Monthly Archives: March 2010

What do I want to write?

I think one of the most exciting and terrifying things about working on a BFA in creative writing for the next two years, is that I’m going to have to decide what kind of writer I am.

One thing that helped me decide to pick Goddard was that the application asked me how I would use writing to work toward social change. They do say the pen is mightier than the sword, don’t they?

But is it possible for a novel to change things?

As I write this I’m watching a Harry Potter marathon on television with my daughters.

We live in a technical, industrial age don’t we?

When I was a kid we got a few hours of cartoons on Saturday morning, and the rest of the week television was for grown-ups. We had 8 channels. Today my family gets 200 via satellite, and at least half a dozen of those play cartoons or other kids shows 24/7.

My son has a video game system that lets him play games I would have had to take the bus to the mall with a pocket full of quarters to play for an hour or two before I got bored or broke. Kids can spend all day alone in their rooms with their games if they choose (and are allowed.)

We have a desk top and three laptop computers in our house. At any given time, all three of my children plus me or Kevin can be online. We also have four cell phones (me, Kevin, Adrienne, and Nick.)

So can a novel make a difference in a world that keeps trying to be paperless? In an electronic world that seems hell-bent on doing away with anything as old-school and time consuming as a paperback novel?

I can think of only one thing that has scores of people bursting at the seams with excitement, having midnight parties so that they can get their hands on it as soon as humanly possible.

It isn’t a video game. Or a new cellphone or television. It isn’t even a movie (although the movies that come from it do inspire excitement.)

It’s a book.

And I would say that a story that can encourage millions of children to crack tomes thicker than their math books means that books can make a difference.

Can I make a difference?

Maybe someone writing a really good story about peak oil or climate change will have an impact that a lecturing article or non-fiction book that just puts people on the defensive might not.

And if that story is aimed at the generation who is going to be left with this mess?

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My Adventure

Okay. Now that I’ve stopped freaking out about messing up and leaving myself 3000 miles from home for two extra days, I have a plan.

I’m a big one for plans, aren’t I?

The first part of my trip hasn’t changed. I’m flying out of Las Vegas on April 6 (red eye) to New York City on Jet Blue, (I’ll get there early on the 7th) then taking an Amtrak train to Montpelier, Vermont, (I’ll get there night time on the 7th) and then a taxi to the school. Twenty-four hours of travel later.

Then I’ll stay on campus at school until the 16th when they kick me out.

I’m going to stay in Montpelier for that night. I called today about changing my train ticket to the 16th, instead of the 17th, but got panicky about not having my ticket in hand until I get to New York if I change things. So Vermont it is.

My big plan is to stay at this hostel in Vermont, and to rent a car for 24 hours from the afternoon of the 16th until the next day when hopefully I can drop it off somewhere near the train station. I’m going to work on this leg of the trip tomorrow. It’s the only one that is still semi up in the air.

And then…and then this is the best part! I got an email from Expedia this morning. I bought my plane ticket through them and they sent me a coupon for $50 off a two night stay at any hotel booked through them. I’d been looking at the Chelsea Star Hotel which is also a hostel. I had actually talked myself into staying in one of their tiny single rooms rather than the hostel dorms (which is bunk beds). The difference in price is $79 for the single room vs. $30 for the hostel dorm.

But when I looked on Expedia and saw I could book the hostel room through them, and that I’d get to spend two nights in New York City for a total of $25–who could resist that? I mean, that’s a great price, right?

So I am being incredibly adventurous. I’m spending two nights in a bunk bed with seven other travelers and one bathroom down the hall.

Here is what I would really like to do with my time in New York:

1. I want to go to the Met. Really want to. So I am, on Sunday.

2. I want to see a show. My train is supposed to get in at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, which should be plenty of time to catch a late show. But I’m thinking after 12 hours on a train I might not actually feel like doing that. So Sunday, too.

3. I want to see the sites.

How do I manage all of that?

My thought is to buy a ticket on a tour bus, which is about $50 for a 48 hours of hop-on, hop-off. So I can first just ride it around, see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Then get off and go to the museum. Maybe go back to my hotel (hostel!) and change. Then hop back on and ride the tour bus to somewhere near my show. Et voila.

It always sounds easy when you’re making it up from home, doesn’t it?

I will be happy if I get to spend the day at the Met and spend some time with my neck craned checking out the sky scrapers.

