daddy!


If you are interested in getting rid of a little loose paper scraps for a royally cute gift box, then follow the tutorial below!

For starters, I stopped by the dollar tree and grabbed some gift boxes (they come in packs of 3) and then I measured the width for the white piece of paper that would be the collar. I cut it about 3 inches in height, and then snipped a slit down the middle. Then (as shown in pictures) I folded the flaps up until they were perpendicular to the top of the paper, and then glued the flaps down.

For the tie, I grabbed a piece of extra scrapbook paper I had in the huge abyss I have where paper goes to die. I cut it down to about 10 inches tall, 2 inches wide. Two inches down from the top, I cut a half inch slit and folded from the slit to the top corner of the tie. This will be the knot of the tie as seen below.

About an inch from the bottom of the tie, I put two little tick marks.  I measured the middle of the bottom and folded from that center up to the tick mark. From there I folded the flap down from the bottom of the "knot" down to the tick marks drawn for the bottom of the tie.


Finally the tie is sealed to the box with a little packing tape (lamination ghetto style.) The collar is glued to the box over the top edge of the tie. Fill with gifts, seal with love, and send to papa.




Sunday, June 1, 2014

Give Me Brownies or Give Me Death.

After polishing off the last of the asparagus and practically licking the pan, my main man said so sweetly, "Now I want dessert." to which I responded ever so kindly, "Word."

There is just something about a Sunday night that makes the sweet tooth go crazy. It's funny because growing up my family had ice cream on Family night once a week, and got to lick the bowl of whatever treat mom made for a church activity, which was about the extent of our dessert endeavors in the Braun home. Don't get me wrong, my family had nothing against dessert, it just wasn't a common thing. (Which poses the question, why was I such a chubster?.... another story for another day.)

My husbands entire family (extended and all) makes chocolate chip cookies every sunday; a timeless and heartwarming Rushton tradition.

As for Ryan and I... Dessert traditions have yet to be established, though he will admit to a bit of confusion when chocolate chip cookies didn't appear the first few Sunday evenings of our marriage.

The point is, there is just something about a sunday evening that merits the desire for a little something something... I mean, I fully believe that in order to fully enjoy the Sabbath day, like, really make it a day of rest and relaxation, there should be molten chocolate something or another wafting through the air. In fact, I'll bet they even had a little sugar covered manna back in the day. Just saying.

 So, to husbands plea I said, "How about some zucchini brownies?" Because if you are gonna make a dessert, you'd might as well go with one of the healthier and equally satisfying recipes on the world wide Pinterest, AMIRIGHT?!

Ryguy didn't agree so much. "GIVE ME REAL DESSERT OR GIVE ME DEATH!" He bellowed pounding his fists on the table. So I shot him with a small Harry Potter killing curse and that was all she wrote.

At least, that's how I saw it. I suppose the conversation is up for interpretation.

Anyhow, after reassuring him that he would want for nothing after trying my zucchini brownies with the added bonus of also being vegan (a huge plus in my book) he agreed and skulked to his man cave. (Ok, so maybe he didn't skulk... but this is my story!)

So away I went, into the oven they baked, and to our bellies they reside. Seriously, for a vegan, veggie brownie, these are worth a try!

Gooey center, flakey crust, oh baby baby. No one would even guess there were healthy alternative ingredients in these, and I am super picky about those health fad recipes. It's gotta be the real deal for me to share.



Behold: the recipe via fitsugar.com (see the step by step pictures here!)


INGREDIENTS

1 cup whole-wheat flour (I used half wheat and have oat flour)
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small zucchini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegan dark chocolate chips
I added coconut, because I love it. Other add in's can include mallows, nuts, unicorn dreams... waitwhut?

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt).
  3. Place the zucchini in a food processor, and puree it as much as you can. Add in the oil and vanilla extract, and puree until smooth.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix until a thick batter forms. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.
  6. Enjoy as is if you prefer a soft, cake-like consistency, but for a classic chewy brownie-like texture, wrap cut brownies in foil and freeze for at least an hour. Enjoy right out of the freezer.
These would be divine with ice cream, or in my case, a lil whip top (there are rice or coconut whipped creams for vegan options.)

