These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

In a perfect world, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday would be switched. Shoppers would be setting alarms and trudging out into bitter cold winds, bleary-eyed with coffee in hand, to every locally-owned business in town. Small businesses would get the first cut and big box stores would get whatever was left over the next day. But that’s not how it is. So, it’s important to not blow the whole wad at Target or Walmart and to give just as much priority to the little shops on Main Street. Or the businesses owned by our family, friends and neighbors…even the multi-level marketing businesses. Get your Posh and Scentsy fix now!

Today, I’m going to share with you a few of my favorite small businesses from 2018. One is an MLM, the rest are one-man/woman shops…they are all amazing and I give them my personal stamp of approval. I know of many more, but since I haven’t worked with them directly, I’m going to leave that up to you all to recommend small businesses that you love. These are in no particular order.

1. Green Cleaning With Ashley (Norwex)

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I’m just going to go ahead and lead with an MLM because they get such a bad rap. Ponzi Scheme, pyramid scheme…basically a lot of scheming (which is never a good thing, just ask Bugs Bunny). But in reality, each consultant is a small business and the face behind that small business is someone who is passionate about the products he/she is selling. While I don’t sell Norwex, a fellow military spouse (and my neighbor across the street) does and after using products I earned from a party we hosted in September, I’m ready to sing the praises of several items.

1a. The mop system. I hate mopping. Besides cleaning toilets, it’s my least favorite chore and I used to be able to postpone it indefinitely. But when you add a kid to the mix, floors take a hit. Unfortunately, having to do it more often didn’t mean I had come to enjoy it. It actually made me grumpier about spills, drips, drops and trails of milk. Using the mop system the past 2 months has changed all that. I use the dry mop pad to sweep up the big stuff and the cat hair, then I follow it up with the wet mop pad. And by using only water and the silver back-loc Norwex mop pad, I can get all the floors in my house clean and germ-free. And it takes about 5 minutes. Total. Yeah, it’s pricey, but regaining my sanity is worth every penny.

1b. The Enviro-Sponge. I think this came as a hostess gift, meaning it wasn’t on my list of immediate must-haves. But it has rocked my dish washing world. It cleans the dutch oven, the silpat mats, the cookie sheets, the pots I boil pasta in, even stains in the sink. And because it also has that bac-lock technology, after 24 hours, the silver has neutralized the bacteria and it’s ready to go again. The Spirinets (like steel wool but without leaving rust marks all over the sink edge) gets an honorary mention here for being equally as awesome.

1c. The Enviro-Wand. Our ceiling fans run 24-7. In the summer, they run one direction and in the winter, they run the other. They never stop and regardless of the climate, they accumulate a foul amount of dust, cat hair and whatever else is floating around in the air. Cleaning the ceiling fans comes in right behind cleaning toilets and mopping floors. There has just never been an easy way to reach and clean all those blades without clumps of gross falling all over the bed and floor. But the Enviro-Wand (with its little micro-fiber tentacles) has solved that problem. And it takes about 30 seconds to clean a fan. My car may look and smell like an entire Kindergarten class is living in it, but my fan blades absolutely freaking sparkle.

1d. Dish towels/Enviro-Cloth. Basically, you can’t go wrong with any of these. From mirrors, to toilets, to cat puke in the carpet, they clean everything with minimal scrubbing. I have like 8 of them and I wouldn’t mind 8 more.

1e. The lens cleaning cloth. This was another hostess gift and not something I really thought I needed, but I was so wrong. It comes hooked through a clip so it can be attached to my purse or camera bag. It is so handy for cleaning sunglasses and camera lenses and cell phone screens.

If you are interested in trying Norwex, Ashley has a party open right now. You can find it here. I think my next 2 purchases will be a hair turban for when I get out of the shower (Ashley says it cuts her hair dryer time in half and girl has some hair) and the vegetable cloth. I do love a shiny vegetable.

2. Jarrett Rutland

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I’m all in when it comes to Jarrett’s art. His illustrated watercolor of our family spurred many of my friends to purchase their own because, truly, he is just that good. But he also has a new children’s book coming out next month. We (along with several of you) got an advance copy of Chilly da Vinci and we are simply delighted by the story every time we read it. I have a more formal review coming next week, but one of my favorite aspects of this book is that it teaches children that when we are problem solving, we rarely get it right on the first try. As the mother of a child who thinks everything should come easy to him and if it doesn’t, then he should just give up, this lesson is invaluable. You can find my review of Jarrett’s work here and you can pre-order your copy of Chilly da Vinci here and you can check out his Etsy shop here.