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Big Mistake

So, in my worry about getting my rather complicated travel arrangements for next month arranged, I made a big whopper of a mistake.

I booked my flight home on the wrong day.

Somehow I misread my paperwork about the day that I had to leave the school campus. I thought it was Saturday, April 17. Instead it’s Friday, April 16.

And then…and then…I booked my flight home Monday instead of Sunday. I don’t know why, or how. I knew that I wasn’t going to fly home on Saturday because the ticket was nearly twice as much as flying home on Sunday. But Monday? I think what happened was when I put my return information in, it gave me the choice of taking a flight that would get me home on Monday morning. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The end result is, I have to leave the school on April 16, but my train ticket is for April 17, and my plane ticket is for April 19.

What a flipping mess.

I called Expedia today, to see about changing my plane ticket. They want to charge me $100 extra dollars, on top of whatever difference there will be for flying out on the weekend (and not as far in advance as I purchased my tickets initially.)

So. Yeah. I get three extra days in the beautiful northeastern United States.

I’m a silver lining kind of gal, so I’m trying not to be upset. There isn’t anything I can do, except be far more careful in October when I get to do this all over again.

I’ll be spending Friday night in Montpelier, Vermont. And then taking a train to Penn Station in New York, where I’ll spend Saturday and Sunday nights and then flying home early-ish on Monday morning.

I have three weeks to earn some money. The easiest and surest way for me to do that is to write for Demand Studios, who will pay me $15 for each article I write. I can write four articles in no more than an hour and a half. If I do that everyday for the next three weeks, it’s actually a nice chunk of money ($1200.)

If I’m going to be in New York City for Saturday evening and all of Sunday, I plan to make the best of it. I want to go to a museum on Sunday. Or a show? Something New York-ish. I’d thought about spending the one night I thought I was spending near JFK, but now I’m thinking I might as well stay in the city if I can find a room I can afford.

I also did some checking and I can rent a  car in Montpelier for less than $30 for the day. I think driving around that part of the country would be really amazing. Just me and my camera. (And maybe some thrift stores? I’m thinking of shipping my own clothing back home, so that I can have my suitcase empty just in case.)

So here is my question.

If you found yourself with one mistaken Sunday in New York City, what would you do with it?

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So, You Want to Open a Vintage Store on Etsy

I can remember when I first had the idea to open a vintage store online.

I’d read an article in a magazine, about six years ago, about three different women who had eBay stores and were each making a killing. I wasn’t real familiar with eBay, so I went on and checked it out. After some clicking around, I found the vintage stores.

I have always liked old things. History turns me on, and I get real physical joy out of finding something that clearly has one.

The first online vintage store that had an impact on me was called Green Stripes. They’ve long since closed down on eBay, but the girl who ran it was this cute-as-a-button indie girl who made everything she put on look adorable. Her pictures were amazing, and she was making regular sales in amounts that would make a huge impact on my bottom line if I could emulate them.

So I headed out to the thrift stores. I lived in Las Vegas at the time and had plenty to choose from.

Let me tell you. My first purchases were at best a mixed bag. At worst, they were a total disaster. (One of the first things I bought was a loud, full-on double knit polyester suit. Somehow I managed to sell it as a Halloween costume. That was my lesson in not all vintage is equal.)

My first pictures were dismal. (I’m not a cute-as-abutton size-4 indie girl–and I didn’t own a dress form–so I was reduced to a hanger on a hook on the back of a door.) I had no idea how to price things, so I ended up losing money on some things.

But I had bought one dress for $1 at St. Vinnies. One dollar. And it attracted a bidding war, ending up selling for $150.

I was hooked. As hooked as a kid who hits a jackpot on her 21st birthday and ends up in gambler’s anonymous after embezzling from her employer. That is–addicted.

I sold on eBay for several years. I’ve talked before about how I ended up hooking up with real-life models and real-life photographers. My pictures went from a garment on a hanger on a hook against a door to this:

After I had Ruby and we moved, I let my store go.

But I’m an addict remember?

So I started an Etsy store. I did pretty well, too. Some changes at Etsy sort of derailed my business (they took vintage out of the default search) and I started working as a counselor and going to school. So my store went by the wayside again.

Oops. An addict is always an addict. I should know this by now.

So here I am again. My store is one month old today. I’ve made some changes, I’ve learned some things. And I firmly believe that having a vintage store on Etsy is a great way to be a work at home mom.  (There have been so many changes at eBay that I don’t even know how it works now. So the remainder of this post is about how to become an Etsy addict.)

