Sunday, February 14, 2010

Switching Things Up

I decided to secure my own domain name and move my blog over to WordPress. If you followed me on this blog, or even if you only checked in every so often, I hope you'll consider subscribing to the posts on my new site, Essential Elements at

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Plum Vintage Jewelry Company Owner Dishes on Inspiration and Her Business

I'm introducing a new feature on my blog: Q&A's with creative types who are doing something interesting and unique that deserves attention. Cara Rosaen, Ann Arbor resident and owner of a handcrafted vintage button jewelry company called Sweet Plum Vintage, kindly agreed to let me feature her first.

**Note to readers: Cara is graciously offering 25% off your first Sweet Plum Vintage purchase. Mention that you read this post in the comments section of the checkout and you'll be refunded 25%. Ladies - it's a good excuse for a Valentine's Day purchase for yourself!

Now, on to the questions...

Your jewelry made from vintage buttons is so creative and artsy. How did you decide to focus solely on vintage buttons?

It just kind of happened. I'm not sure if I found the buttons, or the buttons found me. I am obsessed with estate sales and thrift shops, and one day I came across a bag of circa 1950's black and silver iridescent glass buttons. I had never seen anything like them and knew I had to make something out of them! I started tinkering around. Tinkering turned into late nights and early mornings playing with wire, glue, beads and other little pieces of vintage ephemera.

I also know that I was turned onto buttons because I love heirlooms. I love that certain things remind people of people they love, or of fond memories, or inspire them in some way. I come from a long line of keepsake collectors. My Gram, for instance, puts little notes with her things that say who gave her a keepsake and when. This sentimentality, the meaning behind certain objects, is what inspires the heart of my business, heirloom button jewelry collections. I hope the bulk of my business turns into the co-design and creation of heirloom collections. That is where I am heading.

Have you always made jewelry? Was there a point in your life where you knew you were destined for jewelry making?

Definitely not. I was a complete beginner. I continue to take classes and courses on metalsmithing, casting and new beading techniques. I certainly never thought I was destined for jewelry. I am really calm when I am making jewelry. It sits right with me, and after years of heading down different career paths, it felt good to find something that just felt right.

What motivates/inspires you? It can be a person, Web site, TV show, musician...anything!

1) The natural environment, with all of its organic, textural, awe-inspiring beauty.

2) The vintage pieces themselves: the buttons, old ribbon, old pieces of costume jewelry, watch parts, old buckles, old board game pieces....anything I think could be turned into jewelry.

3) Folk music: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Nanci Griffith, Alison Krauss, Taj Mahal...any of these people can transport me into a place where my heart sings and creativity can flow.

4) Other artists! Some of my most recent obsessions include:

BroadStreet :

An embroidered wood grain clock:

Kathi Roussel jewelry:

Maria's Crochet Shop:

Small Things Designs:

5) FOOD! You may notice that many of the names of my pieces are named after food, mostly desserts.

Did you have a career before jewelry making? If so, what made you stroll down this new path?

I spent seven or eight years prepping to become a psychotherapist. I got my undergraduate degree in "Holistic and Atomistic Approaches to Health" (a degree that I designed) and then worked as a research assistant studying meditation and its social emotional effects on teenagers. I continued my studies in a graduate degree program for Marriage and Family Therapy and was seeing clients for about a year when I totally burned out. I realized very quickly that this work touched me in a way that was too raw to continue with for the rest of my life. So, on the verge of having my MFT Master's Degree, I decided to change directions with my life. I quit graduate school and started an online book-selling business, Bookin' Good, to fill my time while I tried to gather my strength again and search for something that spoke to my soul. During this time, I was going to a lot of estate sales, looking for books (which I was never much interested in) and found I really just wanted to be looking at the jewelry. I found some buttons and Sweet Plum Vintage was born.

Writers have writers' block. Is there such a thing as artists' block? If so, how do you conquer it?

Totally. My work offers me the wonderful challenge of having to create something new each time I sit down. Every piece I make is one of a kind, so I have to essentially start from a blank slate each time I want to create a new piece.

I'm convinced artists' block is so often caused by entanglement with the ego, in fear that people won't like my stuff, or that the piece I make in honor of some family member won't be good enough. When I let go of my ego and have the courage to let go of my fear and doubt, the ideas and passion flow again.

