Mother's Day Etsy Gift Guide

Mother's Day is right around the corner, and if you haven't bought a gift for your mom (or your grandmother or your aunt or whatever special women have helped you through life), don't worry. You still have time!

If a summer Saturday afternoon finds your mom at an arts and crafts festival pining after the beauties in every booth and you can't pull her out of little boutiques with handmade wares, this Etsy gift guide is for you.

The dainty illustrations on this graphic herb poster would spruce up any kitchen and possibly inspire some new flavor profiles. Epazote anyone?

These sweet little nesting heart bowls are sure to become a treasured favorite, either displayed together or separated and used to hold jewelry or other items.

This precious cosmetic bag with a mix of fabrics and a little lavender sachet tucked inside will make her feel pampered every time she pulls out her lip gloss.

On cool summer nights, this lightweight infinity scarf will add a little warmth around her neck and a cheerful pop of color to her outfit.

This feather necklace with a delicate flourite bead and an aged brass patina will be sure to get compliments and serve as a reminder of her ability to soar.

This hand stamped cotton tote bag will make carrying around all the mundane things of life a little more exciting.

What woman couldn't use a little relaxation? Lavender bath salts and handmade lavender lemongrass soap will leave her renewed.

With a simple style that would go with anything, these tiny leaf earrings are a perfect addition to her jewelry box.

How to Consign Your Clothes


I love consignment shops - clothes, furniture, any random old thing. You know that saying - one man's trash is another man's treasure? I've always been the other man. The one grabbing up other people's tossed away things with glee - thrilled to walk away with something awesome for a song. I'm the one who, when someone compliments me on a new skirt, says proudly, and I got it for THREE DOLLARS! 

But for a long time, I never consigned anything myself - perhaps because it seemed like a lot of hassle. And also because I keep all of my clothing forever in the (usually incorrect) belief that I will wear those acid washed jeans again. Just kidding. I don't have acid washed jeans in my closet. But you get my point.

And then one day, it hit me. If I consigned my own clothes, I would make money. Money that I could use to buy more clothes at consignment shops. It was a revelation.

Nowadays, I love going into my local consignment shop to see how much "free money" I have in my account. And I've learned a few things about how to get the most value out of the process. 

* * * 

1. Follow the rules.

Consignment shops work in a variety of different ways, and it's imperative that you do a little research beforehand so you don't end up wasting your time. At most shops, you'll drop off a bag of clothes, and the staff will go through it, deciding what they'll keep or return back to you. Then if they sell the items they kept, you will receive a percentage of the sale price. But each shop does things a little differently. For some, you need to make an appointment before they'll look at your clothes. Others require no appointment, but they'll only accept one bag of clothes per visit. Still others follow a different model entirely and pay you on the spot for the clothes they think they'll be able to sell, returning all the rest to you. It can be pretty disappointing to show up with a bag of clothes and realize that you can't get anyone to look at them.

Pro Tip: Use a big bag at those shops that only allow one bag of clothes per trip. 

2. Know your audience

Fun story: there's a consignment shop near us that caters to the younger crowd - college kids mostly. At least, that's their goal. I know a lot of women my age (early-thirties) who go there for inexpensive clothes that span the age gap. So I show up there the first time with a bag of clothes, and the 20-something behind the counter squints at me and says, "you know this is a store for youth consignment, right?" I probably shouldn't have been as offended as I was, but it felt like she looked me up and down and then said, "you know you're really old and frumpy, right?" They took two items from the bags I brought, and I left feeling decidedly un-stylish. 

But I got over it. Now when I go, I'm careful about the clothes I put in the bag. I stick with pieces that have universal age-appeal. They don't always take much, and it varies greatly depending on who is working. But they're one of the shops that pays right away, so I always walk out with a little cash in my pocket (if I don't spend it there immediately on midriff-baring tops and short shorts).

Some consignment shops - our local Second Time Around is one example - put lists online of the types of brands they accept. If the shop has a list of brands that includes mostly designer names, they probably won't take your Target-brand jeans. But the lists aren't always 100% accurate - if you have something really cute that you think would sell well there, throw it in. The key is to be aware of what types of clothes they're looking for so you're not disappointed about what they do or don't take.

Pro Tip: Put your nicest clothes at the top of the bag so the staff see those first.

