May 27, 2011

50- and 100-Mile Radius Goal

I read recently that you should work toward advancing a goal every day. It doesn't have to be much...just something to keep moving toward the goal. One of my goals is to travel (in increments) a fifty- and one-hundred-mile radius around Denver. This may seem a silly, pointless, and possibly expensive goal to others. But the way I see it, there is so much going on right in our own figurative backyards that many people will never experience. Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars traveling to the backyards of others? Don't get me wrong, I intend to do that along the way...but while squeezing day-trips in here and there.

So, basically, this is me advancing my goal. Impressive to behold, isn't it? Here are the cities I plan to visit (or have visited already, if they are crossed off and linked). In some cases, the city will be within a couple miles of the radius edge.

50-Mile Radius


- Loveland or Windsor
- Empire Reservoir, Tampa, or Keenesburg (holla!)
- Shamrock...and county roads? This one will be challenging.
- Deer Trail, Byers, or Agate
- Elbert
- Black Forest, Gleneagle, Air Force Academy
- Pike National Forest, Lake George
- Grant
- Winter Park, Fraser, Tabernash
- Estes Park, Grand Lake, or Rocky Mountain National Park


100-Mile Radius


- Cheyenne
- Pawnee National Grassland, Keota, or Grover
- Brush, Akron, Hillrose
- Limon, Genoa, Flagler
- Punkin Center, Rocky Ford, Karval
- Pueblo, Coal Creek
- San Isabel National Forest, Salida, Poncha Springs, Buena Vista
- Leadville
- Routt National Forest, Kremmling, Steamboat Springs
- Walden, State Forest State Park, Old Roach, Kinikinik

May 26, 2011

How to Fail on Etsy: Clutter in the Background

I've become an Etsy photo snob over the last year, because one can't browse through Etsy without finding some cringingly, eyebrow-raisingly bad photos. The item itself could be beautiful and of high quality, but a bad photo makes it hard to know this.

You may wonder, what makes me think I'm an expert on product photos?

Well, I have eyes. It's true. And they are even good, strong eyes. (And stunning, I might add.) So when I see these photos, I rely on my good eyes to say, "Wowie, that is a really bad photo."

I am not a photographer. I like taking photos, but they are never going to be of hanging-on-living-room-walls quality. I'm okay with this. We can't all be professional photographers, but we can take decent product photos for Etsy.

Remember that bit about being a photo snob for the last year? Well, before that, I was the seller who gave more thought to the dirt under my fingernails than to the photos I listed online. Then I wondered why my awesome stuff never showed up on the coveted front page of Etsy.

What makes a bad product photo? Last month, it was bad lighting and shadows. Today, it's clutter.

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean actual clutter, like dishes on a kitchen counter or your kids' backpacks and jackets laying on the couch. More commonly, it's simply the visual clutter which is taking up space in your photo.

As a potential buyer, you try to focus on the hat. But then your gaze keeps drifting to the glowing light and dark vortex of a hallway in the background. You stop wondering how you'll look in the hat and start wondering if the person is in a cellar. Maybe she is trapped and being held for ransom?


I remember coming across a baby blanket for sale on Etsy. The workmanship appeared to be top-notch. However, I couldn't tell you anything else about the blanket, such as the color of the yarn or the design. But I could tell you about the bedroom in which it was displayed: from the hollow brass headboard and the box of Kleenex on the nightstand (hey! I have that same box design at home!) to the traditional country-style quilt on the bed.

You may be asking, "But if the room is clean, what does it matter?" There are two reasons why you should keep the background uncluttered: 1) it keeps the focus on the product, 2) simply put, it's more professional. Could you imagine browsing a catalog online and seeing the model standing in a bedroom with the blinds half-drawn, a cat walking behind her foot, and a cobweb hanging from the ceiling fan? Of course not. Professional product photos are created in controlled spaces, with the photographer considering any possible background clutter.

While we all know Etsy is a place to buy goods directly from the maker, buyers still want to know that they are dealing with professionals. There is nothing professional about, "Hey, this is the Kleenex I use to wipe snot from my nose while working on the hat which you'll later wear on your head." Or, "Hey, I don't make my bed and I just throw dirty clothes on the floor...but don't worry, I take great care of my products!"


(Don't worry...this photo didn't actually make it onto Etsy.)