I would also add that I get "entrepreneur's block", which I describe as a general state of overload. Owning your own business requires you to wear many hats, and I often feel I am not getting anything done, because I'm thinking about too many things at the same time. The most effective thing for this that I have found is meditation to bring you back to the present moment, and writing things down, so that they aren't swimming in your head.

Do you have any "must read" books, blogs or Web sites for others pursuing a similar career?


"The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight

"Craft, Inc: Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business" by Meg Mateo Ilasco

Currently reading: "The E-Myth" by Michael E. Gerber (I've been told it is a must read for any small business owner!)

Favorite Blogs/Websites:

"Apartment Therapy"

"Creative Kismet"


"The Storque"

I love the name "Sweet Plum Vintage". Is there a special meaning behind it?

I used to live in California with my husband in a pretty magical neighborhood on top of a hill in a little red house. We lived in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountain surrounded by majestic redwoods, soaring red-tailed hawks, grazing deer, acorn woodpeckers and all kinds of fruit trees. I was struggling to find a name that really resonated with me, and one day as I was looking out our big front window, I saw our beautiful plum tree that every year produced hundreds of sweet, juicy plums. At that moment, Sweet Plum Vintage was born. I thought it worked well, as a playful name that references nature as well as vintage materials, pointing to the fact that my work is made from almost exclusively eco-friendly, vintage materials.

What advice do you have for other creative types?

Trust that you have something special to add in this life.

While you may not want to think about the money aspect of a business, don't be afraid to do it. Think about how much money you would like to make a year, and work backwards to determine what you would need to make a month and how you are going to do it.

Don't forget to laugh along the way.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Word-Up! Talking Trashing For Kids and Dictionaries

Engaging in good-natured trash talking can be fun, right? Add to that a 70’s-themed tennis tournament (complete with a disco ball) that will benefit The Dictionary Project I’m supporting, and you’ve got Word-Up (Facebook event page).

On Saturday, February 27th, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., area bloggers and social-media enthusiasts will step out from behind the safety of their monitors and iPhones to face off at the Birmingham Racquet Club.

For a group of Detroiters accustomed to scrapping out turf in the cyber world by skillfully lobbing poignant barbs, placing the perfect spin on headlines and relying on the fastest servers, the opportunity to see who rises to the top in a face-to-face battle of good ole' fashion trash talk was too much to resist.

All proceeds from the event will go to The Dictionary Project to help complete the mission of putting a dictionary in the hands of 25% of Oakland County School District's 3rd graders by March 25.

You can play, attend, support or sponsor Word-Up. You may as well, cuz if you don't, we'll just talk trash about you anyway. ;)

So how will the tournament work?

Each court will play doubles for 20 minutes, then rotate up the river/down the river style and record the amount of games they won.

At the end of the two hours, we will add up all of the game totals and the players with the highest scores (winners can be on any court) will win a prize…or some trash talk from the non-winners!

The theme is stylish 70's athletic wear (not required, but strongly encouraged). A prize will be awarded for best costume, so the more creative and eccentric, the better!

Tennis and spectator spots are limited and on a first come, first serve basis.

Ticket types include:

Racquet-Wielding Word Warrior (aka tennis player) $20

Sideline Mudslinger (aka onlooker) $10

Benevolent Benefactor $30 (aka gets you in the door as a sideline mudslinger + a shiny pin that lets everyone know you're a high-roller)

Anonymous Benefactor (aka you're above attending plebeian events, but would like to contribute to the cause)

An after party location will be announced during the event.

Feel free to RSVP on the Facebook page, but your spot isn’t confirmed until you register on the Eventbrite page -

I realize tennis isn’t for everyone, but I sincerely hope you consider coming to the event if you live in metro Detroit, at least for the sheer amusement of wannabe tennis players running around in 70’s outfits and talking trash for kids! Let's have some fun, raise some cash and make a bunch of third graders happy by giving them new dictionaries.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Photowalks Detroit Proves There's a Photographer in Everyone

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs. ~Ansel Adams

This weekend I participated in the second Photowalks Detroit (Facebook page) event hosted at The Henry Ford Museum. I was hesitant at first to attend because I'm not a professional photographer and I only have a simple point and shoot camera. I thought my photos would look very amateur compared to others' photos. Some of the people who attended the first photowalk in Royal Oak promised that it wasn't necessary to have a fancy camera. They also reminded me that if the person behind the camera has a creative eye, then the photos will turn out great. I had nothing to lose by joining the group on their museum adventure.