I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, so you don’t end up like me–re-donating a ton of oopsie buys and starting from scratch on the learning front.

Research

Learn about vintage. Etsy is a great resource for this. So is eBay, for that matter. Find successful sellers and study what they are selling. The great thing about vintage, versus say jewelry or soap, is that there is so much diversity that the more is really the merrier.

There are vintage sellers on Etsy who are really taste makers. On eBay you can search what has recently sold, and see what people have fought over, which will also give you ideas for how to populate your store.

Nothing really goes out of style, in the beginning you might find yourself struggling to tell “80s does 50s” from authentic 50s, or Free People from real hippie clothes. You’ll learn as you go, but here are a few tips to get you started:

A nylon zipper usually (but not always, because zippers can be replaced) means a garment newer than the early 60s. Which means that a metal zipper usually (but again not always) means a garment older than the early 60s.

Check out the construction of a garment. Wide seams that are pinked or have hem tape usually indicate an older piece. Serged seams usually means a newer piece.

Do you see a Union label? That normally indicates that the garment is of a vintage older than the 70s.

There is really no substitute for research though. Learn makers, cuts, styles. Learn how vintage fabric feels between your fingers. I promise, it will become second nature. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, and bought a lot of things that weren’t really vintage. Or vintage things that just didn’t sell. I’m pretty good at ferreting out the sell-able vintage from a thrift store or yard sale now.

Take Great Pictures

I can not empathize this enough.

Great pictures are the difference makers. It’s not as hard as it might seem, although some lazy short cuts have to be cut out. Most specifically, you must take your pictures outdoors unless you have a professional studio. Even bright rooms will not give you really good pictures like natural diffused light outdoors will.

If you can, wait for a cloudy day. This will diffuse things and give you even lighting. I live in the high desert where it’s a frozen tundra nine months out of the year, and seriously lacking in clouds all year long. So I promise, if I can manage outdoor pictures, so can you.

Invest in a dress form. I bought mine on eBay for about $100 and it’s paid for itself 1000s of times over. A model is best, in my opinion, but not always practical. Having pictures with live models is part of my business plan. The dress form is an acceptable second-place.

Now, all that said, I have had some luck photographing smaller items indoors. I use a sheer white curtain over a window and place my item on a white surface in front of it. These would be better outdoors as well, but I like the white background and haven’t rigged up an outdoor system for them yet. (Stupid flu.)

The pictures in my thrift store finds picture were taken on my white background in front of the window with the white sheer.

Use a photo program like Picnik or Photoshop to make your pictures even better. Balancing the white will make a huge difference. Brighten things up, then adjust the contrast. Mess around until you get pictures that are really good.

Here is my number one tip that I wish I’d known early about photos on Etsy. Etsy crops pictures to squares for thumbnails, using the middle of the pictures as the center. Which means that rectangular pictures are going to lose their head and feet. Hence all the thumbnails on Etsy that are essentially columns of clothing against a background, cropped at top and bottom. To fix that, just use Picnik or Photoshop to crop your picture to a square yourself. Then the whole thing will just shrink down for the thumbnail. Genius, no?

Take a stroll through Etsy. You’ll see what a difference great pictures make. You’ll see dull, gray picture after dull, gray picture…and then wham, something bright and beautiful that just calls to you. Take the time to learn to do this. It’s important to your business.

Oh. And please, please do not use your camera’s flash. Thank you.

Fill Your Store

The more that’s in my store, the more I sell. The stores that I’ve seen that are very successful on Etsy have at least 300 items in them. If you look, you can see that as the number of items a store stocks declines, so do their sales. Just keep chugging along, adding to your stock, and you’ll see your sales increase.

If I can manage to find enough vintage stock in this tiny town, then I know you can find more than you might think where you are. I’ve also had some success buying things on eBay to fix up and put into my Etsy store. Once I even bought up the stock from a vintage store that had gone out of business (they listed it all as one big lot on eBay.) We used our tax return, and I’m still selling things from that purchase 5 years later.

Brand Yourself

This can seem hard to do, when you aren’t selling something you’re making yourself. But it’s possible. Get some business cards. I like Moo cards because I can put pictures I’ve taken myself on them, which helps with branding. Vista Print will offer you some cards for free. Give them away. To everyone.

