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I am baking bread, and the most delicious sour, yeasty smell is flooding the downstairs.  I can’t wait to try this bread.  It’s sort of an experiment.  I don’t know when I stopped using recipes to bake bread, but sometime in the last two or three years it became more a matter of stir yeast into warm water, add flour until it looks right, knead, etc. rather than following a recipe step by step.  This latest loaf started started with half a teaspoon of yeast stirred into some flour and warm water yesterday morning, and left to ferment (with additions of water, salt, and whole wheat flour at various intervals – read: when I happened to look at it and notice that it might need a little feeding) until this afternoon.  I kept the dough wetter than I usually like it, inspired by a blog post I read recently about artisanal bakers working with wet doughs to get a superior crumb, and then baked it in a preheated Dutch oven at 450.  I turned it out onto the oven rack about ten minutes ago to brown the bottom crust a little more, and I can’t wait to take it out of the oven.  I have no idea how it’s going to taste, but if the smell is any indicator, this bread is going to be amazing.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty good about life this afternoon.  This is a nice change for me.  For the last while life has felt like one long series of discouragements, disappointments and personal failures.  Lately, however, I have begun to feel somewhat encouraged.  This is partly because of things that have happened, and partly because of some life changes I’ve made.  It’s too soon to tell if my luck has turned, but as things are right now, I think I feel… cautiously optimistic.

One of the encouraging things that have happened was the craft fair this past weekend.  After the last craft fair, I really needed this to be a positive experience.  I knew that this was a different kind of event – much more focused on art and artists than discount items and cutesy wooden Santas.  Also, Indy had agreed to help, and decided to contribute some of her own items (some of the most adorably covetable pincushions, teacup candles, and button barrettes I’ve ever seen).  I loved our location – in the corner by the stage, right next to the old vault door, which I covered with garlands.  I wasn’t expecting to make a ton of money, but I needed enough sales to make the thing, well, worthwhile.

At first, things looked bleak.  When we closed up Friday I had not sold a single item.  Both Indy and my Aunt B (also sharing our booth) had sold things, but not me.  We had lots of people coming in, looking at my things, commenting on how adorable/cute/clever they were, but then leaving without spending any money.  While the appreciation was nice, I needed actual dollars.  So when I went back Saturday I bit the bullet and lowered my prices.  And then things sold.  Half an hour into the second day, I had made my first sale of the weekend.  It was glorious, and such a relief.  The rest of the day continued to be moderately profitable, and by the end of the day I had covered my booth costs, and matched Indy’s sales for the weekend.  It was great.

One of the things I’m discovering is that selling things in person is so different from selling things online.  I don’t know if it’s any less work (another crafter was saying that she justifies lowering her prices for craft shows because she doesn’t have to do all the work of photographing, listing, promoting, and then shipping the item) since you still have to transport everything to the location, set up your display (which you had to spend time/money making), man the booth, then tear everything down when you’re done and transport it all back home again.  You definitely can’t get as much for the same item.  Every crafter I talked to said that while they could get one price online, if they priced things the same in their stalls, customers wouldn’t buy.  I think part of this is that when people find your stuff online it’s because they were searching for your thing, and are ready to buy.  Customers at craft fairs want to be wooed, for something to tickle their fancy.  Also, customers at craft fairs expect to get a bargain.  If it doesn’t seem like they’re getting a big bang for their buck, they don’t buy.  I think this is partly because, in our society, the work that goes into an item isn’t really valued.  When we look at things, we calculate the acceptable cost by the value of the materials that go into it, not by the labor it took to assemble the materials.  We’re so used to buying things made by workers in third world countries that get paid $0.20 an hour that paying crafters anything like what their time is actually worth seems exorbitant.

At the same time, the things that people are drawn to in person vs. online is so different.  For example, one of the garlands that got noticed, talked about, and exclaimed over the most was my Black, Black Heart Garland (which also happens to be one of my personal favorites).  People loved it, and it sold out.  However, on my Etsy shop, this same garland is one of my least popular items.  Perhaps this is the result of the pictures I used to market it, or some other factor, I don’t know.  But I think we’re drawn to things differently when they’re presented as images on a screen rather than the actual object being right in front of us.

The other fun thing about the craft fair was interacting with the other crafters.  During slow periods the crafters come out from behind their tables, and wander around looking at all the other booths, talking to the other vendors.  They find something that they admire, and then you hear the phrase, “Well, we’ll see how my sales go.”  You can tell when a vendor has had enough sales that she feels comfortable with her profits, because suddenly she’s running back to the other booths, buying the things that she earmarked.  When sales don’t go as well, there’s a lot of bartering.  At one point, our booth ended up in the middle of this crazy round robin bartering act.  See, one of the other vendors was the Barr’s, alpaca farmers who were selling yarn made from their alpaca’s fleece.  I wanted some of this yarn awful bad, but my sales hadn’t been quite good enough for me to feel like I could splurge.  However, she mentioned that she would love to have one of Indy’s teacup candles.  In the meantime, Indy had been browsing the lovely cards at Cathartic Slant’s booth, and wanted some of those.  Cathartic Slant wanted a couple of my garlands.  So we organized this big round robin of garlands for cards for teacup for alpaca yarn, and everyone was happy.

It was also a weekend of coincidences.  One of the guys helping with the sound system turned out to be one of the people who used to be in theatrical productions with Jacob.  At one point the only other girl I knew in high school named Bernadette (whom I hadn’t seen since she graduated) happened to stroll into my booth.  And then, the young woman who was manning the massage station right next to our booth turned out to be Godiva’s sister.  We didn’t discover this until late Saturday.  All weekend we’d been shyly getting to know each other, and finally during a slow period on Saturday she took advantage of our extra chair to sit down with us.  She and I were talking, and she mentioned that she does belly dancing.  I asked her if she knew SD, who is very involved in belly dancing in Dayton.  She said that she did, but mostly because SD does swing dancing with her sister.  I asked her what her sister’s name was, since I am a swing dancer too, and she looked at me and said, “Wait, are you Bernadette?  No way!  My sister G. said that I had to look out for you and say hi!”  It was kinda fun.  Now we’re talking about going in together on a booth for the next Yellow Springs Street Fair.

And then I went home, and discovered that I’d sold almost as much on my Etsy shop over the weekend as I’d made at the craft fair.

This is unrelated, and this blog post is way long as it is, but I couldn’t help sharing this extra little bit (which also contributed to my general cheer).  On Sunday I came home from a CL Leadership Team meeting, and Ani was home watching the first season of Bones.  She had just got to the Christmas episode, in which everyone has to be quarantined because Zack released a bio-contaminant while sawing through a bone, and Hodgins was exposed to it because he was drinking eggnog at the time instead of wearing his bio-hazard mask.  The two of them come out of the decontamination shower wearing towels, and, well, I do think my heart skipped a beat.  And this is why I love Ani, because both of us shrieked at the same time, and then she hit pause.  And then rewound it.  Three times.  (I may have encouraged her a little bit.)  It was rather wonderful.  If I weren’t already in love with Jack Hodgins, I would be now!

Also, I should mention that the bread turned out incredibly good – not as sour as I expected, but with a moist, tender crumb and a gorgeous depth of flavor.  I’m making this again!