The Vinegar Trick and Some Magic

Hi, folks. Been a while!

I decided to update this thing because I have discovered a really cool trick to help keep dishwashers (and your dishes) from smelling funky, and it’s too good not to share with the tens of readers who follow this blog. (And just a quick note, everything here is solely my personal opinion and I was not asked to plug any specific product.)

You know how your dishes can be “clean” right from the dishwasher but they smell disgusting? Like someone blow-dried on some nasty invisible funk smell? Well, that wet dog, “earthworm” smell indicates that your dishwasher itself needs a really thorough cleansing in the crevices you can’t reach. Think about if you dipped your toothbrush in the toilet–you wouldn’t want to put it back in your mouth, right? Well, that odor tells you that your dishes have gone in the toilet.

Okay, now that we’re all grossed out, I’m going to recommend a product called Dishwasher Magic.

dishwasher-magic

That stuff is the bees’ knees. We use it every 3-6 months in our household to clean the mechanisms in the dishwasher which do the actual cleaning of the dishes. It not only gets rid of calcium buildup but it disinfects; it claims to get rid of both salmonella and e.coli. That’s a winner right there.

But the second thing you can do, and the trick that inspired this post, is to use good old-fashioned white distilled vinegar as an in-between rinse. I do two things with this: I fill the rinse-aid container with vinegar instead of Jet Dry, which helps with spots and overall cleanliness; I also use a “vinegar rinse” every few cycles (or when I start to smell funk) and pair it with the light or delicate cycle. What that means is, I take a tall glass and fill it halfway with white distilled vinegar, place it securely on the bottom rack where it sits flat, and turn the dishwasher on the delicate cycle.

That’s it!

Seriously, that’s all it takes. I’ve even tested it by putting some “clean” dishes that smell like wet dog in the upper rack of the dishwasher with the cup of vinegar sitting on the bottom, and they come out smelling fresh (read: like clean glass and nothing else).

It saves your sanity, a little money, and you don’t have to actually scrub out the dishwasher itself.

It seriously works and, if you’re like me who has strong smell aversions, you will want to start doing this right away.

Hope this helps anyone out there who is washing everything by hand because the inside of the dishwasher smells like a garbage heap. Let me know if you try the Dishwasher Magic or the vinegar trick and what you think!

 

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Compartmentalizing

I have been away from the writing machine for a while. I didn’t disappear into a vacuum (though I have my days I wish I could). My energies have been focused on the other arena of creative work which I have written about a lot since 2014–that being crochet. There is so much to learn and endless things to make, so my craft workshop couch is where I have been, wiling away my after-work and weekend hours with hooks and yarn. And then of course there is all the taking-of-the-pictures-of-the-crochet.

In light of all that, I came to the conclusion just last week that this blog felt more disjointed with the crochet posts. I then thought about how I wanted an undiluted platform where I can solely focus on geeking out over crochet. (And yarn, if I’m being honest.)

There are probably some of you readers who don’t mind the crochet posts, or even quite enjoy them. And for those who have been patiently enduring the craft chat (or perhaps not), now is your time to rejoice, for I will no longer be inundating this space with crochet talk. Being a Type A person, it feels good to compartmentalize and organize my passions into their little blog boxes.

To that end, if you’re interested in continuing to read about my adventures with crochet, head over to Zavvy Creations where you can subscribe by email or follow via WordPress. I already have a few things up and more ideas percolating.

It will also feel good to allow my other posts here that have been collecting digital dust in my Drafts to be fleshed out and polished, so their little corks may bob to the surface.

C’est tout pour l’instant! More to come–whee!

On Making and Selling

Well hello, friends! It’s been a little while. Here are some thoughts I jotted down about being an artist and making money at it.

While there are some questionable “arts” out there, generally speaking, I think it’s safe to say that most people who create can be termed an artist of some kind. Not everyone earns money or an actual living from their art, which is fine. There is nothing wrong with art for art’s sake. (Take this blog, for example! I write because I like it.) But it is a heavily sought after dream.