Develop a photography style that lets people know, on site, that they’re looking at something from your store. I’ve titled my listings in a way that makes it obvious that they belong to my store. (This is a little controversial. Some people think that the title should be no-nonsense with pertinent information in it. Do your own research and see what works for you.)

Come up with an innovative, but inexpensive, packaging style. I make my own sewn shipping bags from brown paper and bright thread. I make hang tags from vintage playing cards with my return policy written on it.

You can brand yourself with your listings as well. I write little stories for some (but not all) of mine. All of mine have a creative slant that I think brands them as mine. I have noticed that several times a day someone will read all of my listings.

Be Professional

Have you ever gone to a retailer’s website and seen things like: “We will not accept returns. Period. If it doesn’t fit, you’re out of luck.”

If you did, would you buy from them?

A store policy that’s filled with negatives is a turn off for the buyer. The stores that I see on Etsy that are very successful almost unilaterally do not do this.

Have a return policy. Your buyer can’t try things on, get their hands on them–so give them an out. That way they’ll be more likely to get in.

I offer store credit of the purchase price for any reason (including change of heart or the item not fitting.)

Be quick and helpful if there are problems. It might suck to refund part of someone’s money because they claim there is a tear in a hem that you didn’t see before. But I promise you, when you get a reputation for 1) having quality items and 2) taking care of problems when they arise, you will prosper in the long run. You’ll get repeat business, and your feedback that details your excellent customer service will help people decide to buy from you.

Another facet of being professional is presenting your wares in a professional way. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than reading that the seller is going to let the buyer take care of cleaning the garment, or seeing something dirty or severely wrinkled in a picture. It’s  a total turn off.

You want your items to be something a buyer wants. Really has to have. So take the time to clean everything. Iron your clothes. Do not deliver things with weird smells or stains that may or may not come out later. If something is stained beyond your ability to remove it, then disclose that and price accordingly. But don’t say “I think this  will come clean, but I’m leaving it up to you to do.” Not professional.

I think that shipping belongs here as well. Don’t gouge your sellers on shipping prices. Etsy is set up so that you have to list a shipping cost, it doesn’t figure it out for you based on weight and location for delivery. So do your best, and then list in your announcement at the top of your store that you will refund shipping overages (minus a dollar is fair I think, for supplies), and then do so promptly.

Also, underpricing your goods, but inflating shipping is bad form. (I’ve seen a necklace listed for a dime, with $28 domestic shipping.) It’s  tacky. Please don’t do it.

Lastly, ship professionally. It isn’t difficult to ship internationally. Cutting off your international buyers isn’t good for business. (I would estimate that 1/2 of my sales ever, on any site, have been from international buyers.) It’s also very cool to know that your find is walking the streets of France or Japan or Australia.

Price Right

Take the time to research your item before you price it. This is one place where eBay has it all over Etsy. There have been several times when I’ve listed something innocently on eBay and been shocked to my naive toes when it sold for 100s of dollars. (Like the Yves St. Laurent coat I got for $20 from the Mormon thrift store and sold for $750.) On Etsy you set a price, so you’ll have to make sure you’re setting a good one.

Please don’t be too tempted to under price yourself with the thought that you’ll get a few sales under your belt. For whatever reason, Etsy buyers don’t respond to this. Maybe they think that they are getting what they pay for. It might take some finagling, but find a middle ground. Don’t go nuts, charging way more than others are charging for similar thing, but also don’t play the Price is Right here and undercut everyone. It doesn’t work.

Okay. That’s all I have right now. I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas from you all.

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Thrift Store Finds: Sunshine on a Sick Day

I stopped at the local thrift stores (we have three, all tiny, but full of surprises) last Thursday at my lunch break. I couldn’t take the day off work, even if I did feel like I was dying, so I thought I’d cheer myself up by losing myself for an hour in other people’s stuff.

I’m so glad I did! Wait until you see what I found.

First up, these funky 70s T-shirt sewing kits. They each have a yard and a quarter of soft, thin t-shirt material and some ribbed trim. That’s it. No instructions or anything. Just says you can use it to make shirts or shorts or a drawstring bag. (Except for the paper wrapper with Mr. Mustache on it. The wrapping on some vintage stuff is as cool as the stuff itself, don’t you think?)

Here’s a close up of Mr. Mustache.

Nice, huh? I’m not sure if I’m going to keep these or put them in my store. Maybe keep one and sell the others? Dunno.

I think the best thing I found is this pair of handmade afghans. The striped one is crocheted, the color blocked one is knit. That one, the knit one, has some holes in it, but is so beautifully done I couldn’t resist.

