Saturday, December 28, 2013


BigFinishLogo_Black So it is over! ( mostly) The holiday season has come to a close…and yet, we are still busy.  So busy, in fact, that I have not been able to blog over the last week and things are piling up!   So now that I have the time, there is just so much to blog about!  Computer CrashAdd on top of that, the computer TOTALLY MELTING DOWN and having to be lobotomize!   Even now I’m struggling to get all of my upgrades back and things running as they once were.  So where shall we begin?

I guess with the Stocking season.   Things settled down after last Tuesday, but continued to trickle in every day just to be annoying.  Even now, we have 8 stockings to make AFTER CHRISTMAS!   Annoying is not really the right word.  Surprise  and Awesomeness should really be the words to describe it.  DSC_2637 Last year, we stopped selling everything the week after Christmas.   Perhaps this is a good sign that we will continue to sell a few as the new year comes into being.   Cheryl is excited about new designs and colors and can’t wait to try out some of her ideas for Easter.  We shall see what 2014 has in store for us.  DSC_2640

This brings me to what has been getting me excited.   Embroidery!  I have received several requests through the years for embroidered names on the stockings.   Well,  we did not have an embroidery machine,  or any idea on how to bring one on and get it to work for the stockings.    DSC_2695    So I have been using glitter or names .   I didn't know what to expect that first year with names, but people seemed up for it.  That first year we sold 200 names on our stockings.   I’m not sure about 2012, but we have the tats for 2013 : about 400 names!   It has felt like it…..those names piling up at 10:00 pm and having to wait for them to dry was such a bother at times.  DSC_2697However,  I do think i had it down to a science and they are fairly easy to do  

DSC_2629But this year I have different plans…..BIGGER plans!    I have decided to try to sew on the names this coming year.   I looked it up on YouTube and it looked simple enough..  DSC_2698 I purchased a quilting foot for my machine and thought I would have a go at it….just to see what can be done.   Behold!

  This will obviously require much more practice!  However,  I am seeing a pattern that seems to have a built in flaw.  Namely…there is a HUMAN behind the machine.  DSC_2696 No matter how steady I have the material,  what backing I put behind it,   I always have a thick erratic line to deal with.   Cheryl says it is impressive that I can do this well just with my free hand.     No hoop, no backing.  Just me holding the material and messing around with the settings.   I’m impressed that Cheryl is impressed!   With her onboard,  I now have the confidence to take things to the next level.  That being said,  I would say that playing around like this has no value except for my own ego, but it does!   I now see what makes an  embroidery machine different and superior ( in some cases)  to free hand embroidery. 

01452201203091042192647 So…with the money earned from just the names,  I now plan on purchasing a Brother 770 embroidery only sewing machine.   I have done my research, and brother seems to be the best for the price…..and I have see  it in action.  Both on YouTube and in live demonstrations at the local sewing store. It also has several features that I think are valuable…but we will have to test them out once the package arrives. 

   Ice-Storm-Pictures  In addition to all of DSC_2630that,  it has been crazy weather here the entire week leading up to Christmas.   First there was freezing rain.   Ice storms are just wonderful to drive in.    Then there was snow.   Slightly easier than ice, but still a mess.   And then finally was the cold.   It dropped to –9 degrees here.   We still went on our walks, but it caused us to purchase some MAJOR snow gear.  Things I thought I would never need in Iowa!  Stuff I still had from Alaska would have come in useful….like ice cleats, down gauntlets, Goretex jacket with down lining, and Thermal underwear. DSC_2631 Of coarse, the temp is a balmy 40 degrees today and the sun is shining warm and bright.   I guess it is ok.  I knew if we purchased those items it would warm up and I would rather walk in slightly warmer weather than need those heavy duty snow gear again.ColdTemps_WEB 

And before I forget.   We went to Michigan for Christmas day.   Following the snowstorm that hit us two days before.   It was Ok, until we hit the Michigan Border.   Around the “HORN” or Africa…I mean Lake Michigan.   The snow kicked up and the drivers were crazy.   Driving 70 MPH in slushy  conditions.   We saw two vehicles spin out in front of us!   This caused me to freak out and drive slower…which probably was the best thing in the end.   But that didn’t seem to stop people from passing and kicking up mud on my windshield.   What fun! 


So, that is all for the time being.   There is so much more to blog about, but this post is getting long….and rather boring.  I guess I can at least use it as a reminder of how things went down in 2013 the final hours.   Sometimes it is good to have a record of previous years so your memory does not gloss over things.  We shall see.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Baking Adventures With Cheryl and Ethan…The Sweet End of the Stocking Season.

DSC_2614Well, not really.  In fact, we had to sew up 10 stockings this morning.  However, most people have received the memo that their stockings run the risk of not making it in time for Christmas at this point in the year.   The people that order now are usually ok with that.  However,  by and large, the crazy rush is over…..Time for Treats!