I believe it's important to explore paths outside of your comfort zone every so often because you'll always take away something beneficial from the experience. The Henry Ford photowalk was an excellent experiment in creativity. What I lacked in camera technology I attempted to make up for in the angles at which I took the photos. It was fun to play photographer for a few hours and bond in real life with friends who I initially connected with online.

Check out the stream of photowalk tweets and the Flickr group. My photos are tagged as EstrellaBella10. Thanks a million to Becks Davis and Dave Peckens for organizing a great event!

If you live outside the metro Detroit area, I highly recommend forming a similar group, or doing some research to see if one already exists.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Interview With Creative Cosmetics Queen Bobbi Brown

I read an interview with Bobbi Brown (the makeup artist) in today's New York Times and thought her answers were very intriguing and a good way.

The first part of the interview focused on what Bobbi looks for in an employee and her hiring process. Two of her answers stood out to me:
  • When talking about what qualities she looks for in an employee, Bobbi mentions the ability to communicate. As someone who works in a creative industry, I can relate to what Bobbi said. "Communicating. To me, this is probably the biggest thing. If it’s the right person, I can barely speak and they understand what I’m saying. But if it’s not the right person, they have trouble understanding, because creative people are not like other people. Any other creative C.E.O. will understand what I’m talking about."
  • The interviewer asked Bobbi if she could only choose two questions to ask in an interview, what would they be? One of her responses was "what do you love"? All too often, interviews focus too heavily on the job and not enough on the person. It's important to mix in personal questions like "who do you admire/look up to", "what are your passions?", "what do you enjoy doing in your spare time" to learn more about who the person REALLY is.
You can read the rest of the interview titled "High Heels? They Just Don't Fit" here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dictionaries Needed for Hazel Park School District

Want to help me give dictionaries to third graders in the Hazel Park School District? Click on the widget to the right!

Trust me, I know everyone is overwhelmed with "please donate" requests. This is a particularly hard time because of the recent disaster in Haiti. Even if you can only spare $5, know that every little bit counts!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dictionaries Bring Happiness to Third Graders in Ferndale School District

This past Wednesday, 58 third graders at John F. Kennedy School received new dictionaries thanks to the dictionary project I'm participating in with local bloggers, and Operation: Kid Equip. The whole team (Jen Wright, Becks Davis, Lauren Weber, Erin Rose and Menachem Kniespeck) was there to witness the kids beam from ear to ear when we put the dictionaries in their hands.

The kids showed their appreciation with plenty of "thank yous" and hugs. The principal called on a few students and asked them to share how they were feeling. Answers ranged from "special and loved" to "very happy and excited." A few of the third graders asked us questions about the dictionaries and our personal blogs. I was impressed that the kids knew what a blog is!

You can read more about the distribution and the dictionary project in this article in The Oakland Press. Becks Davis has more photos on her Flickr page.

I want to touch on something brought up in the comments in The Oakland Press article. A commenter expressed her discontent over Oakland County schools receiving the dictionaries because (1) it's one of the wealthiest counties in the nation and (2) the article has quotes referencing how we're helping "Detroit" (it's a known fact that people here frequently use "Detroit" to refer to southeast MI, and some native Detroiters are bothered by this).

Menachem did a great job of setting the record straight in his comment. Oakland County may have been named one of the richest counties in the nation at one point, but many people don't realize that more than 50,000 students in Oakland County are on the free and reduced lunch program. Third graders in the Hazel Park School District are next up on the list to receive free dictionaries. More than 70 percent of those students receive free or reduced lunches. These statistics and others prove that poverty in Oakland County is no longer specific to the cities traditionally labeled as poor. You can find more info at on the Operation: Kid Equip site.

At the end of the day, all that really matters is the dictionary donations make students feel happy, cared for and loved. We don't know which ones belong to families who are struggling financially. We can only hope that this project will give the students more insight into the importance of knowing how to read and write well.

We still have a ways to go to reach our goal of giving dictionaries to roughly 2,700 third graders in Oakland County. With your continued support, we can make it happen. Donation details are included in my previous post, but ping me if you need more info. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Three Lessons on Success from Lady Gaga

Last night I became a Lady Gaga fan. Or, in Gaga's words, I'm now one of her "little monsters". I was teeter tottering on the edge of being a fan until I saw Lady Gaga in concert. Check out this Detroit Free Press review for more concert details.

The concert got me thinking about how Lady Gaga rose to stardom so quickly. I wrote before about the beauty of simplicity, but Lady Gaga is a perfect example of how doing exactly the opposite can work to your benefit when you're doing what you love.