And the best part? You can eat two. or three. Mildly guilt free :) 

Now, go! Eat and be merry!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

I Solemnly Swear That I am Up to... Partying!

A lot of people were/are Harry Potter fans, this is a fact. I grew up with the man. When the first movie came out and Harry turned 11, I was 11. I learned the spells, read the books, counted down the days until the movies came out on DVD. During the production of the Goblet of Fire, I'd come home from school and look for leaked pictures of the filming online. I participated in a virtual Tri-wizard tournament.  The more I write the more I can see my readers diminishing, but I am not ashamed. I freaking love all things Harry Potter. My husband doesn't know this yet, but he's planning a surprise trip to the Wizarding world of Harry Potter at Orlando Studios for our 5 year anniversary.

I'm getting sidetracked.

Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to throw a Harry Potter themed party-to recreate the wizarding world, and by golly I've done it!

My main slice is turning 25 this week, and supposedly he is the ultimate potter fan. This was to be determined. All week I hid prepared treats and lied my way into making sure he'd be gone all day saturday, and with the help of his friend Matt, the surprise was unveiled!

I had too much fun planning this mother down to every small detail.




I spared you the picture of my toilet, but with in came directions to the Ministry of Magic. Because... duh.



First had a little photo op and embraced out inner Sirius Black. AWESOME.



Followed by LOTS of eating:

 Pumpkin pasties: Pumpkin choco chip cookies (one pumpkin bread mix, 1/2 cup yogurt, 2 eggs, chocolate!) Snitches: Lindor truffles in gold foil. Chocolate frogs: Gummy frogs dipped in chocolate!

Cockroach clusters: Chocolate covered popcorn. Moon stones: Rock candy. Gringotts galleons: Chocolate coins.
Polyjuice potion: Dr Pepper (naturally.) Truth serum: Water
Butterbeer: Cream soda, marshmallow cream, whipped cream (and one scalded tongue later...)

I even attempted to make homemade butterbeer on the stove, and it sucked. And burned my tongue. I may not taste real food for weeks. But everything else was WICKED ;)

After, we went to the sorting hat. Naturally. Matt's wife had to work so he was flying solo. He survived. haha

 Alex and Grant weren't too thrilled about being in Hufflepuff. Apparently that's where those with no defining characteristics go. Ryan was a little too stoked about Slytherin. My bad-boy!

After some Harry Potter Jeopardy (which Matt and Ryan pulled through for the win at the end) We decided to get our Quidditch on. Ya know, just a little evening fly around the yard. The technical term for this is "Pottering" and it's epic. Look it up, it's a real thing.





























 To end, we played a game of chance called "Bean-Boozled".

Basically for every color of Jelly bean there are two flavors, one good and one bad. You spin a spinner and then pick the color it lands on. You could be picking up a peach jelly bean, or vomit (which I tried and it is worse then real vomit, I promise.) Nothing like a little Bertie Botts to set the mood. We caught a few videos to really immortalize the experience :)

(and for the record, even though I said boogers taste better than that jelly bean, I really don't know for sure! haha)
video video video
video


Mischief managed :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hummus Done Right.


My people. 

In an attempt to be more healthy and get in better shape, I've been sort of revamping the way we shop, snack, and eat in our home. With the exception of too many handfuls of mini marshmallows, and a box of waffle crisp on the weekend, we haven't been doing too shabby. With that, I've been cooking more and using more fresh ingredients than a chinese farmers market.

There are many recipes I've been testing out, and my main slice and I have already established a few favs (thank you, spaghetti squash!)

Even so, when I stumble across a winner, a rarity for a still novice cook, I can't help but shout from the mountain tops "Me man! Man make food!!!" followed by a Godzilla-worthy chest pounding.

This, friends, is one such recipe. I've been using it as a dip, sandwich and wrap spread, and I must say that I am pretty darn pleased with myself.

Granted, it probably costs close to the same amount to make from scratch rather than buy from the store if you don't have these things on hand (though you have leftover ingredients for days) and lets be honest, food just tastes better when you make it in your own kitchen and know EXACTLY what is going into it.