3. Sew Sweetness Monogramming

Rebekah and her monogramming machine are a force to be reckoned with. Her office (which is really where our dining rooms are supposed to be in base housing, I think) is filled with fabric of every pattern, thread of every color. Monogramming blanks (from purses, to kids’ lunchboxes, to shawls and shirts) are stacked on tables and hung from racks, ready to be customized. Her niche is certainly Disney shirts and while I have a few of those from her, I also have a purse and a shawl (which is patiently waiting for cooler temps in Southern California). Rebekah’s attention to detail and eye for design means I can let go of the reins and let her do her thing – which is always perfect. As Reese Witherspoon has been credited as saying, “If it isn’t moving, monogram it.” And if you’re going to monogram it, you need Rebekah.

4. 1 Canoe 2

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While I don’t personally know this artist, I purchase a hand-lettered postcard from her every time we PCS. Sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they don’t…but they are always precious. Her Etsy store is full of goodies: greeting cards, recipes cards, fabric, notebooks, and (my favorite) presidential drinking glasses. If she added Obama I would have my Christmas shopping done already.

5. Switchables

While this business is no longer small, it is still family-owned and operated by Joyce and Bill Birchler. Located in the New England area, Switchables sells nightlights and changeable stained glass nightlight covers, as well as ornaments and jewelry. I don’t know if they still do this, but when they were building the business by attending area craft shows, the Birchler Family handcrafted each piece of stained glass. I can certainly attest to the craftsmanship. I discovered Switchables while perusing one of the shops in Harbourtown on Hilton Head Island. I bought the sailboat for Blue’s nursery a few months before he was born and I won the turkey in one of their giveaways last month. The sand dollar was a birthday gift for my mom so that she can always have a piece of the beach in her home. I’m already scouting out which one I want for Christmas. It’s so hard to pick!

6. KC Cool

Based in Kansas City, of course, this small business is owned by a gentleman who is pretty KC cool himself. I met him at our church’s Christkindl Market several years ago and snatched up a who’s who of BBQ shirt for Neal and a red/white/blue shuttlecock shirt for Mom (because the giant shuttlecock at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is everything). Unfortunately, he has since changed the shuttlecock colors so Mom got me this one in the photo instead. The shirts are so soft and they haven’t pilled like so many of my other soft t-shirts have. If you know someone who lives in KC or just loves to visit, this is a great place to pick up some KC swag.

7. CraftFit

The husband-wife team that owns this small business is truly a dynamic duo. They perfectly complement one another’s strengths and the result is an Etsy shop full of awesome. Megan and Del create wooden flags that can hold the coins that Servicemembers are given by their commanders and I just saw a new piece: a sign that reads As for me and my house, we will serve tacos. I literally snorted when I saw that. I found Megan when I needed some vinyl t-shirts made for the Derby Day Color Run at Ft. Leavenworth a few years ago, but I knew she and Del had been creating beautiful pieces together long before that. Although they move just as often as we do, they waste no time getting the shop set back up and the production line moving because their art is in high demand. Whatever you get from them, you won’t be disappointed.

8. Swatara Coffee Company

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Lebanon Valley area of Pennsylvania, make sure you stop in for a cup of coffee and a sandwich or a pastry at Swatara Coffee Company. SCC, which just celebrated its first anniversary, is everything you want from a coffee shop. Fun-loving owners, John and Joanna Guldin-Noll, have created an oasis for everyone, whether you are a coffee drinker or not! Pop in for craft night, game night, a local crafters’ market, a bag of ground coffee for your morning commute, Meet the Artist night, yoga or any number of other activities that fill their calendar each month. It truly is the most happening place in Jonestown, but even if you can’t make it to PA, you can still have a cuppa SCC in your mug every morning. Ground coffee can be purchased on their website and shipped! That Shoo-Fly Pie Coffee they just listed online is going to be mine very soon! #TreatYoSelf!

9. A Touch of Kentucky Bourbon Mastery

If you are in the Central Kentucky area and love all things bourbon, a hi-top table and chairs or a side table made out of bourbon barrels is exactly what you need! Rita and her husband have been creating upcycled bourbon barrel gifts for many years, long before I got our first lazy susan with our name and wedding date painted on the top or the bourbon barrel table that lives next to the couch. If we are ever stationed back in Ft. Knox, we are going to have a problem because every gift giving holiday will include something from this couple.