So enough with the criticism, what can you do to declutter a shot? It can be as simple as posing your item in front of a blank, empty wall. The plain white background is really popular on Etsy because it won't detract from the product and because it produces a super clean shot. Nevertheless, I like bright, bold colors, so I use a ghettography prop: posterboard. I bought posterboard in several vibrant colors from an office supply store. Then I either prop the boards against something or pin them to the wall, depending on where I need them.

This is what a typical setup looks like:


My "photo studio" is on a desk in my bedroom, near a window where I can take advantage of the natural light. From afar, there is definitely clutter. But that is not what will be in the shot. Instead, the customer will only see something like this:



Nevertheless, the background doesn't have to be empty or a solid color to be uncluttered. Incorporating a pattern into the background can enhance a photo. For example, Etsy seller Bridal Brick Row uses a brick wall background in each photo:


Pixel Cloud uses a soft, sedate wallpaper to accent the shop's vibrant prints:


In closing, be mindful of the background, know and control what your customers will see, and make sure your product always remains the focus of the photo.

May 21, 2011

Scenes from the Apocalypse

We thought Rapture 2011 was just another internet meme...



We were wrong...






May 19, 2011

Adventures in Comb-Overs and Absinthe Cocktails

The comb-over is a wonderful thing. It's mysterious and full of secrets, yet approachable. It's sure of itself and yet it's sensitive. While you might think it's stubbornly gelled down, the slightest wind could blow it over.

And so it came to pass that I crocheted an ode to the comb-over. It is a classic beanie in a pale cream shade (because as the test-monkey, well, I am only available in a pale cream shade) with dark brown around the sides and back. But why stop at bald? I sewed loose, single strands of brown across the top of the pate and secured them on the other side. No blow-aways here!


Upon finishing, it was time for a night out on the town with Kortney. Like many nights-out-on-the-town, our first stop was Falling Rock for dinner. The hard part about beginning with this wonderful beer bar is having to tear yourself away in order to try something new. Nevertheless, tear ourselves away we did, and for a very special reason: absinthe.

But first, a history lesson! Absinthe has been historically known for two things: its famous admirers (Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh, Aleister Crowley)...and its supposed penchant for making its admirers into violent and/or suicidal lunatics. Despite the inaccuracy of the latter claim, many countries banned the liquor by 1915, including the United States.

So if it was banned, why was I drinking it? Was this 2008 all over again? No, don't worry. In 2007, the Swiss and the French stepped in and saved the day (bet you never would have seen that coming). After some championing (and promising of first-borns, I'm sure) by Kübler and Lucid distillers, the ban was lifted but with stipulations: lowered levels of thujone (the rumored crazy-causing chemical agent found in wormwood, which is the crucial ingredient in absinthe), packaging could not allude to hallucinations (or fun) in any way, and brand names could not contain the word "absinthe". Hey, whatever makes it happen, right?

Since then, American companies have begun producing their own versions of it--including Colorado's own distillery, Leopold Bros. And it is here that I end the history lesson.

We made our way to Star Bar, eager to try the mythical liquor. The bartender mixed delicious yet strange cocktails using Avery White Rascal beer, Three Pines Alpine Herbal Liqueur, and Rocky Mountain Blackberry liqueur for me, Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur for Kortney. He capped off the cocktails with exactly three drops each of absinthe. Yes, drops:


While we sucked down the light cocktails, the bartender prepared our second drink: absinthe and water. No sugar cube, no slotted spoon, no lit match, just absinthe poured into icy cold water.


I learned two things about absinthe:

1) The smell is as intoxicating as the actual drink. When tilting the glass to take a sip, your nose is hit with an overpoweringly exotic odor, making you feel head-drunk long before your body feels the effects of the alcohol.

2) It doesn't taste as bad as I have always heard. Maybe it is because the American version has been so dulled down so as to make it legal that it has lost all of it bitterness in the process. Or maybe my mouth is the oral equivalent to Superman. Either way, the Leopold Bros. absinthe is fairly pleasant.

Oh, and 3) you really should not drink a lot of beer before or after the stuff. Trust me on this. Wowza.


Less than hour and two drinks later, we headed toward Great Divide Brewery on surprisingly wobbly legs. Pow! Pow! Score one for the unassuming absinthe.