3. Do the legwork

If you bring a bag of 25 clothing items into a consignment shop, you'll probably end up walking out with a bag that still has 15 or 20 pieces. Every consignment shop has a little bit different set of standards, and each employee will make slightly different choices. But there are probably more than a few consignment shops near you. Try out two or three, and maybe you'll end up getting half of your clothing items into a shop. The key here is to accept that, as much as you loved a particular piece, not everyone will see it as a piece they can sell. And they may return your bag and say something like, "None of the other pieces were on trend." That's okay. Move on to the next place. 

Pro Tip: Start with the fanciest shop first, and then move on with the "leftovers" to other shops. 

4. Prep the clothes. 

No one is going to take a shirt that has deodorant stains on it or a pair of pants that look like they've been sitting in a wrinkled pile for the last year. Even though it might feel annoying, wash the clothes and fold them nicely. They don't all need to be perfectly pressed, but the clothes should look presentable.

Pro Tip: Don't assume the shop staff will overlook that small stain or the tiny tear. They won't. 

5. Do the math.

You won't have any control over how much a particular shop will charge for your items, but you should be clear about what percentage you'll receive. For most shops in my area, I receive 40% of the sale price, but if I use my credit in the store, I'll receive 50% of the sale price. An incentive that usually works to get me to spend my money there. If I'm not using my money in the store, I can choose to receive it as a check sent to me at the end of the month or as cash whenever I'm there, depending on the store.

I also like to keep track of which items I have at which consignment stores - they'll usually give you a receipt. Most shops will donate your clothes after 3 months if they don't sell. If I have a record of what I have there, I can pick up any clothes that don't sell if I decide I want to keep them. It hasn't happened yet, but it could.

Pro Tip: Find out if the store will be running a sale soon and make sure your clothing won't immediately go on sale, reducing the amount of money you'll make. 

And one final note: Don't forget about accessories! Most clothing consignment shops also take bags, shoes, belts, and jewelry. Don't leave those languishing in your closet if you could be making a little dough and making someone else's day!

* * * 

Do you shop in consignment stores? Consign your clothes? What tips do you have for the consigning newbie?

p.s. Upcycling is also a good option for those items that might not have value in a consignment shop but could be awesome for you with a little embellishment. 

Roku: The Way We Watch

A couple weeks ago I mentioned something about our roku box in connection with getting a new tv stand, which prompted a few folks to contact me and ask how we like using the roku. And like it, we do. So for anybody wondering whether you should buy a roku, here's a review of how it's worked for us. (And I know this isn't technically a post about my crafting or domestic pursuits, but since a crafty project usually accompanies me while I watch television, we're going to call it relevant here.)

We cancelled cable when we moved into our last apartment. Before then, we had the whole shebang - cable with DVR, Netflix with streaming, and the MLB (major league baseball) Extra Innings Package (go Phils!). For television, we relied mostly on the DVR, which allowed us to record television shows that we liked so we could watch even if we weren't around when the show actually aired. We used our Netflix for movies and catching up on old tv shows, like West Wing. Navah watched baseball through the Extra Innings package (since the Phillies games weren't always showing on television in DC), and we occasionally used Hulu.

When we moved into our apartment on Capitol Hill, the cable was maintained by the landlord, but it was the most basic version without DVR or on-demand that would allow us to choose when we wanted to watch particular shows or get movies for free, like our old cable had been. We knew we wouldn't really take advantage of the cable if we didn't have that flexibility (or even the ability to use a guide to see what was on), so we decided to forego cable entirely. And that led us to thinking about a roku.

The key benefit of a roku is that it allows you to watch programs that stream or download on the internet on your tv without having to connect your computer to your television. The roku works through your wi-fi connection directly (or through a landline, if you prefer to go that route). So, anything that we had been watching on a computer, like Hulu or our streaming Netflix, we were now able to watch on television. And the roku has a channel "store," which lets you download internet channels to play on your television. In addition to Hulu and Netflix, we downloaded a few free movie channels, Pandora, a yoga video channel, the MLB network, and Amazon Instant Prime.
This is usually the point at which people start asking about how the cost works. So, here's the deal. You buy the roku box outright. We paid $80 for ours, and that's it. There's no monthly fee - you just own the device. And there's no fee to download the particular channels you choose. So the fees that you pay are the ones that you would pay to a service provider, like Hulu or Netflix. We have the Netflix channel, so in order to access our streaming movies on the Netflix channel, we still pay Netflix. We upgraded to HuluPlus, which means we pay Hulu, and the same for the MLB network and Amazon Instant Prime (we pay per download, not per month).
But, our monthly costs have actually gone down as a result of that one $80 investment. We use to pay about $100 per month for cable (through Comcast), including the DVR. We paid for two separate Netflix accounts that we had both maintained after moving in together, so that came to about $30 per month. The MLB network was $200 per season through Comcast. And we would occasionally purchase a Comcast movie through their on-demand program, usually for $4.99. So, assuming we bought one Comcast movie per month and we spread the MLB network cost across 12 months, before the roku, we paid about $151 per month for our television and movie watching. Steep!