Artists who create with fabric or yarn know that it’s not only popular because it’s fun, challenging, relaxing, and rewarding, but as with any creative endeavor, making any kind of money from this passion is not an easy feat.

Essentially, anyone who knows how to make something out of fabric, yarn, or thread can sell it. That’s the beauty of having an Etsy shop, really. (Or Facebook, for that matter.) I’m no exception to that. I’ve sold a few crocheted things from the shop and I’ve made a few dozen custom orders from people who have seen my finished works on Facebook. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ll earn some pocket money from your craft in addition to having fun making the end products. Win-win. Silly baby whales

While there are certainly people out there who have mastered selling finished works and make a pretty penny off of it, it is my observation from both the photography world and the crochet world that the real money is in selling to the artists. I have mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, it makes sense, and bravo to those who have figured it out. On the other, I wish it appeared to be more prevalent that the artists themselves had more success than the teachers, marketers, and “gurus.”

When I was immersed in All Things Photography for the first couple of years, it became overwhelming to muck through all the businesses out there who marketed to photographers who were just trying to earn some money taking portraits. My email was dinging every few seconds with promotional email after promotional email. I even worked with a “photography business consultant” for a little while, until I realized that she had never had a successful photography business herself. (Seriously.) Eventually, when I realized that it was not going to be the business I thought it would, it was a tedious chore to unsubscribe from most of the companies that had my email address. Now I enjoy photography on a much more leisurely basis (see: The Bsns), and I’ve realized that, at least for this period of my life, it’s what works best.

When I jumped into crochet in 2013, the same thing happened where I realized that the gurus exist who are quite successful, and most of them have marketed patterns, classes, or how-to videos on YouTube. (Don’t get me wrong–YouTube is a fabulous tool for learning a craft like crochet for free!) Fortunately, I had learned from my mistakes with photography, and I did not sign up for too many groups, emails, classes, etc, though crochet is a completely different beast than photography.

Aside: I won’t deny that I may have a slight yarn addiction but I think most crocheters and knitters have one. Becoming a yarn snob is something I’ll save for another post down the road.

Before a couple of years ago, I had not browsed Etsy for much of anything. Now that I have my own shop, I have made a point to buy unique gifts for friends and family from others who share their beautiful artistry with the world. Pretty much anything you can think of–and a lot of what you can’t–can be found there. (Here are things I’ve favorited, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

Again, just because one has a shop, it does not mean that people will buy. Standing out from the herd of millions proves to be a frustration for many, myself included. Crochet and photography shops are a dime a dozen and, once again, those craft shops who stand out seem to be doing something truly unique OR they’re marketing to people like me, who are passionate creators but are not necessarily blazing a trail in the design world.

Perhaps designing is in my future; it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But for now, I am a happy little maker of things. Speaking of which….I know it’s a shameless plug, but it ties in so nicely with my topic here, so I hope you won’t mind too much.

I started this post a while back and by the time I’ve gotten around to publishing it, I happen to be having a canvas sale in the Photography section of my shop this week. And if I’m being honest, which I am, it’s a good one.

I’ll just leave this here and if you or someone you know needs some wall art in your life, well then…..yay!

And now I slip quietly back to my creative dungeon…until next time.

Baby/Blanket Fever

Happy Friday the thirteenth and full moon! Though the number thirteen and I are not friends, it is a beautiful and quiet day in my neck of the woods, so I thought I would send out a project update.

Crocheting has proved to be an aid in more regular blogging, it seems. This way, I get the trinity of creativity going: create/crochet, photograph it, blog about it. Mmmm, trinity.

After the last show ‘n tell, I had a couple of orders come in, so I had to put down the other baby blanket project I had been working on in my spare time. But last Sunday, I was able to pick it up again and I pushed to finish it.

It came out beeeeeeeeeeeeautifully, if I do preen so myself.

Mint and Cream Baby Blanket - Wide Fold

I stuck to the designer’s original colors since I thought they were perfect for a gender neutral baby blanket scheme; I also wanted to try out this particular yarn brand’s Antique White and Mint (Bernat Softee Baby).