10. Daisy & Elm Jewelry

Wait…was that pure, shameless self-promotion? Uh, yeah…it kind of was. I have been out of the game for a year, partly because moving across the country is no small feat and partly because I had run head-first into a creativity block. I had been designing jewelry since 2009 and I simply no longer craved the excitement or satisfaction that came with each finished piece. And, to be very honest, dealing with the public can make a person crazy. I started out designing jewelry for myself and to give as gifts. Then I turned it into a business. Then I was miserable. So, I took some time off and went back to creating just for me. I firmed up some personal boundaries, picked up a few new tricks and made designing a priority while Blue is in school. I feel like I’m ready to come back and re-launch D&E, just in time for my 10th anniversary in 6 months.

And that’s my top 10 small businesses for 2018. I know I have barely scratched the uppermost layer of all of the wonderful businesses there are out there. I’m counting on you all to share your favorites with the rest of us! Sharing is caring….and it’s also helping us finish our Christmas shopping!

Where Art Intersects With Life: Our Customized Narrative Illustration (a Review)

Last Christmas we received the most unique Christmas card from my friend, Brooke.

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I stared at it for a long time, trying to absorb the combination of details, all of which embody Brooke and her family; her husband’s tattoos, Brooke’s appreciation for a nice glass of red and the color purple, their three furbabies with three very distinct personalities. “I took thorough pictures of my husband’s tattoos and the house is perfect, right down to the metal art between the windows,” Brooke mentioned. “And Clover barks at the TV. I think that’s the big detail that made me cry when I saw it. Like YES! That’s my family!

Then I had a thought. I must have one of these. It was the perfect 50th birthday gift for the man who now owns a Big Green Egg and all the accessories, a complete beer-making kit and a subscription to Audible.

I texted Brooke immediately and she put me in touch with the artist, Jarrett Rutland, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate and Asheville, North Carolina resident who illustrated the children’s book Alligator Wedding

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before writing and illustrating 2 children’s books of his own: I Love You No Matter What: A Prince Chirpio Story 

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and Chilly da Vinci (due out December 4th, but you can pre-order here).

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Jarrett is also the creator behind Escapist Comix (or click here for non-Facebook folks), home of the Robot Samurai Penguins comic book series. And now he is creating customized narrative illustrations for families worldwide.

I had no idea what to expect regarding Jarrett’s process, but Brooke mentioned that he communicates mostly through text messaging and he may friend request me on Facebook so he can develop a sense of our personalities and interests. I readily agreed to the first, I had to think for a minute about the second. Admittedly, my Facebook friend group isn’t exactly restricted to the inner circle, but I had reservations about granting access to a complete stranger. Isn’t that how Dateline starts? It also gave me pause to think that someone could learn more about me through my Facebook page than from my answers on a questionnaire. But for about 90% of us, this is our truth. We live online and if you are hiring an artist to draw an accurate impression of your family, something that exceeds caricature, you should let him in.

My first text conversation with Jarrett discussed, naturally, his prices. After all, it is a custom piece of artwork by a published artist. How much was this going to set me back? Jarrett charges $260 for a 10″x12.5″ piece and $290 for an 11″x15″ piece. As anyone with a Business 101 class under their belt will tell you, charge just slightly more for the bigger product and people will almost always veer in that direction. I was already spending $250+…what’s another $30? Also, that was still within my This is a big birthday budget. And as I type this post, when I glance at our artwork hanging on the wall, I can’t imagine it being anything but what it is, which is perfect.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After I sent a deposit to Jarrett through PayPal (which officially placed our order in his queue), he emailed me a questionnaire. It included fairly basic questions like Describe the members of your family and What are some of your interests? Initially, I was going to surprise Neal with this gift so I was going to answer all of the questions on my own. But as I thought about it hanging in our house, I decided we should do this together. So, one night after Blue went to bed, we sat down with a bottle of wine and a pen and answered each question with excessive (bordering on obnoxious) detail. I wanted to cover all of our bases. Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of our favorite things…

Seriously, it was at least 2 paragraphs for each answer. But I write a blog and no one has ever accused me of being shy, humble, or brief.

