Friday, October 24, 2014

How to Make Money on Etsy: Sell Your Handmade Items in a Way that Honours Your Craft! Get Noticed, Inspire and Sell!

This blog post is for everyone who wants to quit their day job, and especially, for those who have asked me how to start a successful shop on Etsy. Since opening my own Etsy shop in July, selling crystal and gemstone energy bead jewelry that I personally hand make, I've been pleasantly surprised by it's success and high traffic! I had hoped to build up to a sale a day, which would be about 30 sales a month, to nicely balance my Tarot reading income, but instead, each month has brought in close to (and once more than) a hundred sold items! This is like the answer to my question, "how can I earn a healthy living doing what I love?" Now, of course, I want the same thing for you, and everyone else who seeks a means of self-sustainance whilst expressing creative joy!

Selling my handmade jewelry online is something I've had on my to-do list for years, but somehow I kept putting it off, thinking it would be a lot of hard work for little pay-off. How wrong was I! Thanks to the user-friendly format on Etsy, it's been easy, fun, and (most importantly) profitable. If you're one of my YouTube subscribers, you already know that I constantly encourage everyone to make a living doing what they love; there's nothing better than knowing that our livelihood reflects our passion and excitement. So, if you have a craft, hobby or art form that you'd love to do full time, read on: you can do it!

1. Be Excited, and Use that Excitement as a Ticket to Success!

First and foremost, if you want to have a successful online business, you have to have something you're excited about. Whether it's sewing clothes, painting scarves, designing screen savers, making greeting cards, cartooning, taking pictures, polishing stones, sculpting, building furniture, collaging, scouring flea markets for vintage finds, making soap, pouring soy candles, packaging mineral pigments for eco-friendly make-up, baking, writing recipes, knitting, beading, braiding or bedazzling... if you love to do something, and want to start making that your main source of income, Etsy can make it possible!

One of the biggest stumbling blocks people face when they decide to follow their passion is the inner doubt that plagues so many of us creative types; the "yeah, I love doing it, but it's no way to earn a living" mentality. We've been raised in a society that constantly pushes office jobs, corporate life, "bosses," bureaucracy and boredom. From our school days, we've been made to believe that math, science, social studies and language arts are important, but art, music and creativity are secondary. We've been made to believe that work is mandatory, and hobbies are optional. Of course, some people thrive in mathematics, sciences, politics and language studies. They are the people who are meant to live lives in pursuit of academic learning, industry, business and politics. However, not all of us flourish under that system, and for us, those ephemeral joys relegated to the role of "optional hobby" for most are the passions that drive our imaginations and innovations! You can always recognize an artist in an office as the employee who would rather gaze out the window planning a weekend craft than analyze data on a spreadsheet. If you find that you, yourself, are in a job that hinders, rather than helps, your inner spark of excitement and passion, then this article is really for you!

When I first started my Etsy shop, I was asked to select my goal from two options: Do you want to sell on Etsy as a side-gig, or quit your day job? (Paraphrased.) Even though I love my day job, (reading Tarot cards,) I opted for option 2, since really, why wouldn't I want to earn a healthy living selling what I love to make? I doubt that Etsy structures shops any differently for those who select this second, more extreme, option, but for me, it was like making a commitment to myself to do everything in my power to make the most of this opportunity. This led me on a quest to seek out others who successfully made the transition from hobby crafter to full time Etsy seller, and wow! I was blown away by the sheer volume and variety of successful shops out there. Each one had a unique product, passionate artist or collective, loyal customer base and inspiring story. That taught me something very valuable: there's a market for every whim and fancy out there. "If you make it, they will buy." People are just waiting to invest in something unique, one of a kind, hand-made. Our pre-fabricated culture is getting disillusioned; nobody really wants to wear sweatshop clothing any more. Everyone wants to express their individuality. Pride of ownership (in a good way, not an egotistical way) is coming back. Activists want to be able to say, "yes, this hand lotion is eco-friendly, organic and made in small batches by an apothecary artist in her home studio," or "my bracelet is one of a kind, made by a crystal healer who hand-selects each gem based on energy and balance," or "my t-shirt was silk-screened by a graphic designer who raises money for her philanthropy by selling this design." People love stories, conversation pieces, and knowing that the dollars they spend are going somewhere relevant and worthy, not just into a bottomless pit of corporate greed.

Remembering this, that your merchandise isn't just capitalistic or consumeristic junk, but something real, something worth-while, and something inspiring, is very important. A lot of times, our inner Saraswathi tries to push away our inner Lakshmi. In Hindu cosmology, the great Mother of All takes three principle forms: Saraswathi, Goddess of Creation, Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Durga Devi, Goddess of Energy. It's been theorized that creativity resents money, and vice versa. Artists sometimes think it's dirty pool to sell their art, since the very notion of putting a price to it feels corrupt; selling out is frowned upon. Unfortunately, this feeling (which I vividly remember even in my own life, in art school, when I resented the idea of taking a class on self-promotion and petitioning for grants...) that money and art are opponents forces so many creative people to hold back their talents, work jobs they don't really like, and shun the idea of "selling" their wares. Well, thankfully, Swamiji Nithyananda, an enlightened master whose teachings and guidance continue to push me further in my spiritual and worldly life, spoke very eloquently about this once in an awesome video about Vedic wealth creation: that the whole point of creativity is to generate sustainable income! We have our talents and abilities in order to provide for ourselves. Our passions are meant to grow and self-perpetuate. Saraswathi and Lakshmi are not opponents; they are two halves of the same whole. So, if you've fallen victim to the inner fear that profiting from your talent is like embracing greed and capitalism, do watch that video. Let go of the hatred. Let Lakshmi in! You're meant to be wealthy, successful and joyful! You're not here to neglect your craft, but to share it with the world.

Back to the main point: before you open your shop, you have to have a product. This product should reflect your passion. Your craft. Your skill. If you don't know what that is yet, it's time to do some soul searching; look into your memory bank, and think of the times when you felt the most self-satisfaction. Was it as a kid, playing with sticks you picked up off the lawn and pretended were wands, or hiking staffs? If so, then go outside after a wind storm, find a forrest or a park, pick up some sticks, bring them home, widle them into walking sticks or sand them down with sandpaper and polish them up nicely; many kids (and kids at heart!) would love them. If your fondest memory involves baking with your mother, get into the kitchen, pull out the mixing bowls, and start making your own recipes. (Lots of etsy shops sell baked goods- you just have to find the right shipping method! Or, bind some recipe books and sell those; even ebook files can be put for sale in your shop.) Remember making friendship bracelets at summer camp? Go to the craft shop, find some colourful string, add beads or charms that mean something to you, and rekindle that excitement!

One of my dear friends, Priya Nayaki, is starting her first shop. It's going to merge two of her passions: animals and astrology. She loves cats and dogs, and has had an idea for years to make pet collar jewelry using precious objects and sacred talismans with love to bless their four-legged wearers. She also loves doing astrology charts and readings for people. So, instead of limiting the entrepreneurial possibility to just one or the other, she's decided to go ahead with both, offering unique collars and also customized charts and spreads for her future customers. Another friend of mind, Maggie, just opened a shop selling jewelry with beads that she makes herself from scratch, starting with paper which she paints,  writes mantras and positive intentions on, cuts into strips, rolls and seals. Items like this, that are completely hand made, with the positive intention of the artist, are unlike anything in typical stores, and make Etsy the creative haven that it is. Really, if you're reading this blog, it's literally calling to you to join the fun.

There's really no limit to what you can make. But- and this is crucial- be authentic. If you don't like something, you shouldn't sell it. (I, for one, only work with natural stones, vegan materials and precious or energy conducive metals, because I believe in these, like them, and would buy them, myself. There's nothing in my shop that I wouldn't proudly wear!) Of course, everyone has a different style, so you might make some t-shirts in colours that you don't wear, or slippers in a size not suited for your feet, or cookies in a flavour that isn't your favourite, but, at the end of the day, before posting anything, ask yourself, "Do I like this? Am I proud of it? Will I be happy for others to know that it's made by me?" If the answer is yes, then you have a successful offering! Go for it! You have my full support and encouragement.

2. Don't get discouraged before you start!

You might recall that in my introduction to this post, I mentioned having "sell my jewelry online" on an inner to-do list for years. Part of the reason I didn't act on it sooner is that I anticipated a struggle; I let myself get discouraged about online shops before opening one. Long before I took the Etsy plunge, I came across an article about "the death of e-commerce" that claimed wholesalers hocking sweatshop goods made in overseas factories were choking out hand-made sites. The article was written by a failed Etsy entrepreneur who was basically ranting about the fact that Etsy allows resellers and mass-production and and blah blah blah. It was written in such a cynical way, implying that it's pointless to even try selling handicrafts or art, because people won't buy it. Sadly, this stopped me (and probably many others!) from opening a shop, since I didn't want to waste my time and money on something doomed for failure. Now, I can see, this negative article was just one in a sea of articles out there.

The world is what we believe it to be. I can say for sure, for that disgruntled ex-seller, Etsy is no longer what it used to be. But for me, for you, and for all those committed to making a successful go at it, Etsy is a place for success and hand-made wonder! Don't discourage yourself before you get started by reading statistics, economic reviews, data, or the rantings of those who couldn't make it work; read the inspiring stories of those who do it well!

