a real good giveaway (anthro, raybans + more!)

Some people don't like getting older, but Blair (over at Wild & Precious) sure does and this lovely group of Blair's blogging buddies and I have teamed up to throw her a big birthday giveaway celebration in honor of her 30th birthday tomorrow!

I have never met Blair in person but in the age of the Internet it doesn't matter; she's just one of those people that I feel instantly connected to in that weird web way. (Bloggers, you get that right?) She's fabulous with a great sense of style and beautiful writing style. And she definitely has good taste in giveaways...

Our birthday girl: Blair / Wild & Precious
The Hosts:  Erika / Rouge + Whimsy  ..  Kacia / Coconut Robot  ..  Jessi / Suzie Studios
Moriah / Moriah Sunde  ..  Sandy / Sandy a la Mode  ..  Lindsy / LMR Photos  ..  Kara Kae / the Mom Diggity

The Prizes: Winner's Choice of Ray-Bans from sunglassesshop.com, $50 gift certificate to heels.com, $50 gift certificate to Conversation Pieces, $40 Anthropologie gift certificate, a fashionABLE scarf, brown panama hat from Gypsy Threads, $30 gift certificate to rouge + whimsy, and a boho head wrap from Suzie Studios! -- that's a loot over $375!!

Enter using the rafflecopter widget below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

good luck + happy friday!

Also, if you happen to win, can I suggest buying the "Erika" shades from Ray-Ban? It's like they were named for me...

xo, erika


asparagus oyster sauce stir fry

When I first started playing around with Asian recipes, I noticed that a lot of recipes called for fish sauce or oyster sauce. I had never cooked with either of these, and to be honest, the first time I removed the cap of a bottle of fish sauce, I was wary that such a strong-smelling condiment would be necessary or even good in a dish.

I was proved wrong, of course. Both fish sauce and oyster sauce are final touches to popular dishes ranging from curries to soups.

Now I have both sauces in my fridge and have found that both can be used to add a depth of flavor to most dishes, Asian or not.

Of the two, oyster sauce is a little more palatable on its own, so if you're hesitant about the fishyness of these sauces, I would try this one. Make sure you find one that does not have MSG or other preservatives in it -- like Lee Kum Kee's Panda Brand -- and remember, a little bit goes a long way.

I had a ton of asparagus on hand-- it's on sale everywhere here-- and with some brown rice, it made for a great lunch or light dinner.

asparagus oyster sauce stir fry with rice
1/4 lb of asparagus, washed and cut into 2-inch pieces (cut off hard ends)
2 garlic cloves, diced
a few slices of fresh ginger, grated (tip: keep your ginger root in the freezer-- it will stay fresher longer and will still work great in any dish)
2 tbs peanut oil or other high-heat oil
cooked brown rice

1 tbs oyster sauce
3 tbs rice vinegar
whisk together
(I use a 3:1 ratio for the sauce-- feel free to alter for more or less people)

Heat a pan to high-heat and add oil.
Once oil starts bubbling, turn down heat to medium high and add garlic and ginger.
Cook, stirring constantly, for one minute
Add asparagus and cook for just 2 to 3 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender, but still bright green.
Stir in oyster-vinegar sauce and heat for 30 seconds.
Remove pan from heat, continuing to stir as the pan cools down.

Serve with brown rice. Drizzle remaining sauce in the pan over the rice if desired.

I was given Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand Oyster Sauce to try out in my cooking; all opinions are my own.


what i wore in nola (or how to style a crop top without showing your stomach)

Crop tops are everywhere but even if you have the stomach to show off, showing off your stomach in public is not always the best choice. So how do you style the cut crop top without flashing midriff?

I bought a too-short tee from my local thrift store (Value Village to me, Savers to everyone else) and hemmed it so it hit at belly button length. From there, I paired it with another thrifted skirt -- one I can wear at my belly button. The effect is the same-- a shorter, fun top, but rather than baring skin underneath, I'm merely showing off the waist band of my pleated skirt.

There's a ton of box-ier tees to be found at thrift shops (mine was $2) and if you're comfortable with a sewing machine (it's a super basic technique) you can hem one to the length you want.

happy friday!

xo, erika


new orleans

New Orleans was never on my radar to visit. It's not that I had anything against it, rather it wasn't a place I thought of to put on my list of must-sees.

But when a family friend gave us a free week at a condo in Nola and I began to research, I started to get excited. I had mistakenly thought the city was all Bourbon Street, but in reality, that one stretch of road is only a tiny slice of the cultural and historic city.

We stayed just a block outside the French Quarter and put some major mileage in walking -- mainly -- to places to eat. New Orleans is a food city and they have some incredible innovative local places that we tried to hit up in addition to the fried food that the Quarter offered.

