Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finding Some Holiday Cheer...

Friday evening our little family of four ventured out for dinner and some Christmas Cheer.
And around here, the place to go for some awesome Christmas Light displays is Longwood Gardens.
It is an annual tradition since I can remember.
I love how this fountain display doesn't change every year.
Insert your favorite Holiday Song (instrumental version) and fountains moving to it and you're there!
It is magical seeing something with your kids, that you remember as a child...
And that every year there is a new theme and the trees are all just a bit different…
I love the red and white lights (they remind me of peppermint - which I love!)
And this is my favorite light wrapping technique.
I hate doing it (frustrating & too many lights & branches to deal with)...
But I love seeing the tree structure like this at night!
Oh, and in the Conservatory - how grand this inside garden is!
Pretty formal for my garden taste - but I can admire the design that goes into it.
I love the visual layering of the lines, texture & color...
The smell of paper-whites is everywhere inside this building.
It is not the most pleasant smell - reminds Dave and I of a Sharpie marker…
But is is a scent that brings back memories of Christmas Time here with family from years ago...
The theme this year is Gingerbread…
There were gingerbread decorations everywhere...
And this - the Conservatory in Gingerbread…
And huge jars filled with so much candy!
Wish it smelled more like Gingerbread than Paper-whites…
But there were gingerbread scents here and there..
And the trees were dripping with decorations…
Seriously… dripping with SO many decorations!
We always save the Children's water garden for last.
We have learned to bring a change of clothes due to it being - well. Wet...
If we time it right, the change of clothes is feety pajamas.
Perfect so the little ones can be ready for a sleepy car ride home...
Then all bundled up with hats, gloves, scarves…
The kids in their pj's snuggled in blankets with their jackets, hats, gloves & scarves on…
We venture back out through the gardens to admire the outside lights one more time…
This was our favorite tree there - it was immense!
I especially loved snapping this photo of a man taking a photo of three of his girl friends posing in front of the big tree… 
Their silhouettes posing were so much fun to watch against the bright lights…

An family night out was exactly what we all needed!

With my dad through a successful surgery (went as the doctor expected) and now on the hopefully normal slightly bumpy road to recovery...
We were all able to actually enjoy this outing just that much more & we were able to exhale a bit too.

Hope this brings you some cheer as well.
Thank you for all the well wishes & prayers!
It means so much more than you will ever know… 
Thank You!!!
Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
Happy Holidays to you!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What A Time This Will Be To Remember...

It is hard to describe where I am at right now. 
Life is SO all over the place.
I feel like my head is in a bit of a bubble - or at least it is trying to fight to stay there - just for a bit…

Four years ago today, I was in the hospital, delivering my little Chloe.
For as wonderful as the experience was, I still miss the version where my mom was there with me.
Not that the one I have isn't good enough - it was perfect and full of laughter (yes - we laughed!)
But still. I always had envisioned my kids being born with my mom there with me.
In a way - I know she was there…

So today my Chloe woke up as a 4 year old and got some email from her friends...

We made some pink cupcakes with purple icing & sprinkles for her to take to school today…
She got a Princess Tiana doll this morning & maybe another after dinner tonight (depends on if the 4 year old Chloe version comes with the "listening ears" update - lol!)
I can't believe she is 4. I loved her being 3! I so look forward to seeing how 4 is :)

And yesterday, my Step-Brother (I would say brother, but that gets confusing…) & Sister-In-Law in FL had a little baby boy! 
A new nephew Tristan (He is beautiful!!).
He and Chloe were both delivered the same amount of three weeks early. 
I was due on Dec. 26, she was born on the 8th. 
She was due on Dec. 25, he was born on the 7th.
With three Dec. birthdays (Riley is the 28th) all within 4 years of age - we're going to have to plan some fun family outings to Disney around Christmas… 
It will be so much fun!

And in NYC, Duckie is hanging out with my Dad & Step-Mom.

Very shortly (minutes at this point) Right now, my dad is undergoing surgery to remove an organ and the cancer that decided it wanted to call it home. I pray that the surgeon has steady hands and sharp eyes to cut carefully and without harming him in other ways…
We all want my dad around for years to come…
He has a new grandson to meet, hang out with and get addicted to trains (as the other three are!)
We have lots of plans for just being around dad.

Goes to show that life has its own plans. 
And you never know where your life will end up or what will come knocking on your door from day to day.