The brewery was where I really tested the Comb-Over Hat's legs. In the crowded bar area, several people stopped me to compliment my hat, shouting about how great it was. And when I mentioned the comb-over aspect of it, the uproar really began. People laughed and laughed, gasped for breath, pulled at me, asked if I would show their friend, asked where I got it...

But here is what I wonder: I received lots of compliments long before explaining about the comb-over part. What did these people think it was? Just a bald cap? Well, that's pretty clever in itself. One person commented, "Princess Leia! Star Wars!" In Carrie Fisher's later years, perhaps?

So you tell me, what would you think this hat was supposed to be if you didn't see the top of it?


Before long, it was time to leave. I had to drag Kortney, kicking and screaming, away from the bar:


Just kidding. I totally set that up to make her look like a lush. She was actually returning my empty glass to the bar, along with her own. Although the kicking and screaming comment wasn't all that far-fetched...

So, in conclusion, I determined the Comb-Over Hat to be a crowd success.


But that could just be the thujone hallucinations talking.

May 10, 2011

There's No Place Like Kansas. Except More Kansas.

Weeks ago, Kortney and I made our trek to Kansas to visit her daughter, Zoe. The trip had been planned for months...my miserable head-cold, however, was a new development. The drive itself was uneventful, aside from sudden moments of what felt like my eardrums exploding due to the elevation changes.

By the time we arrived around 1:00 a.m., I was certain I was about to die. Now, keep in mind, I'm the strong, stoic type when it comes to being sick. Now, I know I'm only two paragraphs in and I've complained about being sick four times. But that is only so I can present a case for how truly sick I was...and therefore, why I look like hell in:

Every:


Single:


Picture:


Zoe, on the other hand, was looking more beautiful than ever.

We arrived in Kansas and promptly went to bed. And woke up at 6:00 a.m. Now, this trip occurred right after the daylight savings time change. And Kansas is in a different time zone from Denver. So when I say 6:00 a.m., I mean it was actually 5:00 in Denver time. And 4:00, if the time change hadn't just happened. Insane. I hate time zones and time changes. I feel like they are all ganging up on me.

However, don't go anywhere. I promise that's the last rant about the otherwise-fun trip. No, seriously, come back. I'm sorry.

After a breakfast at the diner where Zoe works, we picked up her friend Heather, and drove to Hays. Hays is considered the "city", where everyone goes when they need to actually buy clothes or shoes or anything they can't get at a grocery store. Like last time, our first stop was The Mall. Where people, lots of people, watch television. At the mall.


Next stop was the magical thrift store, at which Kortney and I have found amazing things over the years. Like matching, embroidered jackets. We put the jackets on and morphed into Sig and Rosa: feisty older women who have probably killed a man, but will never tell a soul how or why:


Then it was time for lunch. We went to Gella's Diner, home of Lb Brewery.



If you want to read more about the specific beers we tasted, go and read Kort's review at Colorado Women's Beer Club.

I know I'm breezing through this post, making it seem like the trip to Hays was about twenty minutes long. But believe me, it was more like when the Jews wandered through the desert for forty years. Except with beer and a camera.


After lunch, we found a neat antique store with a full room of old military gear. Hooray!


What you can't see in this picture is that I was actually walking from room to room, wearing this expensive helmet and pretending to talk into a headset. And what you also don't see (and what I didn't see) were the video cameras following this whole scene.

We left the antique store (no, not in handcuffs) and...

Had an impromptu photo shoot! Yay!


Raise your hand if you saw that coming. It's okay, I'm raising my hand too.

The girls were extremely fun models, proving that--despite what you may have heard--teenage girls are not made up entirely of drama, tears, and hormones. Here are some of the outtakes which didn't make it to Etsy, but are too fabulous to just ignore.













If you want to see the awesome photos that did make it to Etsy, look here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A big thanks, by the way, to Zoe and Heather for being so awesome and willing to humor a dying old woman's last wishes for product photography.

So, after the photos were finished and after we searched high and low for the one coffee shop in all of Hays, we trooped back to the small town where the girls live. We dropped them off and said goodbyes:


Finally, Kortney and I dragged ourselves back to the motel and crashed for the night, over a dinner of chips, beer, and grapes.

Bright and early on the third day of our adventure, we got up, ate a breakfast served by Zoe the Waitress, then drove back home.