Let me get the ball rolling by telling you how I got into it: One day this summer, while cleaning my room and organizing my jewelry collection, I came across a stash of beads, crystals and tools left over from my Vancouver days. (Back when I read cards in a Tarot studio on Granville Island, I made jewelry between clients and sold it on consignment at a lovely little mystical shop called Dragonspace.) Finding these materials was one of the most auspicious things that's happened to me this year; it rekindled my excitement to make things, and naturally, since I was making them anyway, I figured I might as well take pictures and put them up on Etsy- just in case.

Before starting the shop, I did an online search for the key words "make money on Etsy" and came across some blogs written by successful Etsy sellers sharing their stories and entrepreneurial insight. It was those success stories that sparked my own excitement. Instead of just taking pictures and putting them up there, I'd study what kind of pictures are most beautiful for buyers, what kind of written material will best support those listings, how many to post, how often to make more, and so on. I had the self-drive to build a company.

So, remember: if you're thinking of opening an online shop, on Etsy or elsewhere, stay positive! Don't listen to the nay-sayers; instead, look for tips and inspiration from those who are doing what you'd like to do! Success attracts success, so read stories, watch videos and peruse the stores of those who are doing it well.

3. Just do it!

Kind of goes hand in hand with not getting discouraged, but here, we have the most important step of them all: less thought, more action! Don't just plan a shop, open a shop! It costs literally nothing to start an Etsy account, give your shop a name, enter your biographical details, describe your process and share some pictures. Once you've taken care of that step, it's only 20 cents an item to upload your products, and the percentage of each sale the website keeps for it's service is not charged until you actually sell something, and even then, you're billed just once a month. (And actually, if you'd like to waive that 20 cent an item fee for your first 40 items, you can use this link.) There's nothing as powerful as taking action on our ideas to keep us moving forward, so once your shop is opened, add new items whenever you can, stay on top of your inbox by answering questions potential customers ask you, and don't let yourself get lazy.

4. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Dollars: If you want to make real money, take real pictures.

Yes, you read that correctly. If you want your shop to generate real money, you have to have inciting photos. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this really applies to Etsy: the first contact anyone will make with your merchandise happens when they see your pictures. Clear, beautiful, well-cropped, high resolution, well-framed, plentiful photos captivate buyers in a way that blurry, low resolution, poorly framed and sparse pictures never will. I've seen shops that have great conceptual ideas, well-written item descriptions and unique products, but if the pictures don't do the merchandise justice, I don't want to look at them. These shops, inevitable, have poor sales. Other times, shop owners will really drop the ball on writing item descriptions and titling their work, but if their pictures are colourful, juicy, clear and high-resolution, their sales soar! So, if you really want a successful shop, put photography as the second priority; first, make an amazing product, and second, learn to take an amazing picture.

A few weeks ago, I received a very enthusiastic phone call from one of my gemstone suppliers. After receiving my latest order, she and her co-workers decided to "google" my name, and found my Etsy shop. They were so impressed by the photography (and the item descriptions, coming up next,) that they looked through all my items, and called just to congratulate me on a successful shop! She told me that often, people make beautiful things and start shops only to become discouraged from low sales, and that she wants everyone to learn from what I've done: take good pictures, and write in-depth item descriptions. She thanked me for putting my work out there, and really, that inspired me to write this blog. If you take any two tips out of this whole article, let them be: Take Beautiful Pictures, Write Beautiful Descriptions.

Before moving on to descriptions, though, let me share some photography dos and don'ts:

-DO include as many pictures as possible for each item listing, showing your work from different angles, with close-ups and distance shots, using different backgrounds. Etsy allows it's sellers to upload up to five images for each piece of merchandise, and I always take full advantage of that. If you're selling a ring and you only show a close-up shot of that ring on your finger, people will still wonder how the sides of the band look, whether it's perfectly round, etc, and it might actually sparkle more against a black background, or on a ring stand, than on skin. If, on the other hand, you post a picture of the ring on your hand, on a piece of black velvet, in a ring box, on a stand, and on a wooden surface, all from different angles, customers will feel like they've really experienced the ring. They'll know whether or not it's for them. And, if they like what they see, they'll buy it! (Or at least add it to their "Favourites" list, or put it in their cart for later.)

- DO take high resolution pictures! Some people are shopping on their iPhones, and the little screen will make it seem like a low-res picture is detailed enough, but others will be surfing Etsy on large screen desktops. A big screen will make a 3 megapixel image look blurry and cheap. If the picture looks blurry and cheap, so does your lovingly crafted piece of art, jewelry, clothing, home decor item or whatever else you're selling. Cheap pictures make people think low-quality merchandise, and the won't be interested.

- DON'T post an item until you're satisfied with the pictures! When you look at your product photography, do you think, "Yes! This captures my work."? If you do, then go ahead and put it up. But, if you think, "Oh no, I can't see the detail, it looks better in person," retake the photos. It only takes a few minutes to take the pictures again, with different lighting and a different angle, so if you plug in your camera and notice that your close-ups are all out of focus, or half the object is out of the frame, don't settle for good enough. Of course, if you don't really care whether people buy or not, like it or not, admire your shop or not, then go ahead- upload sub-par pictures. But, if you want to make some money, inspire some people with your craft, and build a reputation of quality, then practice your photography skills and post only your best work.

- DO take advantage of sunlight! It's free, abundant and the best lighting there is to show merchandise in true-to-life colour. I work with a very low tech point and shoot camera, and I don't have a home photography studio, but I still have great light and shadow effects in my pictures, and saturated lighting, just by experimenting outside. I find that where I live, this time of the year, 5PM is the best time to take pictures on a sunny day, and 2PM is the best time on a cloudy day. This allows a slight shadow to add dimension without dulling the colours of my gemstones. For you, the ideal time might be different, and that sweet time will change with the seasons. Find out what timing works best for you by taking pictures of the same item throughout the day. An artist's eye might be needed for this, but we all have that, when we pay attention. Just look at all your pictures once you've taken them, study them, and see which ones are the best. Then, when those were taken, that's your time to take item shots.

- DO get creative! Treat your product photography the same way you treat your arts and crafts in general; your pictures are part of the product. Have fun playing with props, angles, framing and more. If you make and sell dolls, don't just shoot them against white walls and white floors; prop them up on chairs, show movement by raising their hands or crossing their legs, give them things to hold that are to scale. If you make and sell illustrations, have one image that is a detailed close up just of the art, and others that show it framed and grouped on a wall, another that shows it sitting on your drafting table, another that shows it in your hand, etc. If you make and sell a necklace, show it displayed on a bust form in one picture, draped across a pretty pillow in another, on a plain white background, and on a model. If there's more than one way to wear something you've made, like a scarf or a reversible hat, don't just describe the item as multi-use, but show, in your photos, how it can be used in it's various versatile ways.

- DON'T deceive your buyers! It's a big (and possibly illegal) no-no to post pictures of items that are like the one you're selling, but not the one you're selling. If you decide to re-make a prop from a movie to sell as a toy or collectible, you can't just post a picture taken from the movie and leave it at that. If you remake a vintage dress, ditto- you can't just post a picture of the original that you've re-made. Of course, you can include the screen shot or original photo inlayed within a picture of your own actual item (with proper credit and citation, of course,) but it's absolutely crucial to show the actual piece you're going to sell. Customers will complain if they buy something from you expecting it to be the perfect vintage or movie prop item shown in the photograph, if they receive something obviously different. (With good reason.) So, be as accurate as possible.

- DO check out the item photography in other shops to get ideas! (As long as you're not blatantly ripping them off... that would be highly unethical.) If you've made something and really don't know how to show it best, search Etsy for other similar items, and see how other sellers solve the "how do I photograph a ______" problem. This is a sure source of inspiration, and will also help you to build community by following or "Favouriting" other shops.

5. Use your words: Write item descriptions people will enjoy reading!

When I go shopping on Etsy, the first thing I notice about a listing is it's picture, but the next most important detail that determines whether I'll buy something or not is it's description. I've bought lipgloss specifically because it's described as Vegan; I've bought Tanzanite specifically because it's description made clear that it's 100% natural and hand faceted; I bought a card for my mom because the seller wrote a lovely artist biography that included her inspirations and process. Likewise, I've avoided buying things that look nice when their descriptions don't answer my questions. (Cloth bag with details that look like leather... described as a cloth bag... materials list doesn't specify whether the detail is vinyl or animal skin... no go! A vegan always makes sure.) So, my item descriptions always tell my customers the size, style and process of the piece being sold, as well as a break-down of all the different gemstones and crystals, and what those stones are known for in the crystal healing community. That little bit extra really creates interest, as well as a sense of really knowing what the item offers.

Poorly written, incomplete, inaccurate or irrelevant item descriptions are one of my biggest pet peeves on Etsy. If you want people to take your listing seriously, it's important to avoid spelling mistakes, keep your tone appropriate to your item, and (as Etsy says right above the text box!) try to answer all the questions a customer might have in your description. That means, describe the size, style, materials used, process you followed, inspiration, and any other relevant information.