When we quit getting cable, we dropped $100 from our monthly expenses (we still pay minimally for our internet connection). And though we upgraded to HuluPlus, which costs $7.99/mth, we reduced our Netflix subscriptions as a result. We didn't combine them (don't be crazy - a happy couple is a couple with separate Netflix accounts), but we each reduced the number of movies that we get and now get streaming on only one account, since that's the one we have set up on the roku. So now we only spend about $20 per month on Netflix. And the cost for the MLB network is reduced to $120 if you purchase it for the internet and not through Comcast. We still buy the occasional movie for $3.99, but now it's through Amazon Instant Prime. So, using the same formula as above, our monthly television and movie watching bill is now $42. That's a savings of $109 per month and a little less than $1400 per year! That's plane tickets for a honeymoon, my friends.

Of course, we had to drop the $80 for the roku, but we've had it for more than a year, so even if you added in that cost as a monthly fee for the first year, we've obviously more than made our money's worth. And we've done it while watching all the shows we love on our television rather than on a tiny computer screen in our laps where we often had to use headphones to hear well enough.
It's been fabulous for me because I have a particular penchant for 80s television, and with the Netflix and Hulu channels, I can watch all the Murder She Wrote, Cosby Show, and Doogie Howser that I can stand. And I just know they'll put Little House on the Prairie on streaming soon. I just know they will.

But rarely is anything perfect, and you probably want all the info before you decide whether buying a roku is right for you.

Here are the major cons in my book:

First, because the roku works off the internet in your house, when the internet goes out, so does the roku. Our last apartment had kind of finicky wi-fi, so we had some frustrating evenings of sitting down to watch a movie and discovering that the internet was on the fritz. If you know your internet isn't reliable, then that could be a major factor for you. Because ours was okay the vast majority of the time, it was something we could live with. And who knows whether our cable would've been out too?

Second, if you get the roku in lieu of cable, you only get to watch (on your television) the current television shows that are on Hulu or HuluPlus. Almost everything we want to watch is on there, but there are a few exceptions. For instance, the current season of Downton Abbey is available on but not on Hulu or HuluPlus. And there's no PBS channel, so I can't watch that on the roku. It's not too big a deal because it's available on the internet. But I have missed some network programming, like awards shows, and parades. These things are obviously not on Hulu, and they don't stream on the internet. The loss of these programs hasn't been enough to prompt us to get cable since the cost savings are so great. And it certainly wouldn't make us give up the roku since we get so much flexibility with our other shows from that. But with the upcoming summer Olympics, we're thinking we might try out an antenna to see if we can get a few basic channels.

Third, sometimes Hulu lists shows on its website that actually play through the station website, such as House Hunters on HGTV. Because those shows are not actually available through Hulu, they won't be available on the roku. If there's a show that you know you're going to desperately want to watch on the big screen, it might make sense to do a little internet research before you buy.

And finally, we didn't really know which roku box to buy. When we bought, there were 3 options (now there are 4), and we felt like the website didn't give much guidance as to why you might choose one over the other (aside from price). After asking around and getting no clear answers from anyone we knew who had a roku, we just took the middle-of-the-road approach. We've been happy with ours, but we're still not sure whether we would've been just as pleased with the cheaper version or if the more expensive one would be serving us better.

Even with those few flaws, we basically couldn't be happier with the roku. I love that it's saving us money while allowing us to watch television in the way that we really want to: on our own terms. There's a part of me that misses the days when we got excited for Tuesday night because that's when Doogie Howser was on. But truthfully, those days are gone. And, for my money, it didn't make sense to keep paying for something that didn't work with our busy lives. Now I get excited for Saturday mornings, which is when we eat pancakes and watch Parenthood on Hulu, pausing the episode every 5 minutes or so to discuss and critique the choices everyone's making.

I'll also put in a caveat here that the roku has been a great money-saving tool for us, but we know a lot of folks who have a roku along with their cable just because they love the flexibility it provides and the ability to watch internet streaming programs on the television.

So, should you buy a roku? Obviously, that's for you to decide based on your television-watching habits. But if you enjoy watching television and movies, I would definitely recommend it. The roku combines the flexibility of watching on the internet with the viewing experience of watching on your television, and I think it's a winning mix.