Not only was the yarn wonderful to work with–particularly for a baby weight yarn, of which some brands are a nightmare–but it worked up quite quickly and was rather therapeutic to make. Last but certainly not least, the stitching of this pattern gives a gorgeous scrunched shell look.

Mint and Cream Stitches Closeup

The size of the one I ended up making came out to about 19″ by 24″; it is intended to go around a baby in a stroller or car seat. If it is a newborn, though, it would be wrapped up quite nicely and the blanket lets the wee ones breathe.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t decided whether to list it for sale in the shop. I know at least five couples expecting this fall and it would make a beautiful gift. That’s not to say I couldn’t make another one or two. The jury is still out.

For now, it sits tucked away with my other finished items, waiting to be bestowed to a new owner.

Happy weekend to you all!

 

 

Showcase of Recent Projects

I promised about a month ago to begin doing more show ‘n tell posts on projects I am working on or have completed.

Here I am to fulfill that promise….slightly out of breath and a little worn, truth be told.

Between working full-time and wedding planning, working on my side interests is all about making time for them. However, since I also have a shop where people can request handmade gifts, the customer comes first if an order comes in.

Before I was graced with two back-to-back orders totaling ten amigurumi, I had just finished up the following:

Baby Pastel Crochet Washcloths

Cotton crochet baby washcloths, currently in the shop

Folded Pastel Baby Blanket 2

25″ baby blanket, currently available in the shop

I was SO proud when I finished that blanket because it was the first one I had ever done in the corner-to-corner design that is quite popular right now. I added a border and voilà! 

And prior to that, I had just finished this little miracle:

Shell Baby Sundress - Front

That, my friends, is a newborn baby sundress. It’s pretty much the “I die” of baby outfits.

I had just started on a second baby blanket (no photos yet!) when I got two orders within a week for ten amigurumi animals. I just shipped them out on Saturday morning. Here they are in all their adorable glory:

Amigurumi Order

I’m still doing my photography, of course, and have put up a few pieces for sale in the shop, like this one:  

Though we’re under five months until the wedding (eep!), I have heard from a multitude of friends and family that they are expecting a child around the same time, so I have all these ideas for care boxes of baby things I want to make and send to people, but there simply are not enough hours in the day to carry out all of my pho-chet dreams. I’ll simply have to go into overdrive when all of my party planning days are behind me!

This concludes the first installment of Pho-chet Showcase with yours truly. If you are a fellow crafter and/or are curious about anything you see here, please leave some love in the comments!

Thoughts on a Birthday

Birthday Candles

Courtesy of Cade Buchanan on Flickr–“Birthday Candles”

I don’t always do a post on or around my birthday, but this year–today–I felt compelled to.

I woke up from having one of those dreams that feels endless and like it must be taking up at least an hour of my sleep, when in reality, it was probably five or ten minutes at most. Lockers the color blue, like the ones from my high school, were present. The locker number I kept going to or trying to find had the number 30 on it. (Perhaps I wish I were only turning 30?) When I opened said locker towards what felt like the end of the dream, I found bags with scribbled notes on them in my best friend’s handwriting. Some of the notes were sad.

I kept trying to find out what time the train was going to be leaving. Sometimes I was already on the train, speeding towards someplace (Washington, DC kept running through my head) and other times, I was in a station, waiting and trying to make the connection. Anxiety was there; my old friend and as of late, a more constant companion.

I woke up begrudgingly when the alarm went off and realized I took the day off from work. I got to do what I always want to do when the alarm is going off–turn it off and go back to sleep, without a care in the world! My first gift to myself: an entire day to do whatever I want without worrying about work–or that it’s Monday. Today, Monday is meaningless to me. It’s just a day in time. It is my birthday.