A few quick tips on effective description writing:

- "Tone" means the general feeling emitted by the words you write. Just as vocal tone can be authoritative, casual, respectful, sarcastic, etc, so, too, written tone can be implied by the way we write. If you want your product to come across as fun and playful, use fun and playful language. ("These strawberry vegan cupcakes will tickle your tastebuds with fruity flavour!") If you want the product to come across as serious, use serious language. (These strawberry vegan cupcakes are sure to please your palate.) If you want the item to sound ironic and appeal to a certain set of hipsters, try to write in the same tone they would. ("These strawberry vegan cupcakes are off the chain! Fruity flavour like it's going out of style.") If you want the item to appeal to your customer's sense of exclusivity, write in a style that expresses your item's uniqueness. ("These unique strawberry vegan cupcakes taste like nothing else out there.") When you're mindful of your tone, customers will remember that they're buying from a person, not a corporation, and it helps them relate more to who you are as a person, not just a generic seller.

- Detail is important! It's better to tell your customers too much about the item, than not enough. People will feel unsatisfied if their questions aren't all answered, and the lack of information might just cost you a sale. However, nobody ever sees a lot of text and says, "No, I really don't want to know about this piece..." The worst case scenario with a long description is that people might buy the piece even without the information, but the best case scenario is that the description itself will inspire them to try what you're offering.

- Relevance is even more important! Although I just said to write more rather than less, I'd like to refine that point a little; write more than less, but only if it's applicable to your item. Your item description is yours, so of course, tell your customers about you and your process, but only so far as it's related to the piece being sold. I've seen some shop owners "dedicate" items to people in their lives, as in, "this necklace is for my mom." While it's a nice sentiment, it should be noted that an item is a piece of merchandise, and it's description is like a sales pitch; it's not an acceptance speech at an award's ceremony. If you have someone in your life for whom you are grateful, or you'd like to make a "thank you" list, go for it in your shop "about" page, but not in the item listings. Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be personal- just be personal when it's applicable. "This afghan was made with three generations of my family's passion for comfort: I hand crocheted each square using my mother's hook and my grandmother's pattern book."

- Give credit where credit is due! If you're selling an origami box, tell your customers whose design you followed. "This box was made using traditional Japanese washi paper, following Meenakshi Mukerji's modular origami instructions." If you made a chandelier out of hand-blown glass components, tell us whose glasswork you used.  (If you know, that is.) If you saw something in someone else's shop, fell in love with it, and made your own version, give a shout-out to that shop owner with a thanks for the inspiration! (Of course, when I say "made your own version," I don't mean copied it exactly, I mean, made something uniquely yours but based on that. If you see a wire-wrapped necklace you love, go ahead and use some of the design elements in your own piece, but don't copy the design, size, colours and materials, unless you also want to send your profits to the artist who you've ripped off...)

- Think like a customer to make sure you answer all the questions a customer might have. Typical rule of thumb, answer these questions, where they apply: what is it, what's it made of, who made it, how does it work, who would want it, what inspired you to make it, what makes it special?

- For resellers dealing in vintage goods, this applies to you, too! Tell your customers where you found your amazing old thing, how rare it is, who made it, how it's been used in the past, etc.

6. Put the right information in the right categories.

This should be obvious, but you'd be surprised by how many people actually get confused and enter materials in the place of tags and tag words in the materials list. Perhaps the only thing that bothers me more than finding spelling mistakes and not enough information in an item description is checking the materials list and seeing words like "statement, fashion, bold, extra long." Seriously... you made your necklace out of statement, fashion, bold and extra long? Where does one buy these exotic materials?

Etsy provides it's sellers with a place to list an item's title, materials used, description, price, and key words customers might enter in a search engine to find it. If you use these tools properly, they will help you to tell your customers everything they need to know about your awesome handmade thing, and also make your awesome handmade thing come up when people search for stuff like it. Be mindful, read before you write, and make full use of this service. If you don't list all the materials, people won't know whether or not they want your item. If you don't use all the "tags," people won't be able to find what you're selling. If you don't give an effective title, people will overlook your piece, and it won't even come up on an Etsy search. So, use all of those tools.

When you list an item, you should type something into every box available. Let me break it up one at a time:

- Title. Give your item a name that explains what it is, and, when possible, use words people will search for and enjoy reading. "Necklace # 1" is not an effective title, unless it's a retrospective exhibit of your work in a non-commercial gallery space. "Woven Seed Bead Necklace in Blue, Purple and Red made with Japanese Glass Seed Beads and Fine Silver Wire, Magnetic Clasp" is much better. Some search engines pick their top items based on the titles, not just the tags, so even if you're using tags, make sure to make the most of the title, too.

- Description. See above.

- Tags. This is where you type in 13 words you think people will search for if they're looking for what you've made. As an example, if you made a pair of small hand knitted blue gloves using recycled wood fibre yarn, you would be well advised to use the key words: "blue, gloves, recycled, wood fibre, knitted, hand, warm, winter, vegan, eco friendly, green, knitwear, small." Trust me on this: ALWAYS use all 13 tags! If you can't think of 13 things a person would search for, then search for the item yourself, and see which other words come up with it, and if you think of more than 13, pick the words you think are most relevant. Trust me, this is how your item will get the most traffic!

- Materials. This is where NOT to put tags. (Really, nobody wants to see "knitwear" as one of the materials used to make those gloves..) List all the materials you used, nothing more, nothing less.

- Price. Obvious; choose your price based on two things. First, how much do you want to make from this item? And second, how much do other people charge when selling something similar to this item? If you want to make $100 for your bejewelled hairband, but most people who sell them charge under $30, you might want to adjust your price. Of course, every seller wants to make as much money as possible, but it's highly unlikely anyone will make money by over-charging. Along that same line, don't under-charge, either. If you see that most bejewelled hairbands are priced at $30, so you price yours at $15 to undercut the competition, people might think yours is inferior since it's so cheap, or you'll wind up spending too much money on your materials, and time on your project, than you make back in profit.

- Quantity. How many of these did you make? If you made 6 identical things, and the listing is to sell one of the 6, make "6" your item quantity. Every time you sell one, Etsy automatically lists it again until all 6 have sold.

- Shipping. We'll get to that next...

7. Price Your Shipping Fairly, and Keep Your Promises!

Etsy makes it possible for sellers to name their shipping prices; it's not checked, and it's completely open. Technically, if someone wanted to, they could charge $100 to ship a postcard to their next door neighbour. Because it's unchecked like this, I've seen some shops charge $7 an item in their shipping, to the point that ordering 3 string bracelets costs $21in shipping alone, even though it actually costs less than $5, including the envelope.

I determined my shipping fees by walking to the post office with one of my bracelets, and asking the girl behind the counter how I should send it- envelope, bubble mailer, small box? Then, how much it would cost to mail? I took the price it would cost to for postage, added the price of the mailer (I opted for 100% recycled and recyclable padded envelopes) and the price of the small pouch the bracelet is in within the mailer, then rounded up to the nearest dollar. Since Etsy asks not only how much you want to charge for shipping, but also how much you want to charge for shipping if it's a second item, (as in, your customer is already paying the full shipping amount for one item and this one can go in the same parcel,) I chose to charge only $1 for each additional item. (Remember, your postage fee goes up slightly when the package weight increases.) I figured this out based on average size and weight of the items, and made my shipping rates uniform for almost everything in the shop. (The only exceptions are very heavy 3-strand stone necklaces, which cost considerably more to ship.) You might want to charge a reduced amount for your add-on items, or you might choose not to charge anything at all for your additional items. It's your call... just don't rip your customers off, or they won't come back.

By "keep your promises," I'm referring to the little category in the item's display page that says "ready to ship in ___ day(s.)" If you specify that you're ready to ship your item the next business day, make sure to check Etsy every morning, and really do it; when you send something, it's post mark tells people when it was sent, and it could result in bad reviews if you don't send within the time you claim you will. If you know you can't make it to the post office on short notice, give yourself more time, and tell the customer you're ready to ship in 3-4 business days, or even a week. Be realistic. (I ship next day on all of my items, but that's because I live 3 blocks from a post office and love walking!)

8. Free Networking: Use Etsy like a Social Media Site to Branch Out and Connect

Etsy isn't just for sellers; a lot of people create Etsy profiles just to shop, add "Favourite" items, and "curate" collections. (Non-selling Etsy members are called "curators" as if it's an online gallery and they are in charge of collections.) Any Etsy user can make "Treasury Lists" (like "albums" on Facebook, or "Boards" on Pinterest) and add to those anything from the site. Say a mother decides to throw her little girl a fairy themed birthday party, and wants to keep all the inspiring homemade things that would go well with that theme in one place. She can search Etsy for everything from picnic blankets to sparkly wings and star-topped wands to glitter, bubble machines and crystal jewelry, then "curate" a "treasury list" entitled something like "Fairy Good Birthday Party Ideas," featuring all the best results from those searches. Once such a list is curated, it's not just the maker of the list who can see it, but anyone who searches for those same items, then clicks to see who has added them to treasuries. Of course, one of your best sources of free advertising are these Etsy curators! When your merchandise makes it into Favourite lists and curated collections, more and more people will get to see your stuff. (Especially the "followers" of those curators!) Also, like "repinning" pins on Pinterest, or "retweeting" other people's tweets on Twitter, you can go through treasury lists in Etsy and add things from them to your own treasuries, or "Favourite" them. Anything you "favourite" goes into the preset treasury list everyone on Etsy has, called "Favourites." Whenever you "Favourite" something, whoever sees that item, then clicks to see who favourited it, will see your name and picture, which act as links to your profile, on top of which is a link to your shop. (Unless you opt to keep your Favourites private.) So, the more items you Favourite, the more views your profile will get from people randomly surfing Etsy, and thus, the more your shop and merchandise will be seen. That said, be conscious of what you Favourite- don't just randomly add anything into your treasuries, or your profile might come off as "spammy."