Oh, and speaking of life changing. I've decided to try some fasting and cleansing (Isagenix) for this body of mine that has been stress eating comfort foods (so not good for my border-line bad cholesterol) since summer. I could totally see myself continuing to make cookies, cakes, mashed potatoes & living off of chips & other crap - but I am taking control. 
Cold turkey. Well, cold shakes actually...
Dave is doing it too (along with 3 other family members). 
So for a while I'm going to just hang in tight and finish up some orders, then just be here for a while…
Drinking my shakes…
On days like today, I am thankful for having this other path for my health to keep me in control. 
It is SO mental, and I really want to go dive into something else. But I'm not. 
I'm staying strong and taking care of myself so I can be around for as long as possible, and in good health to enjoy life with my kids and hopefully one day - grandkids (maybe great grandkids too :)

This will be a time to remember for a long time…
What a crazy path we are all on right now!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Studio Insight - Making Cutout Flower Pendants...

Do you ever wonder what it takes to make something handmade?
What about making a porcelain pendant?
There are a lot of steps involved even before what I'm going to share with you below.
I would like to give you an insight into my process so you can understand that these are all unique handmade creations
(and copyrighted texture plates) and are all little treasures...
Marsha Neal Studio Hibiscus Cutout Flower In Stormy Night Sky Glaze
Marsha Neal Studio's Clay Studio setup for glazing pieces.
All I need is a little space to work. 
Slabs that were rolled out previously - ready to use.
Drywall working surface, tools, clay slab, flower texture plates at the ready.
Cutting clay slab down to reduce excess clay scraps.
Rolling out one pendant onto my texture plate.
Many pieces rolled out. Pony rollers need to be dry or clay will stick to them.
Top = good print. Bottom = oops, missed a bit (scrap now).
Cutting out the pendant by hand. Molds would make this like "work" for me.
I actually find the process of making each piece like this very relaxing. 
The cutting begins. Work in batches so they don't dry out too fast.
Kitty litter buckets are great for holding scrap clay that is waiting to be recycled.
The next time I mix this clay will be this clay's third time being processed into wet clay.
Putting the hole into the pendant.
The holes will be drilled out again for a consistent size.
The middle layer with the blackline is the layer where the pendants are.
Small scrap pieces of drywall are used to extract the water from the clay,
while allowing the pieces to dry flat.
When I go into the studio tomorrow,
I will sponge all the edges of each piece to make the pendant more refined. 
I will drill out the pendant hole. 
Then they will be bisque fired in my kiln.
After cooling, they will be glazed (another part I find relaxing!).
Holes will be cleaned, glaze touched up, 
then glaze fired on small hooks which are
suspended on bead rods so the entire piece is covered with glaze.
After the kiln cools, the pieces are unloaded & inspected for any defects.
Holes are cleaned once more to make sure there are no sharp edges.

Then the piece is ready for you…

The steps not mentioned here are all the things that come ahead 
of this "process" I've established for myself are important things like:
My education (MA in Ceramics).
Experience and level of knowledge and skill.
Understanding how this will be used in a finished product.
Design ideas. Carving out my texture plates. Testing out products & glazes.
Having a space to work - a studio. Having equipment and materials for that studio to function.

Being a person that makes things by hand is actual work.
It may be fun work - when you have time to get in the studio…
Creativity is not easy all the time. I actually enjoy the process as much as the creative part…

Hope you liked this insight.
Please be inspired by this. 
Be well informed by this. 
And let it lead you to find your own way to work with clay
or whatever material you choose to work with…

And Thank You for supporting Handmade!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Is Your Brain??? Cyber Crazy Yet?

I don't know about you, but I'm having a bit of a slow start to getting back into the swing of things…
So I'm extending my Cyber Monday Etsy shop sale through Tuesday night.
Use Coupon Code: BOCCYBER when checking out and you get 20% off your purchase.

And just as things happen to go - my Etsy shop has hit a milestone during this weekend's sale…
1500 sales!
Seriously - WOAH!

So of course - I want to give you guys stuff to celebrate!
If you use the BOCCYBER coupon code - you will get entered to take part in my giveaways.
I'm not exactly sure yet what I'm going to do - but it will be fun!

I listed some new Lentil Beads and some New Pendants in my shop for this Cyber Monday sale.
And if you've got some time and want to get a chance at winning one of the lentil beads in my shop - Go to my etsy shop, favorite an item then hop on over to my Marsha Neal Studio Facebook page & comment on my post for the 10am giveaway (starts with me saying: "my computer is giving me attitude")…

Have fun shopping and THANKS!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday Through Cyber Monday Sale & Thanksgiving Potatoes...