It is a tradition now that the week following Christmas, and after the Stocking rush is over, that we make Thank You Christmas treats for all the people who were helpful during those crazy weeks of insanity.  And, as always,   Cheryl has to make this an adventure instead of just a “ho humm” experience.   I imagine I’m partly to blame.   I never can say no to a crazy idea.  Or Baking something we have never attempted before…..

Before I go down that road though,  We usually start with the known quantity.DSC_2599DSC_2600   That is to say…things we have done before and are familiar with..   Enter the White Star Cookie!

I’m actually not a fan of these as they tend to be a little too sweet…even for me!  However, they are fast easy and other people seem to like them….Or at least have never told us that they are terrible and throw them away as soon as they receive them.  I’m ok with that….it is the thought that counts after all.  And Our thoughts tend to be  over the top in sweetness…..Is that so bad?

DSC_2605Then there is the kiss cookies.   Have I mentioned we seem to have this love affair with DSC_2602chocolate and peanut butter?  Not in a Reese's peanut butter cup way,  but rather every recipe calls for some type of peanut butter foundation.   I blame Cheryl.   Who DOES have a Reese's peanut butter fetish.

DSC_2583My only role in these two treats is the mixer.   Cheryl needs my manly arms to dot he mixing.   And, if you ever had to suffer watching Cheryl Wrestle with a large bowl of peanut butter and flour…well…DSC_2601You would volunteer to be the mixer as well.  ( trust me…It’s painful to watch!)

DSC_2581And then it is finally time to begin trail blazing.   The part of ever Christmas where Cheryl has to fulfill her fantasy of being a top baker on the Food Network.  She reads these “magazines”  that tell her to buy these “books”   and they tell her to try there “delicious recipes” that we have never seen nor done before.   I have always known Cheryl has this weakness to for the unfamiliar.   Add in the power of suggestion that her magazines push on her and we have a recipe for adventure ( or disaster).DSC_2617 

The Idea is a cake ball.   Similar to a truffle,  only with a gooey decadent cake in the middle instead of a chocolate fudge.   Cheryl found a book, and, as usual,  asked me to figure out what the pictures mean. 

DSC_2590As any true man,  I never actually read the instructions.  I simply look at the pictures and go from there.   I think it is simpler this way.  My stuff always turns out looking exactly like the picture.   DSC_2586As for any “problems “ with the flavor;    well, that is the recipe’s fault, not mine.  

So:   Bake a cake…..a good one that is a little under baked. DSC_2593Then mix in the “binder/ frosting”  We decided to make the German Chocolate Cake ball….because I’m part German; I like Chocolate;  I like coconut; and it was the only recipe with a clear picture I could go off of….

DSC_2595The mixing was fun.   I should have snapped a picture of Cheryl getting all gooey making the balls with her hands.  Instead, DSC_2610 I thought I would show how Cheryl had to roll the balls in melted chocolate.  Notice the clean white shirt she is wearing….DSC_2611

After the mixing, we had to cover them with a coconut/pecan topping and then let them cool.  DSC_2615 Now for the Gift  Box assembly.  We already delivered several to the post office and the UPS guys. DSC_2620 We still have a few left that we are thinking about giving to the neighbors and Landlord if we see them any time soon.DSC_2623   We shall see. 

In the end,  it was fun…as always.  We got messy, DSC_2627 fought like cats and made fun of each others baking techniques.  My ego was damaged but, I think, made stronger by the whole ordeal.  in the end, we had a refrigerator filled with calorie laden treats that we must give away before I gain even more weight for the holidays.   And it’s all thanks to Cheryl’s adventurous spirit….and her Magazines.  Thanks!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Breaking Records at Allenbrite Studio.

DSC_2556I’m not sure about the year, but there have been several days we have broken the previous years record.  That is not saying too much.  We are not only slightly above last year.   Talk about a roller coaster ride! broken-record-765056 Started strong…then dropped below last year….now it is shooting to the top again!  I wonder how this weekend will pan out this close to Christmas.