Let me share a personal story that illustrates why I recommend "Favouriting" other people's merchandise, instead of just adding your own. (Besides the most obvious reason, of course, which is to make others happy and help them live their dreams successfully!) Once, I went on an Etsy spree searching for vegan make-up. Every time I found something that looked awesome, I "Favourited" it, with the plan to check over my Favourites later, and decide what to buy. Before I could do that, I noticed I had a new sale. When I opened my "Orders" tab, I saw, to my surprise, that the bracelet I just sold was bought by the owner of one of those vegan make-up shops! Obviously, she saw that she had a new Favourite, clicked to see who it was from, found my store, and liked the bracelet enough to buy it. People see when someone else "Favourites" their items, and can follow the links to their shops. If I had just added the things I liked to my cart without adding them as Favourites, that wouldn't have happened. (Your cart is private.) And, conversely, I sometimes get curious and check out the profiles of the people who "Favourite" my things, and like to return the favour. When someone with a shop favourites something of mine, I favourite something of theirs. It's win-win; their followers see my item thanks to their treasury, and my followers see their item thanks to my treasury. I recommend you do this, too! It's good networking, community building, and mutually beneficial.

Another way I've found cool shops on Etsy is by reading the Etsy forums. There are threads there, like chat rooms, where people can ask questions about selling, shipping, customer service, etc, and share their experiences and advice. Whenever someone comments on that forum, you can click on their name and picture, which, once again, link to their shop. So, if you're eager to get into the community and put yourself out there, join the discussions! You can have your questions answered by experts, Etsy employees, other sellers, customers, and really get a whole world of perspectives and advice. Or, once you're established, you can answer other people's questions and put your voice into the discussion. This will really help your shop to get noticed, and also, you'll learn a lot in the process! All you need to have in order comment or start threads in this forum is an Etsy profile.

9. Free Advertising: Use All the Forms of Social Media Available to You

Right from the Etsy listing page, you can share an item to Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Of course, you don't want to overwhelm your online friends with marketing and self-promotion, but you should definitely take full advantage of the fact that when you're really proud of something you've made, you can easily share it with the world with a simple click. If you don't have a Pinterest page already, it's something you should really consider: start a Pinterest board based on your personal hobby, craft or interest, and get it started by "pinning" images of things similar to those you make, that you really like. Sometimes, pin other people's art, and sometimes, pin your own art. This way, the variation in style, titles and themes will attract a wide variety of internet surfers, and hopefully, your Pinterest page will be followed by others who will "re-pin" some of your pins. Pinterest always includes direct links to the source pages of the pins, so anyone who sees a piece of your home-made merchandise can click on it to be re-directed to your Etsy store. An added bonus: when you sell an item, if someone clicks on it's picture, they are shown a list of similar things in your shop that might interest them.

10. Make Yourself Reachable: Custom Orders and Conversations

Etsy stores come with inboxes; customers and fellow shop owners can send you personal messages, ask questions about your listings, and generally converse. Don't ignore that inbox! Many times, I've had people write to me asking questions about my packaging, policies and shipping, and within a few minutes of my replying, they've made their purchases. In the same way, I've sent messages to shop owners asking questions about their listings, and I make a point only to buy if they answer my question in a reasonable amount of time. So, when you own an Etsy shop, don't let the shop inbox flood- stay on top of your correspondence. It's a great way to learn what customers expect from you, it's reassuring to them to have a real person answer them, and it's also a nice way to connect and make friends.

Custom Orders! Custom Orders! Custom Orders! When working on your shop, I suggest clicking on every link, and reading every prompter; that's how you'll know everything available to you in your store. One of the choices you'll have to make is whether or not you're open to accepting Custom Orders from customers. As far as I'm concerned, there's no reason not to! Ideally, people will only ask you to custom make something for them after they've looked through your shop and gained insight into what you're able to make. By offering the possibility for custom order requests, you expand your ability to do what you love doing, learn something about your craft, hear other's design ideas and, of course, make more money. It's win-win; your customer gets something uniquely theirs, and you get another avenue for sales. Sometimes, someone will ask you for something you're simply not able to provide. (I had a request for set-gem stud earrings, for example, which I don't have the equipment or supplies to make.) When that happens, there's no shame in simply stating that you're not able to do exactly that, suggest some things you are able to make, or redirect them to another shop. (Throw some business to other artisans- why not? It's a community!) Most of the time, though, your custom orders will expand your skill and make everyone happy.

11. Be Gracious: Thank your Customers, and Respect your Detractors

Part of Etsy's charm is it's personal touch. Real people buying real things from real people. Without the people who buy our handmade goods, we wouldn't be able to enjoy the process of making them as a full time gig. Each piece we sell is like a gift- from the customer to us. So, with every order I ship, I include a little thank-you note, because I really do appreciate each and every person who buys from my shop. Being gracious means remembering that everything in life is a team effort; even if you're selling your original designs, and you're the sole owner of your enterprise, it's still a team effort, and your customers are on that team!

Respecting your detractors means, don't get snarky with people who write to you complaining. If someone gets upset because their item got delayed in the mail, or isn't what they expected it to be, or the colour doesn't match the display on their monitor, it might be obvious to you that the fault is with the postal system, the customer's failure to read the full item description, or the poor colour display on their computer screen, but you won't get very far if you're not willing to listen patiently to their point. If the problem is something you're able to fix, let them know that you'll fix it. If it's something out of your hands, be apologetic and offer whatever help you feel is fair. These people originally liked, and wanted, something you made; that means they see your vision, respect your work and want to be a part of your story. Treating them badly when they get disappointed is lose-lose; they might return the rudeness by leaving you a bad review, or telling their friends and relatives not to support your shop. On that note... if someone does leave a bad review, avoid insulting them in a reply, and instead, leave a reply that tells your side of the story in a kind, gently way. That will speak volumes about your character, and thwart their effort to harm your store.

12. Expand: Sharpen your skills, refine your listings, learn to take better pictures & be inspired!

Growth is life, stagnancy is death. With everything in life, the only way to move forward is by learning, taking on bigger challenges and pushing ourselves. Etsy shops are no different. If you want to keep your store fresh, attract new customers and maintain your own enthusiasm, it's important to actively engage yourself. A lot of people like the idea of being self-employed because they don't like answering to external authority; unfortunately, though, if the motivation for self-employment is the avoidance of responsibility, self-employment won't be profitable. If, however, the motivation for self-employment is a seeking for total creative freedom, along with self-motivation and enthusiasm, it's a path to success! Don't just be your own boss, but be your own employee, too. Even if you don't like taking pictures, you have to in order to sell on Etsy; don't just half-ass it, but learn to take great shots! Same goes for writing descriptions, filling out customs forms, responding to messages, etc. You'll get more out of your shop if you put more of your time and talent into it.

Whatever you make, stay inspired, innovate and expand! Go to the library and look through books about the history of what you do; there's something about being in a physical place away from home, holding physical books filled with ideas and images that creates more of an impact and experience in us than merely looking at pictures online. If you have the chance to visit craft expos, design studios, festivals and fairs, go! (This coming weekend, I'll be going to a Rock and Gem show to source some new materials to work with, and get inspired!) If you make furniture, make an appointment to visit the industrial design studio at your local university, or go to curated shows. If you make art prints, visit your local gallery. If you live in a city that has craft collectives or artist groups, go to their exhibits, and ask about membership. (And when you visit other cities, check out their craft scenes. I can personally recommend Granville Island in Vancouver as one of the most inspiring places on Earth for artists and artisans- from Circle Craft in the Net Loft to Railspur Alley, Dragonspace, the Crystal Ark... take a whole day and explore every nook and cranny of that amazing, artistic haven!) If you make wire-wrapped jewelry, find a way to combine more elements into your designs. If you make handmade paper, learn to press your own flowers to adorn it, create your own scented oils to fragrance it or use it as sheets in your own hand-bound books. Whatever you do, take it a step further!

13. Don't Hog Your Success: Enrich Others with your Story and Product!

I'm just going to assume that if you've read through this blog and put the tips into action, showcasing your personal passion, you WILL have a successful, inspiring, profitable and beautiful shop! And when you do, newcomers to Etsy, or those who have tried to sell on the site but somehow just didn't see the results they were hoping for, will wonder what you've done that they didn't do. That's when it will be your turn to either blog, tweet or hit the Etsy forums to answer people's questions about success. The only thing that feels better than reaching your goal, is inspiring and coaching someone else to reach theirs!

Besides just inspiring other would-be entrepreneurs, you can also enrich people who love your stuff by either teaching your craft (through YouTube tutorials, or by going out into your community and offering lessons) or donating items to charity auctions close to your heart.

In my life, one of the most important connections I have is a connection to the living enlightened master Paramahamsa Sri Nithyananda Swamiji, in whose ashram I've learned in programs like Inner Awakening, Life Bliss Engineering, Living Enlightenment Process, and more. One of Swamiji's teachings to the world is "Enrich!" Whatever we have, whatever we hold most dear, whatever we know how to do well, and whatever we hold as sacred, that's the unique gift we have with which to enrich others and make this world a better place. So, in closing, I encourage you, (yes, YOU!) to build your own wealth through online entrepreneurialism, then take it a step further: enrich the world through your skill and wisdom! (For more information on Enriching, and to learn about the amazing Hindu Guru whose enlightened guidance continues to lead me to deeper states of bliss and success in my own life, go to www.nithyananda.org.)