Despite that gift, my internal body clock would not let me sleep past 6:45, the time when I’m usually up and downstairs, waiting for breakfast. So I sat on the couch in my zucchini-colored robe, patiently waiting, while my dearest made me a delicious hot breakfast. And not just because it’s my birthday. Just because he’s wonderful like that, as he makes a hot breakfast at least three days of the work week. Another gift, and one that could be taken for granted over time, which is why I make sure to thank him for breakfast when he makes it, because it is not something I would readily do for myself.

We had just run out of coffee by yesterday morning. I remembered that the coffee I had ordered might have arrived on Saturday and perhaps the mailman tried putting it in our tiny mailbox. Lo and behold, he had. So we were able to have our favorite fresh coffee this morning without having to run out and get something separately. Happy birthday to meee. In lieu of birthday candles, a spoon stirred the cream into my coffee.

When I was a kid, things were the name of the game. Especially if they were pink. My Little Pony, Care Bears, Barbie, Sylvanian Families, Sweet Secrets, Popples…these all inhabited my existence. I screamed the house down the day I received a Funshine Care Bear. I don’t remember the last time I screamed upon opening a present.

sweet secrets collection

A bevy of Sweet Secrets

Now, I squeal inwardly when I receive a book on spirituality that I’ve been wanting to read, or a gift certificate to Sephora, my favorite mecca of beauty products.

As a child, I fretted over who might not show up to my birthday party and being so happy when people came. (“You really like me!”) I remember ripping through the wrapping paper of all the presents, feeling impatient to get to the next THING, while my mother chided me to slow down, show my guests what I had received, and loudly chant, “THANK YOU!”

Today, I take more time to appreciate the real cards sent in the mail and the handwritten sentiments inside. I sit and actively cherish the people in my life who remind me I matter to them, that I am valued, that I bring something special to the table. I struggle with my self-worth, so the best thing I can bestow upon myself is kindness; letting myself feel truly loved; seeing that I have qualities which are considered wonderful to others; allowing the sentiments to settle in my soul without naysaying, ridiculing, or devaluing those statements with self-derision. I channel my inner Stuart Smalley.

smalley

I sit here basking in the knowledge that I have hours ahead of me to do whatever I want. Whatever I want. I’m almost paralyzed with this notion. What do I do first? (I’ll tell you, my first desire wasn’t to get all dolled up like the ladies of Golden Girls did. Even lounging, they were always dressed to the nines.)

The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day. A lawn mower chugs in the distance, a sound that has always soothed me. I have a lunch date with a dear friend. My phone chimes occasionally with birthday texts.

It is otherwise quiet.

I feel loved.

I am thirty-four.

 

 

 

New Things

As my crochet obsession took over my brain for the better part of the last five months and it shows no sign of slowing down, I realized I needed to re-insert balance in my life when it comes to my other passions, those of blogging and photography.

Fortunately, photography comes naturally with crochet because I get to take pictures of my finished works, so it keeps me en pointe with that set of skills.

But Zoe Says is my first love and after 5.5 years of blogging, I don’t want to see it recede into the background. Now that I have refocused a bit and am actively including posts about crocheting here and there, I thought, what’s a good way to keep up on the blog and strike more blog-life balance?

It’s a very simple answer, which is: have a weekly post on newly created things. They don’t even have to be items that I will necessarily list for sale in the shop; at the very least, it’s a way to keep paying forward the creativity. I’m in the Granny Square phase of learning in crochet. In fact, I just added a charity to my blogroll  that I think is SO cool and will eventually donate to, which is Crochet Granny Squares of Love. The woman and her team who run it receive donated granny squares and turn them into blankets for charity.

Once upon a time, I followed another blogger named Zoe (though I think she used an umlaut) and she would update about her knitted items and I just thought they were the bees’ knees. I believe she re-purposed her blog or took it down but it was keen.

In sum, keep your eyes peeled and I look forward to sharing more crochet love with y’all!

IMG_0377-Edit

 

Lit’rally the Best Brownies Ever

Brownies_zoesays

Hello, lovely readers!

We’ve been having gorgeous weather lately and last weekend, it was wonderful to throw open all the windows and let in fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of birds chirping. For some reason, the pacifying gorgeous weather struck a baking chord within me. (I bet you were wondering how I would segue into brownies from pretty weather, huh?)