Want 20% off items from my MarshaNealStudio Etsy shop?
Wavy Grid Diamond Shaped Pendant
Use coupon code BOCCYBER from Friday 11/25/11 through Monday 11/28/11.
You can even get the above pendant set in any of these colors:
Not into such an angular piece? 
How about this one in any of the above colors?
Gnarly Spiral Porcelain Pendant
It's easy to do…
Jump over to my Etsy shop, pick your piece, use BOCCYBER in your shopping cart when checking out for the 20% off, then leave me a message in the message to seller for what color you would like this in…

And now for a little about my Thanksgiving potatoes:
60lbs of potatoes…
I bought 6 bags on sale one day and didn't realize that my Mother-In-Law had picked up just as many for me to use to make the family's portion for Thanksgiving dinner.
My food contribution to Thanksgiving dinner is mashed potatoes (I LOVE making them)...
I always used to love to peel the potatoes for my mom on Thanksgiving.
It was one of the little jobs she gave me to do.
I loved hanging out in the kitchen with her watching the Macy's parade...
After my mom passed, my sister and I started to make the mashed potatoes.
My sister suggested that I add salt, minced garlic, minced onion and chives to the water during boiling for added flavor - YUM!
My step-mom always made the most tasty mashed potatoes.
For a 5 lb bag, she uses a stick of butter, cream cheese with chives & evaporated milk - salt to taste.
Talk about light and whipped creamy mashed potatoes!
So with those 60lbs of potatoes I was happy to peel and cook three in three different batches so I could make mashed potatoes for my kids school's Thanksgiving lunch. 
Make enough for three dinners with lots of family (we only went to one dinner thank goodness), extras for my siblings so they could have some with their leftover turkey…
And I've got a few potatoes left in the bag that I'm going to cook up in a veggie soup.
Then there is the pumpkin pie (I doubled this recipe and added 1/2 tsp of nutmeg to the doubled batch).
My mom always made the best pumpkin muffins with cream cheese icing.
I'm not quite there yet, but soon I'm sure.
So for now - 6 pumpkin pies in the last couple of days...
I decided that since I had some left over pumpkin puree, that I would check out the website on the Libby's Can for some recipes, and came across this: Pumpkin pie covered with Yellow cake mix & pecans (aka: Libby's Easy Pumpkin Crumb Cake).
The recipe called for 1/2 c. pecans - but I went a bit overboard.
In my world - when there are pecans on a dessert - there are never really enough pecans…

I've got to admit that with all the stuff going on within my family and "health" issues and deaths (3 since August) cooking like this has become a bit of an escape for me.
I really think I need to get out of the kitchen and back into the studio for a bit.
It will help me not get back up that extra size I went down last year…
Which is scarily getting close. Ugh!

I enjoyed every bite as it went in though…

Thank you all so very much for all your continued support!
Hope you have time to spend with family and friends and realize what you are Thankful for in life.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

DeStash Event Follow Up & What's Next...

Hard to believe it has been a week since the DeStash event…
Pendants for DeStash Sale.
All of the orders have been sent out, and I wanted to share my experience with you all of how I managed to pull this off in this last week.
Well - we'll see as I get notes from customers via Etsy convo about orders and how they arrived - or didn't as to how well I pulled it off...

My amazing customers make the sale a success way beyond what I could have ever expected…
I really thought that 150 pendants would last all weekend.
Never did I expect to have things take off and run like they did…
I know there are some of you that are curious about numbers - and when I log in over on Etsy - it says that I have to leave feedback for 658 items (these were also giveaway pieces btw & some non-destash listings, like silks). And I will be leaving feedback for all the items…