My best wishes for your shop! Be sure to share a link to your store in the comments below so I can check it out, "Favourite" an item or two, and inspire others with your creative passion!









Saturday, May 17, 2014

Vegan Recipe of the Week

Namaste my veg friends! This week, our vegan recipe was sent in by my dear friend Cathy Chaturi Kali Ma. Thanks, Chaturi!

In order to make it totally vegan and sattvic, I would use liquified coconut oil instead of ghee, and instead of onions and garlic, I would add just a pinch more of the other herbs and spices.

Chaturi wrote:


Namaste Ma Sudevi,

I made this last night for my sons and daughter-in-law. A Chaturi original :-) it is not Vedic though.

1. Yummilicious spinach and potatos

Fry diced onions and peppers, garlic, ginger,  curry leaves, tumeric, cumin, corriander and a little salt. Add spinach. Add a little water and simmer. When spinach has cooked down, add peeled, steamed potatos.
Turn onto a low heat and allow flavours to blend.

2. Mixed bean curry with a tomato twist

Fry diced onions and tomato. Add garlic, corriander, cumin, tumeric, curry leaves, half a chillie or dried chillies depending on preference and a little salt. Add a little water.
Add previously cooked butter beans and sugar beans. Simmer.
If you prefer you can add some coxnut milk. I rarely do.
Garnish with fresh corriander.

3. Side dishes - corn on the cob and fresh cherry tomatos or rosa tomatos.

4. Super soft Roti:

4 cups flour (I use cake flour)
Melt approx. 100 grams ghee or margerine. (*Sudevi's healthy veganization: coconut oil!)
Slowly mix boiling water with rhe dlour, alternating with ghwe until you have a super soft dough.
Roll it out into a sausage. Cut thich slices.
Flatten each round alice and roll out very thinly.
Toast them in a medium heates pan (dry) and brush each cooked roti with a little ghee or margarine. (coconut oil!)
They ahould be soft, not dry

Enjoy!

Sent with love.
Chaturi


Monday, May 5, 2014

VEGAN RECIPE OF THE WEEK: Coconutty Quinoa with Veggie Tempeh Stir Fry (And a quick, creamy, healthy dessert...)



Alright, so this week's blog isn't just a recipe... it's a full-on meal!

First, if you're on a RAW VEGAN diet, all these recipes can be easily converted! Instead of cooking the Coconutty Quinoa as written, simply soak 1/3 cup of chia seeds in coconut water overnight, then stir in the nuts. Instead of stir-frying the vegetables, just mix them together as a salad. The sauce is already naturally raw, and so is the dessert. Enjoy!

Now, before getting to the how-tos, let me first briefly break down the nutritional factors involved in this delicious, satisfying, purely SATTVIC VEGAN meal:

-This meal contains a complete protein! "Complete protein" means any food source that involves all the essential amino acids, and basically combining any pulse with any grain makes a complete protein. Contrary to popular opinion, a vegan diet is NOT a low-protein diet. In fact, almost everything in both of these recipes contains protein; the chia seeds, the nuts, the quinoa, the tempeh, even the broccoli and kale! Eat these foods and build your muscle!

-It's full of Omega fatty acids! These are the "good" kind of fats that nourish brain cells and keep your skin youthful. Coconut and coconut milk are both full of Omega Fatty Acids. Not only that, they are also anti-inflammatory, and they help your body digest other nutrients. Some Omegas are also found in walnuts (known in both Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to improve brain health,) and almonds.

-It's packed with vitamins! Lycopene, which is great for your eyesight, is in the tomatoes. Vitamin C, the immune-system strengthener, is in the orange pepper. Calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth, abounds in the kale. (Keep in mind: your body is a human body, not a calf body, so if you want a source of calcium that you can actually digest properly, don't look for it in dairy.) Purple cabbage has vitamin A, C, folate, magnesium and potassium. And if you go a step further and have the berries for dessert, you're getting even more vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and also copper, folate, and antioxidants. (Antioxidants are like master-cleaners of the body, removing toxins that build up in our system, boosting the prevention of cancer, slowing the aging process!)

-Fiber, fiber, fiber! Vegan food (or, more specifically, healthy vegan food,) will keep you regular and maintain your digestive health.

-Feel good! When you eat healthy, cruelty-free food, you won't feel bloated and over-full. Especially if you eat it consciously, slowing down to savour the flavours, you'll never be heavy or too stuffed. After eating this kind of food, you can be satisfied, knowing that your culinary enjoyment was beneficial to your health and well-being, and that no animals were harmed needlessly to please your tongue.

Now, to the recipes!

Coconutty Quinoa

Coconut and Nuts make these grains Coconutty!

-2/3 cup mixed quinoa and chia seeds (I filled the measuring cup nearly to the top with quinoa, then rounded it off with about 2 tablespoons of chia seeds)

-the water from one can of coconut milk

-handful shredded, unsweetened coconut

-handful chopped almonds

-handful chopped walnut pieces

-handful chestnuts

-pinch pink Himalayan crystal salt

Bring about one cup of coconut water to a light boil. Add the pinch of salt, and the mixed quinoa and via seeds, then reduce heat to low. When the grains have fully soaked up the coconut water, add a little bit more. When that is soaked up, add a bit more. When the quinoa looks transparent, taste- if it's chewy, add the shredded coconut and nuts and remove from heat; if it's still a bit crisp, add a little bit keep adding more coconut water until it's soft, then mix in the other ingredients.

Yes- it's really that easy, kind of like a vegan take on risotto style pilaff but with quinoa.

As delicious as this is served with a stir-fry, you can also make it as a high-protein, high-energy, filling hot breakfast! Instead of the salt, add a dash of maple syrup, a drop of stevia, or a bit of agave nectar, throw in some dried fruits and play around with your combination of nuts- try pecans, cashews, and even macadamia nuts. Hearty, nutritious and so delicious! As a real treat, top it with a dollop of Coconut Whipped Better-than-Cream (recipe below) and a sprinkling of cinnamon, and enjoy!

Veggie Tempeh Stir-Fry

Fresh, tasty and oh so healthy...

-half a head broccoli, cut into long florets

-one yellow pepper, chopped

-1/4 head purple cabbage, chopped

-15-20 grape tomatoes, sliced

-2-3 generous handfuls baby kale

-dash of low sodium soya sauce

-tempeh, cut into small cubes

-1/2 teaspoon coconut oil

An important thing to remember when making a stir-fry is timing: each vegetable cooks at a different rate, and to make the most of the nutrients as well as textures and flavours, we should be mindful of when we add which veggies to the mis. This way, none will be "overcooked" or "undercooked." 

In a large frying pan, melt the coconut oil on medium heat, then add the chopped yellow pepper. Let it brown slightly, stir, and wait about one more minute. Then add the broccoli, and stir. Wait three to four minutes, until the florets are bright green, and throw in the tomatoes and purple cabbage. When the purple cabbage looks just lightly wilted, sprinkle a bit of low sodium soya sauce over this whole mixture, and stir. Next, push all the veggies to the side, add just a touch more coconut oil to some exposed frying pan, and there, brown the tempeh cubes. They taste best if they're just a bit crispy, so don't stir them in until they've browned up for at least one minute, then flip, and brown the other side, as well. Last, mix everything together, and top with the baby kale, and mix. The kale doesn't need to be cooked, and actually, it will retain more of it's health benefits if it's warmed by the other veggies without being cooked itself. 

Tahini Lemon Vinaigrette 

Just right on this stir-fry, but great on salads, too...

-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

-1/3 cup lemon juice

-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

-2 tablespoons tahini

-sprinkle pink Himalayan crystal salt

-fresh ground black pepper

-1 teaspoon crushed ginger

In a glass jar, mix all these ingredients together. Voila! That easy...

I make it in a jar so it can be kept (don't know it's shelf life; I keep it in the fridge and usually use it within 3 weeks; it's never gone bad on me...) for re-use. If the oil separates, just make sure the lid is on tightly and shake it up. If you have a taste for spice, add some chillies, more pepper or a dash of hot sauce to kick it up a notch.

Berries and Coconut Whipped "Better-than-Cream"

Simple but Decadent...

-handful strawberries

-few blueberries

-coconut fat

-maple syrup or stevia or agave nectar

Remember for the quinoa, I said you can get the coconut water from a can of coconut milk? Well, here's what you can do with the solid coconut fat scraped off the top of the can! (Obviously, cans of coconut milk say to shake well before use, but you definitely do not want to shake it if, like me, you prefer to use the water for one dish and the cream for another.) Spoon the solid coconut fat into a bowl, add a little bit of sweetener, whisk until frothy, and voila! The easiest, creamiest, tastiest vegan version of whipped cream you'll ever have! 

One can of full-fat coconut milk has enough of this good stuff for about 6 (!) servings of cream about the size of the dollop in this picture above. Don't over-do it; healthy as it is, it's still a form of fat. It can be used on anything sweet- cakes, cookies, frozen desserts, bars, etc. Wondering what to put on vegan apple crumble or pumpkin pie? This is it!