When you break down her star power, it becomes obvious that she can teach us all a few things about finding success.

1. Be unique. This may seem like a "captain obvious" suggestion, but I bet you can name more than a handful of people who are trying to carve out their own pathway to success by directly copying off others. She may be an exotic blend of Madonna, Marilyn Manson and David Bowie, but she's done an awesome job of differentiating herself among these and other music moguls.

2. Be better than your competition. Britney Spears was previously the queen of pop/dance music and high energy concerts. Lady Gaga has dethroned her. I've never seen Britney in concert, but I do know she doesn't sing live. Lady Gaga sang her entire set live, bounced around the stage in choreographed dance numbers, played the piano (sometimes while standing on the bench) AND sounded amazing. The best way to beat out your competition is to show the world why you deserve to be on top. Lady Gaga has raw vocal talent, and sadly, that can't be said for everyone else who sings pop music.

3. Be real and sincere. Lady Gaga's show was supposed to be at a different venue, then it randomly got switched. A lot of people's tickets (including ours) got messed up in the process. Lady Gaga apologized for the venue swap during one of her chats with the audience. Unexpected, but very much appreciated. Her sincerity came out several more times during the show as she talked to the crowd about finding fame and what her fans mean to her.

You know she's real because her songs have meaning and tell interesting stories woven with love, pain, insecurities and fear. (she also writes her own songs). Lady Gaga made it very obvious that she's no southern belle. Nor is she trying to be. Love her or hate her, what you see is what you get.

You can take these lessons and apply them to any individual, company, brand, product, service, etc. Throw in some hardcore passion and perseverance with the above suggestions and you've got a nice recipe for success.

If you're ga-ga for Gaga and have learned anything from this 23-year-old mega star, please share!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Test Shows You How Creatively You Think

Creativity is a very in-demand skill...and not only for the design and communication industries. Creativity can be applied to any job in any industry. There are always ways to improve products and services. Workers who think creatively are needed to help a business operate successfully.

I write a lot about creativity on this blog (hence the title), so I was interested when I saw a link on Twitter to a test that shows you how creatively you think. Hat tip to @joshlinkner for sharing this test from the Flanders DC site.

The results of this test are divided into two sections - your personal score on the creativity index and innovation in your work environment. An explanation of the results is also provided. I found the results to be very in line with my personality and my work environment. My only complaint about the test is the five possible answers:

1this is not at all typical of me
2this is not really typical of me
3this is more or less typical of me
4this is pretty typical of me
5this is completely typical of me
I found it difficult to choose between some of the answers that are closely related, such as "not at all typical" and "not really typical". Regardless, the results were very accurate and I think this is an interesting test. Give it a shot and see if you get the results you expected.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Some Thoughts on Goals as We Ring in the New Year

Happy New Years Eve! It's hard to believe, but we're on the brink of not only a new year, but a new decade. It's tradition to make resolutions that we (hopefully) will follow through on in the new year. I've set some solid goals for myself in 2010 that include redesigning this blog (same content, but with a new blog platform and fresh look) and continuing to take part in initiatives that better my community (like the dictionary project I'm helping with).

We're pressured to make wise resolutions, and we're also bombarded with predictions and suggestions on how to make 2010 the "best year ever". Don't worry, I'll spare you another "Top 10 Ways to Make 2010 Rock" post. I do want to share this CNN Health article, "10 ways to get motivated for change in 2010" because it's one of the better lists I came across.

Many people don't accomplish goals they set for the new year because those goals aren't realistic. According to the article, experts say it's important to be realistic, specific and accountable when determining what you plan to achieve in the future. This article struck a chord with me because it hones in on how to successfully make positive changes in the coming year.

The article covers this point, but to set actionable goals (for yourself in this instance, but this also applies to any clients you work with) you have to truly understand the source. Don't choose a goal that everyone else has on their list simply to follow suit. Set a goal that really aligns with your personality.

Perfect example: I was determined to love running this year. I forced myself to get in the mindset that hating running was a thing of the past, and I would embrace it as my new favorite form of cardio. I stuck with it for quite awhile this year, but finally I took a step back and accepted that running just isn't my thing. I tweaked my goal of doing some form of cardio on a regular basis by replacing running with two much more enjoyable cardio machines at my gym.

Whatever 2010 goals you choose, I sincerely hope you continue doing the things that you love and find ways to spread happiness to others!