I love, love, love these goblets:

I got a full set of six of them! Nice, huh? I’ll be putting them into my store tonight, only because if I keep everything I love I’ll live in a thrift store.

This little set is already in my store:

I actually clapped my hands when I found these:

My mom used to serve us lunch on this exact set! These are mine…all mine. Ruby has a touch of her Dad’s OCD and loves segmented plates. (She doesn’t mind her food touching, she just like’s to have a place for everything.) She actually hugged these when she saw them.

These cups were just too sweet to leave behind:

Yellow roses were my mom’s favorite. Aren’t these pretty? These are another might or might not for the store.

And finally, I found this little embroidered table cloth and a vintage flat sheet. I have this idea to cut pieces of clean vintage sheet to use instead of tissue in mailing orders out, and including a little folded zine with ideas for what do to with your square of very cool fabric. What do you think? Would you appreciate that, or would you rather have tissue?

So wouldn’t you agree? A good day at the thrifts, even if I did feel like I’d been hit by a truck!

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I’m back

I think.

What ever that was, the flu? A cold? Whatever. I’ve never been that sick before in my life. I can breathe today, and my fever is gone. So I think it’s finally over. Which means I’m back here. I missed you guys!

So, what’s going on?

I leave for Vermont on April 6. That’s less than a month. (I know you know that, but I have to keep reminding myself. It’s surreal.) I have my plane ticket all bought and paid for, and my train ticket is on it’s way. I’ve arranged for my taxi. I still need to pay for a hotel room in New York City on the 17th. But otherwise, I’m set.

The terrified is giving away to excited, which is a really good thing. I’m especially excited about blogging the residency for you guys.

The new counselor at my work is supposed to start on March 29. That gives me a week to get him acclimated to my gang of drug court clients. Talk about being thrown to the wolves. I’m giving my clients all the riot act practically every day. It goes something like this: “if I come home, and you guys have chased this guy away, heads are going to roll.” They don’t like change. At all. More than the average person doesn’t like change. My first month or so on the job was unreal. But I hope that knowing I’m coming back and will still be their main counselor (the new guy is taking over a different segment of clients) should help. Plus giving them huge heads up.

Here’s what I have on the agenda for you guys this week or two:

1. An update of the The Plan. I’ve had some time to think about it this week (since I didn’t have the energy to move, thinking was about all I could do.)

2. A review of a really cool product for pantry storage.

3. The recipe for Spinach Dip that my sweet Adrienne made for me while I was sick. It’s hot and gooey and very comforting food.

4. I’m thinking about an article aimed at those of you who might be thinking about starting an Etsy store. I’ve been pretty happy with mine during this first month of operation.

5. Pictures of some super cute thrift store finds that I picked up yesterday.

It’s good to be back. I missed you all like crazy.

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Breathe

After a good four nights of feeling like I was drowning in my own mucus when I tried to lay down at night, I slept fairly well last night. Still not 100 percent, but considerably better.

I’ll start posting regularly again tomorrow, but I have a mini-rant tonight.

Why is it that our society is set up to make the poor poorer?

Late fees for being five minutes late for anything, when you were probably late because of a lack of funds.

I’m irritated.

It makes no sense to me that a bank would put in deposits and cash checks at the end of the day, but cash the checks first.

So, for instance, say you put your $500 pay check in through the ATM to cover your rent and your car payment that you expect to cash the next day. Only when the bank is crediting and deducting things to and from your account, they cash the check, and then five minutes later deposit the money that was meant to cover said check.

Result?

$70 in overdraft fees.

And the $50 that you thought you’d have left? You’d already written a check against that. So it will be covered by the bank, but will result in another overdraft fee before you get paid again on Wednesday.

$35 more in overdraft fees, plus being overdrawn by the amount of the check.

And when you call the bank? They tell you that you should start keeping a register, and that they aren’t responsible for you writing a check that you didn’t already have the money in the account to cover.

So I get it. They’re right.

But do they not watch CNN? This is a fucking recession. Our income is a full 1/3 less than what it was a year ago. Maybe closer to 1/2, if I wasn’t so afraid to look closely at it.

We are doing the best we can.

Maybe the recession is what makes the bank choose to withdraw before they deposit, knowing that those $35 fee from borderline poor people will add up.

Maybe I need one more day to recuperate after all. It isn’t like me to be this irritated.

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