(Beneath this thick creamy surface lies pure coconut water!)

Want a rich, buttery, spicy vegan spread for sandwiches, wraps or other savoury snacks? Instead of mixing in the sweetener, blend the fat from one can coconut milk with about a teaspoon of curry paste, a pinch of salt and some spices of your choice. It will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, and also makes a delicious dip for veggies or home-baked pita chips!

(Note: when buying a can of coconut milk, opt for organic!)

Enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Day: A Protester's Tale

Happy May Day, everyone! May this story inspire you to stand up for the Truth!



As I was lying there, tear gas stinging my eyes, body burning in the mid-July sun in Washington, and head pounding from the shots of rubber bullets, I knew it was over. It became clear, finally, in a burst of consciousness to which words would not do justice.

In my first memory, I was a middle aged man in the sixteenth century somewhere in the Southern United States. My family was rich, my clothing was stiff, expensive and tailored, and I was unable to shake the disapproving scowl from my face. The sharper my memory of this version of myself grew, the more ashamed I became. A distinct picture of my hand raised to beat a young black girl materialized. She couldn't have been a day over fourteen years, and trembled in fear. The vision faded and my awareness was brought back to the street.

Could I really have been a slave owner? The kind of racist person I've spent my life avoiding? No; impossible. It must have been a dream... my subconscious talking... maybe heat stroke.

Startled by what my mind's eye had just witnessed, I stumbled to my feet, only to be pushed back down.

"Stay down, punk! You're in enough trouble as it is!"

The police were all around, as I had expected. This was not my first major protest, and the pre-event hype assured at least a hundred of them decked out in riot gear. As I tried to explain my need to get out of the sun, I was silenced by the blow of a baton to the back of my head. I had no choice but to get down and do as I was told.

Then came my second memory flash: this time, the roles had been reversed, and I was the slave. It was obviously still the seventeen hundreds, although now the latter half. In my mind my flesh turned brown, darker than any I had seen before, badly burnt by the sun. My hands were calloused, my shoulders hunched from years of back-breaking manual labour. Without time to react, my hands were tied around a tree, and the sudden flick of a whip stunned me to the core as it sliced through the flesh on my back.

Of course, I knew why I was so abused; what goes around comes around, and if I hadn't mistreated the poor young girl, I would not have had to come back and experience the poverty, sorrow and pain I had inflicted on her.

Unaware of the stampede of protesters and police around me, I remained on the ground and presented to myself my third life. Looking down on my body, I realized that I was a large, scruffy man in leather boots, and a woollen plaid shirt. I was carrying a rifle, and tip-toeing through the woodlands of Canada. Before me, about a hundred yards, stood a beautiful, majestic, noble looking deer; the kind whose head could hang proudly, staring blankly through lifeless eyes, across a Western-themed hotel lobby. Shuddering, I knew what was about to happen, and didn't want to watch; didn't want to relive that moment I previously would never have imagined myself capable of living. But I did. I felt the muscles in what were once my arms tighten as I aligned with my living, breathing target, and pulled the trigger. A triumphant smile spread across that rugged face...

Without even a moment to process my sentiments about having killed a deer, I went on to experience a glimpse of my fourth life. Just as I had been a bigot and then a slave, the roles once again reversed, and now I became a deer. A doe, actually, and caring for my newborn fawn. I felt the serenity of maternal pride as I helped him take his first steps, with the love and patience welling up wordlessly within me. This fawn was my life, small, leggy and precious, and I knew that without me, he would never survive.

Then the unthinkable happened. Instantaneously, I heard the boom and saw a throng of birds lift hurriedly from the treetops... it took a moment before I understood why I was looking upwards. The bullet had struck me in the neck, blood was spilling out in copious amounts and every short breath I took in struggled to reach my lungs through my paralyzed body. Despite the excruciating pain, my mind was not on my own body, but on my fawn. He was not yet stable on his feet, and had been knocked over in the commotion when my legs buckled beneath me. I watched in helpless despair as he struggled to stand up again. Seeking comfort and protection, he stumbled to the side of his dying mother, and I yearned to be able to somehow express my love to him; to ask him to run away; to do for him what he needed done. Through the surging pain, all I managed to express was a whimper.

The hunter who had taken my life squealed stupidly and cried out, "I got her, Daddy! I can shoot!"The boy and his father trampled through the grass to reach me, and the boy pointed at my baby mockingly. "Hahaha, look at that! He can't even stand up! Should I kill 'im, too?"

That was the end, and as my doe eyes closed, my human eyes opened to take in the now-foreign sights of Washington once again.

I raised my head and immediately felt every orifice on my face burning with tear gas. I raised my arms to dry the streaming tears and cover my face, and when I lowered them again, I was a forty-something man sitting in fast food joint eating a burger. I listened in horror as my own beef-filled mouth sloppily bragged to a friend about the innovations in egg farming. "Now, we can keep over a thousand hens in a room no bigger than your shitter. The air is putrid in there, a course, but whatever... the egg collectors get ta wear masks and they don't hafta be in there long or nothin', just get in, grab the eggs, and get out, y'know? Hm... oh, no. There ain't no risk of getting pecked at. Ain't ya ever heard a de-beaking? When the chicks are still the size of fuzz balls we clip their beaks off like clipping finger nails; some of em never get to eat after that cause o' the infections and what not, but it's better an gettin sued by a pecked-bloody farm worker."

With a jolt, I was locked in a cage. My stomach was beyond rumbling as I hadn't been fed in days, and the water I had to drink was contaminated with dust, feathers and rotting food pellets that had spilled into it. My body was weak and sickly, feathers falling out due to malnourishment, head constantly throbbing with pain from the violent slicing off of my beak at birth; it felt like a sinus infection combined with repeated hammer-hits to the nose. Like so many of my other cell-mates, my beak had never recovered from de-beaking, and the smell and taste of pus had become my sickening permanent state; I gagged constantly from the repugnance of my own odour. The wire bars of the cage were so close together that my wings had never been spread; my head had never been lifted. Finally, though my unexercised muscles could not support my body's weight, I could no longer tolerate the urge to stretch; in a desperate attempt to break the cage, I stood tall, summoned all the strength I had to stretch my wings, lifted my head until the wire above it cut and sliced through the down to my skull. My neck snapped from this intense pressure, and so ended my life as a battery caged hen.

This was the last of my past-life flashbacks, and now my present life experiences flashed before my eyes. When I was four years old, I tried to watch Bambi, but ran from the room in tears. I felt an odd sense of oneness with the cartoon on the screen, and could never quite figure out why I empathized with all the main characters; not only the doe the fawn, but even the uncouth hunter.

In my early teen years, a new girl came to our school whose family had just immigrated from Ethiopia. Some of the other kids were afraid to talk to her, since her's was the first African-Canadian family to move to our not-so ethnically diverse town. Somehow, though, I knew from deep inside of me that skin colour and facial features are only surface, but the awareness in all of us is the same. She became my best friend.

Back to Washington. I was a nineteen year old activist taking part in the largest protest my generation had seen. We had gathered from all across North America to take a stand against the capitalist agenda that forces people to work in sweatshops overseas; the corporate agenda that gives more rights to plunderers of the world than to the world which is plundered; that forces animals to live in squalid conditions on factory farms to feed the gluttony of people never taught an alternative to gorging on death; the militaristic take over of other nations for their resources... our numbers were strong and our message was clear: we must destroy greed before greed destroys our planet.

Lying on the pavement, tear gas burning my body inside and out, for the first time in my life, I felt real peace within myself. I understood the meaning of life, and laughed at it's simplicity: the meaning of life is that all lives have meaning. We are here to live in love, to give the best of ourselves to others without causing harm to those with whom we share our beautiful world.

It had taken me seven lifetimes to realize something I would have known from the beginning if only I had been able to put myself into the other's shoes. Lying in the street of the Washington protest, I knew my last life was over and from here, there was no other body in which I would have to live. I was being killed in this protest; I was being set free. I felt no anger even against those whose corrupt means of business I was protesting, nor against the police officers who had gassed me, shot at me, beaten me; they would surely learn from their own experiences now and to come that we are all one. They were all bound to come to the same clarity I enjoyed as I breathed my last breath with a smile.

Everyone will.

***

Happy May Day! May 1st has been celebrated as a springtime holiday for generations, but now, it has also become synonymous with protest and breaking down the systems of corruption in the world. To commemorate the spirit of this day, I'm sharing with you a short story I wrote for English class when I was in high school. It was the first school project I really felt proud of, and it earned me my first "100%" mark. Thanks to the encouragement of my 11th grade teacher, I've continued to write for social change ever since. You might at times wonder why words like "karma," "reincarnation" and "enlightenment"aren't used, and the answer is simple- at the time that I wrote this, I was not yet familiar (consciously) with Hinduism or these Vedic concepts, but now that I know about such things as the trans-migration of the soul, and the fact that a being, once enlightened, is free from the karmic cycle and no longer needs to take another lifetime, it makes even more sense, and validates what I had felt all along. The "Advaitha" realization that "we are all one" which I wrote in this story, and held well into my adult life (inspiring even the title of this blog) really is the Ultimate. Have compassion even in your righteous anger; protest to instigate change, and remember that even those against whom you are protesting are on their own path's to conscious awareness that all life has meaning. I love you, and I wish you well on your quest to make right the wrongs in the world!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

EASY GREEN SMOOTHIE (Vegan Recipe of the Week)

As a way of sharing my enthusiasm for the cruelty-free lifestyle, I've decided to start a new weekly blog segment here, in which you'll find my favourite Vegan recipes with easy-to-follow instructions and pictures!