Which leads me to:
How the heck do you organize this and get all the pieces to the right people and not drive yourself totally crazy?
Answer: It's like a stew… 
You have the basics, then add as you go:
I needed: time set aside for only doing this, upbeat music, coffee…
Then familiarity with product, trays & bins for sorting, computer or printed orders, pen and paper for notes that go into bins, notebook for things you need to do, shipping labels, boxes & padded envelopes, bubble wrap, tissue paper, packaging tape, Scotch tape, business cards, bits of cardboard, plastic baggies for grouping items, USPS labels for international shipments & delivery confirmation, and something to carry it all in to get to the post office.
Pendants Sorted into trays according to shape & texture.
The sorting part I LOVED…
Really - It not only fed my OCD with having all the shapes and textures put together in the same bins…
But it also gave me time with all these pieces looking at them individually...
Remembering drawing out the texture plates, making the pieces, glazing the pieces…
And it was like being a personal shopper - pulling all these individual pieces for each order.
I miss this part of selling beads at bead shows...
Trays on left have pieces sorted into bins & smaller tray segments underneath.
Trays on right are extra pendants to be used as bonus giveaways: 1 free for every 10 purchased.
Packaging Area Basics.
Large orders packaged into baggies by shape.
Each was wrapped snug with unprinted newspaper then into box with lots of padding.
Individual pendants got tissue paper, then bubble wrapped together with business card.
Some were then wrapped with this thin cardboard for packaging support.
Yellow = Bubble Mailer. On top shows how I line the items up in the package.
Crumpled newsprint, beads in cardboard, crumpled newsprint.
I take the extra precaution of using packaging tape as a second envelope sealer.
I also like adding clear tape over the shipping label on the front.
Speaking of shipping labels… I like to hand write mine out.
I just like that extra personalization & connection.
It's like saying a little extra "Thank You" to that person in my mind.
First round ready to ship and go to the post office mid-week.
Second & final round went out Saturday morning.
And as the week of sorting, packing & shipping went on - so did regular life…
Our cat "Peeves" was more than happy to keep me company this entire time.
Chloe had fun going with me to ship orders at the Post Office.
She received some Stickers in my PO Box from a sticker exchange we did this fall.
Talk about an excited and happy girl! Time to start a sticker book for her...
Bonus Day With PopPop just hanging out!
My dad was up from FL for a few days so Chloe and I took the day off to run around and hang out with him. It's weird not having my dad's family live here in DE with us anymore.
They moved to FL back in the mid 90's. And even though it's great having a nice place to visit them, I'd still prefer they lived near us. There is a plethora of comments about us moving to FL. But really, I love all seasons we have here in DE and being close to most of the rest of the family. 
No to mention my garden and the flora & fauna from this area...
Chloe rolling out play dough beads...
And for the What's Next? part:
Well, I like seeing empty holes in storage shelving areas.
Empty Shelf Space where destash pendants used to be.
So much so that I think I'm going to be running some additional DeStash sales to help clear this space out a bit…
Porcelain Bisque Storage Shelves.
I would really love to have this studio space for setting up my potters wheel and get into making different kinds of clay & mixed media art. 
This area that is filled with shelves was designed for my kick wheel in the original studio layout.

I not only have these above shoe boxes filled with "general pendant stock", but a whole other area with baggies in bins of beads - multiples of the same textures and shape/size that were made when I was doing a lot of online wholesale business.
Lots of specific pieces all ready for glazing...
And with the state of the economy and how technology has changed the way we all shop and buy our supplies.
We go by lists now, right? Rarely by that emotional "I must have that" out of control impulsive buying (which I am fully guilty of having in overload). 
And we're always looking for a great deal - right?!
Groupon… Flock Shop… Deals, Deals, Deals… Coupons Galore!
Talk about overload - on many levels.

So what I'm planning & with Dave working the new website shopping cart,
I'm going to go through stock, see what pendant shapes/sizes I've got in limited multiples.
Those limited multiples will be loaded with a set qty into a special destash section of my website shopping cart for a few days - to be determined by this new cart setup & how fast we can implement some really cool options (like "rewards" programs for items you buy - really cool stuff!)
By "limited", I mean there are specific textures and shapes/sizes - not my entire catalog which is currently available on the website.

I will pick out a selective glaze palette for these destash pieces that these can be glazed in such as these colors and maybe a few more (will be looking at the spring 2012 Pantone color palette too). 
Marsha Neal Studio Fall Glaze Color Palette
So what do you all think?
And there are to be lessons to be learned by how I got myself into this situation with lots of stock that is just sitting. More on that to come in a later post though.

Thanks everyone for making this such a fun event!
If you missed out on some of the "fun" part - that would have been all the interaction during the sale that was going on - on the Marsha Neal Studio FaceBook page.
I had some random commenter giveaways for 50% off a clay item coupon codes, half-priced silk listings, free destash pieces, etc. 
All totally by the seat of my pants - and it was a blast!
(ok - that wasn't meant to sound like "that").

You guys are SO much fun!
Thanks again for hanging out with me and making it such a success…
I look forward to the next round and making you all specific pieces just for you…