With that, I give you the recipe for roasted red pepper hummana-hummana-hummus!



1 - 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper ( I just sautéed mine on the stove.)
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Sesame seeds
juice of half of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon cumin
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. If additional liquid is needed, you may add a tablespoon or two of water.
I've had mine in an air-tight container for about a week now and it still tastes like I just made it.  Which means it is effing bomb. 


Make momma proud!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mormon Tacos and Kumquots.

My days have been luxuriously plain this last week. After moving into our apartment again, I've spent days organizing, and cleaning, and the OCD inside of me is deliriously happy because of it. Because I have this jobless free time, I've also been able to cook real meals which the man in my life naturally appreciates. Do to a health kick I've been going on (more info to come) I have been trying to plan meals, use new foods, and cook deliciously clean meals. The only thing is I'm a casserole, and meals that come from a box kind of girl, so there is a lot to learn. It's especially intimidating when we spend time at Ryan's house and I see the kind of gourmet cooking he grew up with... It's no wonder he's less than ecstatic about my tuna mac and cheese! Thanks to an online nutritional course through Stanford, and http://www.finefoodspecialist.co.uk/ I have been introduced to all sorts of fancy, hoity toity foods I aint neva knew existed! (Including, drumroll please.... 
A lot of gourmet CHOCOLATE)

Ladies and gentlemen of the courtroom, I give you Exhibit A:

I'm dying to know what that prickly pear tastes like. And since when was a kumquot a real thing? I definitely believed that was a word out of the Dr. Suess dictionary. 


Anyways, in a future alternative universe I will order my finest foods and ingredients from said site, of which would be served to me by my butler Arlo on a diamond encrusted platter... but ya know, my husband should probably be done with school before that happens. Even so, I've been able to really embrace the inner homemaker in myself, which both my husband and my tummy appreciate. 

Now, I will not come to a potluck and bring nothing to share so I offer you the most simple recipe from my holy grail of recipes. This recipe was taught to me by an employers wife who happened to be Mexican herself (shout out to Veronica Cisneros, a master in the kitchen!), so you KNOW it's gotta be good. So good, that my boss actually had it prepared EVERY day for lunch (and I'm sure still does!)



Without further ado, the ever-so complicated recipe of...

Tacos. (Lovingly referred to Chris McCombs as "Mormon Tacos")



I know what you are thinking, everyone has had tacos, what's the big deal? Well, I suppose it is just something you will have to try.

Ingredients:
Corn tortillas
Coconut oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan and fry in)
Ground beef
Taco seasoning
Mexican blend cheese
Green onions
Avocado
Picante mild salsa

The directions go as follows:


In a pan melt coconut oil. You will put a corn tortilla in the coconut oil and let a soak a little on each side so the tortilla does not crack. Then, fold the tortilla in half and place something in the middle to keep it open like a taco shell (tongs, a fork, or spatula work well). Golden brown them on each side and place upside down on a paper towel to dry and let excess oil drip off.

Then, cook your meat. I like to use veggie beef substitutes for a healthier option, but there's no denying the ground beef is gooooood. Flavor it with taco seasonings. Then, fill the shells with a little meat in each one. Stand them up on a plate and sprinkle with a shredded mexican cheese blend and nuke it in the microwave just enough to melt the cheese. You can also broil it if you think the microwaves gives you a third eye or something ;) I typically skip the cheese to make it more vegan/health friendly, but oh boy does it taste delightful with cheese! What doesn't?! 

After the cheesy tacos come out of the heating unit of choice, sprinkle sliced green onions on top, and finish it off with a few thin slices of avocado. 


Serve with Picante mild salsa. WHOOOO DOGGY. Those are some mean tacos. And versatile! I've had them with black beans, corn, chicken, and have yet to find a combo that isn't friggin good. 

Now, I know frying stuff doesn't exactly fit in the "healthy" category typically, but man it makes all the difference. I 100% understand southern cooking and their techniques now. haha

Anyways, I dare you to try these. You will not regret it!