You've probably already heard that green smoothies are one of the healthiest, most easily digestible, vitamin-filled energy sources for your body. I, personally, start every day with a blender of green smoothie for brunch! (Breakfast and lunch put together.) So many health experts and dieticians recommend including these in your diet that really, anything I have to say about them will only be a repetition of all the great facts already out there. Even still, since the care for your physical form is of vital importance not only for your body's health, but also for your mental clarity and spiritual joy, (remember- the body through which you express yourself is the interface through which you experience life and the way you treat your body directly affects the experiences you gain!) I'll repeat a few of those benefits before getting to the good stuff.

-By "drinking your greens" the nutrients and vitamins are more easily digested and converted into energy than they would be if eaten solidly as salad

-It's faster and easier to drink a smoothie than to eat the equivalent amount of fruit and veg, so this is a perfect meal for those who lead busy lives. (Remember: a smoothie is not just a drink; it's a meal!)

-Children love smoothies! If you have a picky little eater, a cold, sweet, fruity smoothie (in which spinach, spirulina, wheatgrass juice, cucumber and other veggies have been cleverly hidden) is a sure way to make sure he or she is getting enough healthy stuff.

-Believe it or not, even some vegans don't get enough veg in their diets! That's because many vegans go vegan just for animal rights reasons without necessarily caring about their health, thus, they wind up eating a lot of processed, grain-based, snacks foods. (Like instant noodles, crackers, breads and baked goods, pasta, etc.) Going vegan for the animals is great! But- you can be of more use to the animals if you're healthy and fit! So, if you're a "potato chip vegan," make sure to give your body a break. Eat less processed junk food, and treat your physical form to more nutritionally rich treats.

-Smoothies are affordable! Since a smoothie can be made with whatever ingredients you choose to put into it, the cost will be as much or as little as your food budget affords. If mixed frozen berries, spirulina powder and Vega protein mix are out of your budget, you can use whatever seasonal fruits are available at a low cost (or pick your own when you can!) and simply freeze them yourself. Soy flour is much cheaper than protein powder, but still contains a high protein count. (If you go this route, pick a non-GMO soy flower, and use it in moderation; it's not for every day, but only the days when you'll be eating less protein.)

-Smoothies give you energy without weighing you down! If you have an active day ahead, (going for a long hike or picnic, or running errands without much time for a break,) make a smoothie in the morning, pour it into a travel cooler or thermos and enjoy a refreshing, portable, energy-boosting treat throughout the day.

Now, for the recipe:

What you'll need:
-a blender
-fruit
-liquid
-greens
-protein powder (optional)
-green powder (optional)

First, the blender! Many smoothie-advocates recommend getting a top of the line, expensive model, but for me, this low-end ($25 on sale!) works perfectly- crushes ice, blends fruit, gives good consistency.)


First, as a base, pour some liquid into the blender. Be sure to always add liquid first, or else the frozen fruit and veggies will not blend, and that can dull your blender blades. I'm using a store bought green juice that contains wheatgrass, alfalfa, cucumber, plus some fruit juices for sweetening. You can use any kind of juice or non-dairy milk as the smoothie base- try soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, etc. Keep in mind that the flavour of the juice should complement the other ingredients you put in! If you're using berries and vanilla flavoured protein powder, don't use a tomato-based juice, but sometime mild like almond milk! If you're putting in only salad greens and veggies, then by all means, use a tomato juice, carrot juice, or pure green juice. (Pure meaning, no or little sweet fruit.)


After the liquid, add your spirulina powder, or whatever other "green powder" you may pick. It's best to add it before other ingredients so it has a chance to blend in nicely, and not clump. Spirulina is a super food, and has been praised by the UN for it's perfect blend of nutrients. If you only have one superfood added to your ordinary diet, spirulina is a good choice, since it's packed with essential amino acids, vitamins and nutrients. It's a pure micro-sized plant, and full of green energy! A teaspoon is enough- this stuff has an intense flavour, and you don't want it to overpower the other ingredients.





Next, add your greens! I like to put in a lot of spinach. When making your green smoothie with a lot of fruit, spinach is the ideal salad vegetable because it blends smoothly and hardly changes the flavour of the drink at all. You can add as much or as little as you choose; notice, I like a lot! This is what makes the smoothie a "meal;" like drinking a salad!



Because the leaves are lighter in weight than the fruit, it's important to put them in first so the fruit can push them down towards the blades. This saves you from the trouble of later scraping down the sides of the blender. 

Next, add your fruit! I've gone with a cup of frozen mixed berries, but you can also use apple slices, kiwi, mango, melon, orange, papaya, pineapple, starfruit... anything! If you have a sweet tooth, including a slightly-brown skinned banana will give the smoothie an added sweetness and also a smooth, creamy texture, as well as add some starchiness, which is good if you're very active.



Now for the protein powder! I really like "Vega" brand, since it was created by a vegan athlete, and never has sugar, animal products or artificial chemicals added. The vanilla flavour complements this fruit and spinach blend really nicely. I've found the chocolate (!) Vega protein powder goes well with soy milk, one banana, and a cup of frozen blueberries. If you're using chocolate, skip the spinach and spirulina, because somehow they combine to form an unfortunately cheesy taste... You can also find flavourless powders, like hemp protein, soy protein, or chia protein. If you don't have any kind of protein powder, you can add a scoop of plain chia seeds, or even pre-cooked (and cooled) quinoa. 



To get all the powder dissolved, and to aid the blender in it's mixing process, I add a cup of (filtered!) water. You can also add a non-dairy "milk" or more of your juice if you like a stronger flavour.


Now you're ready to blend it all up! Choose a "liquify" setting, not a "chop" setting, or, if you have a blender like the one pictured, opt for "dispense" setting, as that gets all the lumps out!



You'll notice that even after so much spinach, green juice and spirulina has been added, the colour still comes out nice a pinkish-red. If you're making this for children (or grown ups) who have a prejudice against drinking green things, pick really intensely pigmented fruits, like blackberries and raspberries, and add just a little bit of beet juice or pomegranate juice for more colour. Cheers!

Monday, April 21, 2014

You're Invited to my Sattvic VEGAN Easter Dinner!

This is my first EVER "food blog." I've been a strict vegetarian from childhood, and a vegan from my early teen years on, but for me, the choice to "go veg" was always based on the well-being of animals, not the diet angle. Only in recent years, since I've discovered yoga, ayurveda, and the Vedic lifestyle, I've come to appreciate the myriad health benefits that come along with my ideal animal-friendly diet. In fact, it's not just a diet for me, but my passion! I'm passionate about the elevation veganism gives to health, the environmental benefits from the reduction on world resources, and especially, the right animals have to live their lives. If you're vegan, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean...

But what to do during holidays, when the celebration goes against the vegan way of life?

Easter represents the rise of Good over Evil; the triumph of Life over Death; the greatness of Compassion in a world full of suffering.

And yet, somehow, the way people celebrate Easter completely contradicts the joy and love spiritual celebrations are meant to engender for us. The "Chocolate Bunnies" now synonymous with the season are made with milk cruelly taken from cows who are raised in brutal captivity, whose calves are ripped away from them prematurely and killed for veal, and whose own bodies are turned into burger as soon as the milk stops flowing. The eggs people colour with their children are no less tainted than the milk in their chocolate counter-parts; the egg industry employs some of the most brutal practices known to modern farming, including battery cages, "debeaking" and the careless disposal of live baby chicks. Besides these sad "ingredients," Easter Sunday Dinner is often ham, (dead abused pig meat,) turkey, (dead abused turkey meat,) or the meat of some other horrendously killed animal.

As a vegan, it can be difficult to enjoy holidays because wherever we look, we are reminded of the pain and suffering experienced by our animal friends. Just seeing how many people teach their children to celebrate by eating sweets made of suffering is very sad; smelling the dead flesh of a once-living creature is sad; pretending not be offended at a social gathering where you might have to "pass a plate" feels like living a lie.

Of course, I don't want to depress you, my dear reader- I don't want to make you feel bad about this, or any, holiday, nor to "guilt" you if you haven't gone veg yet.

Instead, I want to offer you a solution:

Next time your family is getting ready for a holiday, offer to host the dinner! Not only will this make the feast guilt-free and enjoyable for you, but also, it will be a very special gift of nutritious and delicious veggie fare for those you love.

On that note, I'll get to the good stuff: our Menu and my Recipes!


                                                                  On the Menu:

-Jasmine Green Tea

-Spinach Salad with Super Green Goddess Dressing 

-Baked Ginger Tofu Strips 

-Super Rice

-Mixed Vegetable Curry

-Heart's Choices "Kung Pao vegan faux Chicken" 

-Coconut Lemon Bar

                                                                  Jasmine Green Tea

Boil (pure, fluoride free!) water, and pour over jasmine green tea. Let steep three to five minutes, and serve hot.