And then I sent a ton of pictures; 20, to be exact. Pictures of our RV and my hair and Blue’s bike and Neal’s uniform (with close-up pictures of his patches). I sent pictures of my favorite Birkenstock sandals and the Little Free Library Neal built in Leavenworth and my favorite UK hoodie. Jarrett asked for clearer pictures of Blue’s Cub Scout hat, which I had to go looking for because it had fallen behind the bookshelf after the last den meeting. And then I asked him to please include our angel baby, but not in an obvious way because I was still not ready to answer a 5 year-old’s questions about the son that came before him. I mentioned that Mom and I both have blue butterfly tattoos to symbolize Shepherd’s life and that he could use that somewhere in his narrative.

And then I waited.

One morning I got a text. “What do you think?”

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I didn’t answer right away. I sat down for a minute and just took it all in. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was so much better. There we were, perched atop Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, where we had dragged Blue on a 5 AM hike up a rock face so we could see this icon before the Moab heat overwhelmed us. The Big Green Egg was smoking meat below and Blue was feeding the wildife. A beer, a bourbon and our precious butterfly. It was almost perfect.

“I LOVE IT! But, um, can you add our cats? Lulu is the Tortoise Siamese and Poppy is our angel kitty,” I asked Jarrett. He answered immediately. “Of course!” I understood how important it is to be happy with the first draft. Everything builds from this and it is sometimes impossible to make changes after the ink is on. I needed to be sure this is what I wanted. Jarrett sent a second proof with both kitties depicted and I was sure…now it was perfect. Time to paint!

Photos courtesy of Break the Mold Photo

I waited and Jarrett worked.

I had to do a lot of things to distract me because the anticipation was almost too much. I didn’t get any of these updates until after the piece was completed and I mentioned to Jarrett that I would like to write a review for my blog. So, in the meantime, I knitted a triangular washcloth and watched old Mr. Rogers episodes on YouTube with Blue.

Then one morning I got a text. “What do you think?”

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Yes. Yes. Holy crap how did you do that? YES!
Although…could you add a little more brown to Lulu’s fur…and maybe give my pants a hem? I felt it was risky to even question, considering the paint was already dry, but you never know until you ask. The worst he could say was no, I’m sorry and I was OK with that, too.

Jarrett managed to adjust the hem and he added a little mottling to Lulu’s fur. He even added some stars and connected them, forming constellations out of all our previous duty stations. I actually cried.

People may see this piece hanging above our couch and think it’s a fun depiction of our family; a unique piece of art that illustrates our appetite for smoked meat, Blue’s obsession with animals and my love of reading, but the more subtle details are precisely what make it so special. There is an inside joke (about the squirrel), a big brother keeping watch over baby brother, and dawn breaking behind us, which is exactly how it looked when we rounded the final turn to Delicate Arch. And who could know when we received the completed piece that Blue would be catching lizards in Southern California just 6 months later? This duty station wasn’t even on our radar at that time. He has yet to try to feed one baked goods. I think it just hasn’t occurred to him.

34016690_10216386411948545_5999496179191119872_nOf all the things in our house that spark joy, this is at the top. It is our family: a family of 4 with 2 furbabies.

Here is the genius behind Jarrett’s talent: this could have easily become a painting that featured us in the middle, surrounded by all of our favorite things. And I sent him a lengthy list of our favorite things. He didn’t include all of them. He used about 1/3 of what I sent him, but he chose the perfect 1/3. I couldn’t narrow it down, but he could. He didn’t include my camera or the RV or our bikes or the map of all the places where we’ve been. I was picturing a campground scene with us huddled around a fire roasting s’mores, while the lights of the RV glowed from a distance. Obviously, this is nothing like what I imagined. But depicting us lounging on top of Delicate Arch lends a magical quality to the entire piece. We would never realistically sit in this particular spot, but it certainly represents how relaxed we feel in nature, especially in our national parks, and how accomplished we felt after conquering this hike with a 3 year old at 5 AM. It isn’t a collage of interests, it’s a snapshot of this moment in time. Neal won’t always be in the Army, Blue won’t always be fascinated by lizards and someday Lulu will cross the rainbow bridge, but right now, this is our life together. It was intended for Neal, but it ended up being a gift to all of us.

Since completing our narrative illustration, Jarrett has finished dozens more, most of which can be seen on his Facebook page under the Customs Album. These are just a few of my favorites from his recent work:

This last one…that sky. Don’t you just want to pull up a chair and watch the sunset?

Many thanks to Jarrett for capturing the absolute essence of Team Miller. If you would like your own customized narrative illustration, mention this blog post when you book and get 10% off your order! 

You can email Jarrett at jarrettrutland@gmail.com or message him on his Facebook page. If you are interested in checking out exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of Jarrett’s work, you can subscribe to his Patreon page here