May 9, 2011

Mother's Day, Elephant Mud, and Other Grand Adventures

So, yesterday was Mother's Day, in case you hadn't noticed. Which means you must have not been anywhere near a store, a billboard, the internet...or your children. Shame on you. Anyhow, despite my feelings of grumpiness surrounding the holiday, Keene and the children really turned it out this year.

One night while I was out drinking margaritas, Keene had gotten the idea to make earrings for me, which is always a great idea. He let the kids design their own pairs, choosing from my collection of thousands of buttons and beads. Here is what they came up with:

Here is Kayden's design:


Here is Maia's design:


And lastly, here is Keene's design:


Hooray for new and funky jewelry!

Doesn't that make you want to go out and snag a handy, jewelry-making boyfriend of your own?


Seriously, do it. Your wife won't mind.


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Here is some funniness to make this god-forsakingly slow day go by a little quicker.

This is part of a hilarious article written by Jessica Wakeman at TheFrisky.com. Click here to read the full article.

What do your musical tastes say about you?

Beyoncé / Britney Spears: Urban, professional 20-something women who belong to expensive gyms and have a “workout playlist” on their iPhones.

Lady Gaga: College girls who wear sloppily applied eye makeup on purpose, unrealistically hopeful NYU theater majors.

Katy Perry: Conservatively raised teenage girls who want one of their parents to get annoyed at the lyrics to “I Kissed A Girl.”

Fergie: Women who watch “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” because they can, like, relate, not because it’s a trainwreck.

Tori Amos: Women who feel too much, play piano, hate their stepfathers.

Adele: Women with messy personal lives.

Amy Winehouse: Women with even messier personal lives.

Rilo Kiley: Women who need a prescription for Lexapro ASAP.

Alanis Morrisette: Women who are cool beans so long as they remember to take their Lexapro regularly.

Pink: Women who’ve discovered the effects of their Lexapro are rendered obsolete by the amount of alcohol they consume.

Regina Spektor: Boring women who fancy themselves “quirky.”

Ben Folds: Boring men who fancy themselves “quirky.”

Feist: Pale, urban women with bangs who wear owl-shaped jewelry they bought on Etsy.

Sheryl Crow: Suburban moms who work at the front desk in doctors’ offices. Also, dental assistants.

Duffy: People who purchase their music exclusively at Starbucks.

Enya: Women who have “spells.”

Nina Simone: White people who fancy themselves connoisseurs of jazz music because they own one of her albums. (This description does not apply if you own more than one album.)

U2: Free-spirited souls who strangely have no qualms spending $300 on concert tickets through Ticketmaster.

Girl Talk: Any hipsters you want to smack upside the head for being posers.

Sufijan Stevens: Any hipster you want to smack upside the head for being a poser but who actually has good musical taste.

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In addition to celebrating Mother's Day this past weekend, we also finally celebrated Maia's 7th birthday (which was actually on Easter). We took her and a few little girls to the zoo to par-tay. Unfortunately, this is the only picture I took the whole day, because I was too busy rallying the girls to just keep walking. Really, little girls? You're going to let an out-of-shape, nearly-30-year-old woman show you up in the energy department? Well, they did.

Maia is in the stripey dress:



The most memorable part of the day was the elephants, which were unusually active. One elephant sucked up water in its trunk, then sprayed it into the dirt at its feet. It swirled the water around and made mud. Then it sucked up some mud in its trunk and lifted the trunk to spray the mud onto its back.

I flinched because I thought we were going to get sprayed when it lifted its trunk, but then relaxed when the mud didn't come. However, just as I let down my guard, hundreds of drops of mud came racing across the 20+ foot gap, toward us.

Elephant-trunk mud in my hair, all over my arms, all over Keene, all over the little girls in party dresses.

Yup, we know how to party.

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Now, I've tried and I've tried to come up with non-crochet-related topics, despite that taking up a significant amount of my time lately. But I am vowing to save all hat-talk for the next post. Instead, here is my single crochet boast for this post:


That's Kayden, learning to crochet.

(Did anyone else read "boast for this post" and think, "You're a poet and you didn't know it"? If so, shame on you again.)

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And now I'm leaving you with a picture of my commute, because I enjoy the juxtaposition every day: beautiful lake on one side, congested freeway on the other.



Such is life.