Regardless,  Cheryl and I are feeling the pinch…Usually in our shoulders, after a long night of sewing on buttons and packing orders.Neck-pain6  Our walks seem to take longer, our Date Nights are non-existent, and Sleep?  I can’t remember the last time I had a full night of restful sleep.   Most of the time I just lay awake unable to shut down…until I’m woken up by Cheryl asking me to fix the glitter on a name.

bag-of-moneyAh, but it’s all worth it right?  The money, the happiness, the money, the Christmas wishes and the money.   Mostly the money.    Have I mentioned that the money is a powerful incentive for this self abuse?  If we could pay the bills with the smiles of grateful families who love their stockings,  we would do that….Until then, we are “forced” to accept their cold hard cash.  fma_I_AM_GREED2

I’m not sure if I ever mentioned the virtue of greed.   I love greed!  Seriously!   Greed is great!  I imagine there are people out there who think that this is terrible, however, I truly believe otherwise.   When you have nothing all year, and the money starts to come in…..Greed helps make those midnight deadlines possible. greed Are farmers greedy for wanting to get the most out of their fields?  The expression “Make hay while the sun shines” is one I use often. And you can’t take too many breaks during the day or you lose out on maximizing the harvest.  DSC_2561

Perhaps that is Iowa rubbing off on me.  The rainy season only lasts once a year for us so we have to gather as much moisture as possible.   So far, the universe is helping us along.   We shall see when the final numbers are in.  Cheryl already has lots of Ideas for next year.  I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ah, Stockings…..How we love you…

DSC_2537Over the last two days we have been putting in DSC_2548about 12 to 13 hours non stop.   We set a record yesterday and the day before.  Only now is there a brief lul in the fray.  It is difficult to form a coherent thought after working 10 hours let along 13.   but now things are getting back to normal ….a bit.

The felt is holding up…barely.   We ran out of Aqua blue and had to wait a couple of days for it to arrive.  When it did,DSC_2546 we almost had to pull an all-nighter to catch them up.  In the end,  DSC_254554 stockings!    In one day!  That might not seem impressive, but back in the day when 17 stockings would kill up and we were sewing on buttons by hand,   this is impressive. 

What would be even more impressive is if we had actually prepared better for the season and had ALL of the stockings made in advance.  But, I’m sure Future Ethan And Cheryl,   who are now reading this in 2014…some time,   have learned their lesson by now.  After all those rants. 

The weather is cold here in Iowa,  And snowy.   Subaru does not like being outside in this weather.  Add in the lovely country smells that come with agriculture and pig farming and DSC_2547you have a great reason NOT to go outside.  Manure3I would show a picture, but , seriously….there simply is not time to even take a picture of the snow.   And do we really have to be reminded what snow looks like? 

Hmm,  This is getting a little snarky.  Possibly from the lack of sleep.  icm_fullxfull_33925893_sn79mcbzwesos8csc0g4 In other news,  the people seem to be liking their stockings, and occasionally they will send pictures of our stockings in action.   This one,   sent by a customer that shares my name. ( ETHAN ALLEN!  YEAH!)  Shows our stockings hung up with Cheer.  I was so thrilled to hear of another Ethan Allen out there I had to reply.   Given my current mental state,  I hope I did not sound too creepy.

In the end,  supplies seem to be holding and people are happy.   So Christmas is turning out ok this year.   Cheryl and I just have to “white-knuckle” it a little while longer.  Hope everyone is having a great holiday season.   Including Future Ethan and Cheryl…..

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Failure to blog in December means you are BUSY!

DSC_2499Why do I miss days blogging?  Why are there “gaps” in the postings?   Because we simply do not have the time.   I know….I’m blogging now.   DSC_2518But this is with HEROIC effort on my part as we had another long night tonight.   It is 10:00 pm and I still have to flick the names and tags the ones that have not been packed.  This posting is an attempt to remind myself on how things were in 2013…. I hope…future Ethan or Cheryl, you are paying attention. 

DSC_2519I believe we set a record in sales today.  I’m not sure what the final numbers will be or how it will compare to last year.   But we had to sew up a LOT of stockings ..AGAIN!.  I hope….future Ethan or Cheryl,  You are paying attention.

At least we have a handle on some things.   DSC_2520Our packing is easier, but still challenging because we are exhausted after a day of sewing.  Now I know it was only 33 stockings.   ( we had some that were already made) And it was 41 the previous day.  But  things like this tend to build up over time.   Add that they are random colors and designs and that only adds more time onto the already taxed 24 hours. 

Time management is a skill for successful people.   Namely, not us.  Well,  Success is really a perception than a reality.   You may perceive yourself as “successful” because you have money, time, power, a house, a car, a job…..But I digress.   Perhaps time management is a life skill that you learn as you go and figure out through trial and error.  If this is the case,  then this should be a lesson well learned….again.   Must I remind you that you “learned'” this lesson back in 2011?   And why where we so bored back in 2012?  

DSC_2512Ok,  these posts are becoming rather preachy lately because I have very few filters left when I work this long.  So let’s tDSC_2510alk about other things.    Like:   We got Niampire!   From Japan!  Cheryl is in love with them.  We also got the Poyopoyo key fobs.   It would be so cool if we could get the full Poyopoyo pillows. 


Ok then,  Signing off.   I can’t wait untill tomorrow  with 2 pages of orders already open! 


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