                                            Spinach Salad with Super Green Goddess Dressing

The Salad:

-Organic Baby Spinach Leaves
-Olives
-Sunflower Seeds
-Balsamic Reduction (also called "Creme Basilica," thickened vinegar)

The Dressing:

-1 Avocado
-1 teaspoon Spirulina powder
-2 tablespoons fresh dill, or 1 tablespoon dried dill
-1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink crystal salt
-juice of 1 lemon (or 2/3 tablespoon lemon juice)
-2 tablespoons tahini
-dash extra virgin olive oil

(Green Goddess dressing was first invented in a high end hotel resort, but the original is neither healthy nor compassionate; it's full of mayonnaise... My variation is "super" because it includes the superfood Spirulina with other wonderfully flavourful raw vegan ingredients... delicious and healthy!)

This salad is extremely easy: just put the spinach in a bowl, and serve the balsamic reduction, seeds and olives on the side so your guests can customize their greens. Spinach is a superfood in it's own right, and makes a substantial salad, but of course, you can add any fresh vegetable you like to make it even tastier- sliced red pepper, cucumber, grated carrot, beet root, broccoli, whatever!

The dressing is also extremely easy! In a small mixing bowl, mash the avocado with a fork. Once it's really creamy, whisk in the tahini and olive oil, then add all the dry ingredients, stirring to prevent any clumps. As it is, the dressing is very thick, and makes a great sandwich spread, or dip for veggie sticks. 

If you prefer a runnier dressing, you can make this into a green-goddessey-vinaigrette. Instead of mashing the ingredients with a fork, mix them in a blender or food processor, along with about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. For a lower far version, use just a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and 2 tablespoons (unsweetened!) non-dairy milk, like soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk, etc.

                                                          Baked Ginger Tofu Strips

These are always a crowd-pleaser! You can throw them into a stir-fry, add them to a sandwich or wrap, or munch on them just the way they are.

-1 package extra firm, organic, non-GMO tofu
-soy sauce
-minced ginger
-coconut oil

(The night before...) Slice tofu into strips; they should be thicker than matchsticks but thinner than baby carrots. Spread them out on a baking sheet that has been very lightly greased with coconut oil. Drizzle soy sauce over the whole batch, then smear each piece with minced ginger. I use about 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons minced ginger, but you may prefer more or less depending on how salty and spicy you like your food.

(The day of...) Bake at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes, then broil the tops for one minute, until crispy.

                                                                 Super Rice

Easy to make, this protein-rich grain medley is a perfect side dish for any curry, vegetable stew, stir-fry or sauce.

-1 cup brown rice
-1/2 cup quinoa
-1/2 cup chia seeds
-water
-dash Himalayan pink crystal salt
-1 teaspoon extra virgin coconut oil

This recipe is adaptable, and can be made with various ratios of the three grains. How you prepare it depends on the particular kind of rice you buy. Some rice requires more water, some less, so I've left the water measurement ambiguous. 

First, read your rice and quinoa packages to find out how much water to use, then, add the water for both into one pot, and bring to a boil. Add salt, coconut oil, rice and quinoa, reduce the heat to Low, and cover. In a small bowl, soak the chia seeds in 2 tablespoons water. Once the rice and quinoa are fully cooked and all water is absorbed, remove from heat. Strain the the chia seeds if they haven't absorbed all their water, then stir into the rice mix. 

Variation: for a rich, flavourful treat, substitute coconut water instead of water, and add a half cup shredded, dry, unsweetened coconut instead of chia seeds. No need to soak the coconut or add more water, just stir it in when rice is fully cooked and it will soften by itself.

                                                         Mixed Vegetable Curry

-10-15 miniature red potatoes, cut into fourths
-1/2 head cauliflower, chopped
-1 large zuccini, cut into rounds, then cut the rounds each in half
-2 medium tomatoes, chopped, or two handfuls cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
-2 large carrots, cut into rounds
-2/3 tablespoon turmeric
-curry paste (measure to your liking and pick one you enjoy; my favourite for flavour is "Madras Curry" but it contains some garlic and onions, which the Sattvic diet recommends only to take medicinally, and for a batch of this size, I usually use 3-4 heaping tablespoons! Spicy! If you don't have access to curry paste, substitute curry spice mix powder, adding one tablespoon at a time, and tasting before adding more.)
-two cups (or 1 can) coconut milk (make sure to buy organic, and if, like me, you live somewhere that only sells this good stuff in a can, check the label to make sure it's "BPA Free")
-fresh herbs
-1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink crystal salt
-two cups chickpeas (garbonzo beans/ channa) pre-cooked

Boil the potatoes until "almost cooked," then strain. In a large pot, add the coconut milk, turmeric and curry, stirring until fully blended. Add the cauliflower, carrots and mostly-cooked potatoes, stir, cover, and let sit on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender but not soft; about fifteen minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and add the chickpeas, as well as the herbs, (basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro are all lovely in a curry; experiment and see what you enjoy,) salt and any other spices you're tempted to throw in. Let sit on low hear stirring occasionally, for at least one hour. This will soften the vegetables, and allow the flavours to really blend and absorb. Enjoy!

                                       Heart's Choices Kung Pow VEGAN faux-Chicken

This is the only thing on my dinner menu that can't really be called "health food," since it's pre-packaged, not particularly high in protein or vitamins... but as a rare treat, and on a special occasion, it sure is tasty! Heart's Choices is a Calgary based company that specializes in Thai vegetarian and vegan food. They import these Kung Pao treats, which are made by strict vegetarian Buddhist monks in Thailand! If you're in Calgary, check them out at the Farmer's Market.

Literally, just open the package, and heat in a frying pan on medium until fully hot.

                                                       Coconut Lemon Bars

After having something similar to these at an amazing little vegan restaurant earlier this year, I decided to challenge myself to re-create the treats at home. These are easy to make, sugar free, and delicious! My new favourite raw vegan dessert! Enjoy!

Base:

-6-8 soft, pitted Medjool dates
-handful raw pecans
-small handful cashews
-large handful raw rolled oats
-small handful shredded dry coconut
-zest from one lemon (make sure to buy organic, and wash before zesting)

Topping:

-1 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted
-3 tablespoons coconut cream
-3-4 tablespoons pure maple syrop
-juice from three lemons (or 3 tablespoons lemon juice)

Garnish:

-dollop coconut cream (sweetened by stirring in maple syrup or agave nectar)
-sprinkle of shredded coconut and lemon zest
-raspberries

In a food processor, blend together all the "base" ingredients until the nuts are crushed, oats are blended and the mixture holds together like a thick cookie dough. If too dry, add another date, or a few drops of water. If (like me!) you don't have a food processor, with a little patience and hard work (much scraping down and restarting) you can make this base in a bowl with a hand-mixer.

In a double boiler, (or a tempered glass bowl nestled over a pot of boiled water) melt the coconut oil until fully liquified. Once liquified, add the coconut cream, maple syrup and lemon juice, and stir until well mixed.

Spread the base layer evenly in a small cake pan, lightly greased with coconut oil. Make sure to cover the entire bottom of the pan, then pour the filling over top. Leave it in the fridge overnight (or at least for a few hours) so the top layer solidifies. When you're ready to serve, flip the pan over into your hand, and be ready to flip it over again onto a cutting board. It's slick, so it slips right out of the pan very easily! Cut into squares, (not too big, as it's very rich!) plate, garnish and serve. These are really tasty!

Enjoy!

                                                                      Note: 

You'll notice these recipes don't give precise measurements, cooking times or too-picky directions. That's because I cook more intuitively than methodically. Please feel free to customize, and make these dishes your own!

The meal includes all different flavours, colours and textures, making for a complete culinary experience, as outlined in the recommendations of a Sattvic Diet. The curry is spicy, the rice is mild, the salad dressing is pleasantly bitter, the olives are salty, the balsamic vinegar is tangy, and the lemon bars are sweet and sour. When we eat foods of all different flavours and textures, we stimulate every part of our palate, and this creates balance in life. Many of the ingredients used are labelled as "Super Foods" by modern nutritionists, including coconut oil, which is the perfect cooking oil as it's nutritional benefits don't diminish when it's heated; spinach, which is rich in calcium and vitamins; Spirulina, which is a powerhouse of vegan nutrition, rich in calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins... even B 12!; chia seeds and quinoa, which are both higher in protein than other more conventional grain options, and more. Since more than half the foods are raw (the salad, including the avocado dressing and sunflower seeds, as well as all the ingredients in the dessert,) the nutrients are easily digestible, and fully usable by the body.

 If you're thinking of going vegan, or if you're already vegan but looking to revamp your diet to make it more healthy, the rule of thumb is this: make sure each meal includes a protein, (here, the garbanzo beans, tofu and "Super Rice" are all great sources of protein,) vegetable and grain, and throughout the day, fill up on fresh fruits and veggies instead of packaged goods like crackers and pre-cooked packaged dinners. 

Compassionate food is nourishing for your body, mind and spirit; so try this out, share it, and enjoy!

So, here's how it all came together:

                                                                          The salad:

The Super Green Goddess Dressing:


The curry:
(Pardon the blur- it's an action shot, lol.)

The Kung Pao:

A finished Plate:
                                     
                                            (Note: you can see the super rice on the right!)

And... best for last... the dessert!

(And this one above, specially made for my diabetic auntie- with more oats and fewer dates in the base, liquid stevia instead of maple syrup in the topping, and all measured for proper diabetes-friendly portion control!)

If you try these yourself (which I recommend you do!) let me know how the recipes have worked for you in the comments! And, if you have a go-to vegan recipe you'd like to share, please do!