So, let’s get to the meat of things–or the chocolate of things, as the case may be.

I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for brownies. I mean, if you type in “brownies” on Pinterest, your Pinterest will hang for five minutes while it tries to deliver the search results.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion about this treat not too long ago, which ended up being the catalyst for my search. I have yet to find a brownie at any bakery in my town that is what I dub a “Zoe brownie.” Frankly, it’s been a long while since I’ve consumed a brownie in a commercial or retail setting that was memorable.

Probably not a shock to those who know me but I am very picky about how brownies should look and taste.

My opinion is that they should be rich, not too sweet, very chocolatey, dense, chewy on the edges, and have nothing to distract from these qualities, e.g. nuts, peanut butter, chips, icing, etc.

When I conducted my aforementioned Pinterest search, the results returned were all brownie recipes that had a whole bunch of stuff on or in them. So I scrapped that, went back to good old Google, and narrowed my findings down to four solid looking recipes. After reading through them, I was able to narrow down the possible winners to two, both of which claimed to be the BEST brownies.

It then came down to ingredients and preparation. Based on that, I decided to go with one posted on Cravings of a Lunatic, entitled, “The Best Brownies in the WORLD!!!” I was ready and willing to prove whether this claim was, in fact, true.

Well.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. Using the inflection of Chris Traeger’s character from Parks and Rec, I can say with no exaggeration that they were LIT’RALLY? the best brownies I’ve ever had. I have no idea how the original author came up with this outstanding recipe, but it is nothing short of divine.

Here is the ingredients list and also my very minor tweaks in parentheses. (Please note that these amounts will yield a double batch, which fits into one 9×13 pan of brownies. A single batch is meant to go in an 8×8 pan but honestly, do yourself a favor and make the double batch.)

  • Two sticks of butter (I did one stick of unsalted and one stick of salted)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (We happened to have Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened dark chocolate on hand.)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten (Really beat the eggs with a fork–get the stress out!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt (you can use regular salt for this–I used fine sea salt)

Here are the easy peasy lemon squeezy preparation instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your pan with parchment paper. (I used Kim’s tip to wet the parchment paper to get it to stick to the pan.)
  • Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together over medium heat in a medium saucepan; I strongly suggest using a double boiler. (Kim suggests a wooden spoon–I recommend a rubber spatula for most of this process.)
  • Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir well.
  • Now add your eggs and vanilla, stirring until it’s smooth. (Here is where you may want to switch out your rubber spatula for a minute and use a whisk.)
  • Add chocolate chips, flour, and salt. Stir until well blended. (Back to the rubber spatula we go.)
  • Pour into pan and place in oven. (Tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter works and pops any lingering bubbles.)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, toothpick inserted should come out clean (or mostly clean) when done.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Serve and consume!

These brownies taste unbelievable after cooling a bit but are still warm, with or without a scoop of ice cream. They definitely require milk or coffee to accompany them.

They also keep! Boxed brownies, while they can bake up decently, usually just taste like hardened chemicals the next day, which makes me gag.

Not these babies. Granted, they don’t last very long because you can’t believe how good they smell and taste, and so you and your family eat them pretty quickly, but they DO keep. Breakfast, snacks, dessert, just because, whatever. If you’re a gym goer or don’t indulge often, I promise it’s worth the extra gym session or having a cheat.

These brownies are super rich and chocolatey, moist, fudgey, smell like a chocolate shop and everything good in the world, and come out of the oven with a delicious glossy crust. The edges are perfectly chewy and add a lovely bit of texture.

Make some for your office mates and share if you don’t want to end up eating half a pan of these sinful things.

What’s a blog post about brownies without photos? Here are a handful. I honestly didn’t get a lot because we pounced on them like rabid hyenas.

It goes without saying but here it is anyway: this is totally a Zoe Recommends!

 

Dark ChocolateChopped Chocolate Brownie pan

 

Brownies 2_zoesays