I think the reason I like New Orleans so much is because of its local flavor. Whenever I go to a city, I want to eat at local places and shop at local-owned shops; I want to explore where the city residents go -- not just the tourist destinations or chain restaurants. In a city like New Orleans, there are plenty of tourist-y spots, but we were able to dig out some hidden gems as well.

Special thanks to the Nola city guide at Design*Sponge and Joy the Baker.

I'm listing some of our favorite things from this trip:

tourist-y activities: laura plantation // swamp tour // renting bikes to ride to city park // cemetery tours

eat- dinner: la petite grocery (my favorite meal) // cochon // royal house // felix // beignets!

eat- breakfast: merchant // surrey cafe and juice bar

drinks: organic banana in the french market (for fresh fruit daiquiris!) // tonique

nightlife: maison was our favorite for local music (and the rest of frenchmen street)

shop: stg in the french quarter // shops near jackson and magazine street

Now we're trying to consider what American city we should hit up in the next year or two. The husband thinks Austin, I'm leaning Nashville, or we both are considering about an East Coast tour of Boston + New York. Orrrr Italy. I want to go to Italy. ;)

xo, erika


finding the nugget

I actually giggle when I say the word nugget. I'm not sure why. It's a weird word.

But that silly little word has meant a lot to me over the past two months.

When I went to Uganda to work with Sole Hope -- blog with them and document their incredible work -- there was a sense of trepidation. How was I going to explain what I saw, what I understood in one blog post? How could I make anyone care?

One of the women on the trip -- Logan, I think-- said "Find the nugget. That's all you need to do. Find the nugget of truth in the day and write about that."

That stuck with me. Find the nugget.

In Uganda, there was so much truth, so much experience and picking the best little nugget of truth was hard to narrow down. Back home in America, I have the opposite problem: I feel like sometimes there is no nugget of truth at all.

I love the corporate day job and the evening job (etsy shop + blog) but many days I don't feel like I am making a difference. There is no nugget of truth to impart. I go to work, I come home. My life feels ordinary. In Uganda, it was so easy to see the difference I made, the way I could encourage the Collies, the way I could share their story, Sole Hope's story -- even by making a clinic go smoother-- I felt like my presence made a huge difference.

Then I come home. And I struggled and still struggle. Somedays, I feel as if all my hands do is vanity. There's a book in the Bible where the writer talks about the pain of every day, the feeling of thinking that no matter what we do, things will be the same.

It's a disheartening feeling to be sure. But the word nugget rings in my head and I've come to believe it's just as true in the U.S., where I am easily distracted by things and busyness and deadlines, as it is in the sweet community of Uganda.

Every day there is truth, there is goodness, there is a place to make an impact. But I need to seek it out -- I need to find that nugget and pursue it.

I truly believe we are where we are for a reason -- whether it be atop a comfortable mountain or in a valley of challenges. I don't know why I was born in my hometown and given every opportunity and why some people are not. But I have to believe that there is something to take from it, there is something I can do with it. I just need to find the nugget.

xo, erika

p.s. you can read more about my trip here.


creative talk: designing the product

In previous posts about small businesses, I talked about figuring out your direction and your audience, and in this one, I want to focus on product.

I'm not necessarily talking just about physical product-- a blog can be a product, a photography business can be a product-- in this I'm talking about the exact thing you will offer.

A little harsh reality: no matter how much great marketing or buzz or audience you have, if your product isn't what people are looking for, or has problems with it, they aren't going to buy it or subscribe to it, or work with it. It's a simple as that.

When I first started making bags, I realized that the quality of the product was a big deal. I started using smaller rivets for my leather straps but quickly realized that the larger rivets, (while not as a pretty), were necessary for the bag. I've also changed my leather because I found another kind that worked better for me and the customer. I've also had some interactions with vendors I sell to that were hard to hear, but in the end, have helped me develop a better product.

Making these little changes is key. They aren't huge overhauls, just small tweaks. You could approach a blog or any business the same way. Get feedback regarding your business. What works? What doesn't? Find your brutally honest but loving friend (doesn't everyone have someone like this?) who will give you a critique you can work with. And to make it clear-- I'm not talking the random commenter or customer that you can't ever please-- I'm talking about someone who cares about you and your business and wants you to succeed.

Find the changes that need to be done, and then follow through with them. It may be hard, or frustrating, but creating something that people are drawn to and love will be the core of your business.

Do you have people who can offer you critiques about your ideas? If you aren't sure you have the right person, try connecting with other small business owners on social media. Build a rapport and see if they can be the one to offer advice.

xo, erika

read previous creative talk posts: honing your idea | figuring out your audience


friday favorites

The husband and I are headed to New Orleans next week and although I've been to Atlanta (for like a day), this is my first time to the South. We're excited to explore and to eat-- and I need your suggestions! Where should we go? What can we not miss? We'll be gone for five days.

Some of my favorite stuff from the internet from this week:

>> jonesin' for likes-- an incredible post about creating boundaries about the web.

>> I have a ridiculously huge rhubarb plant and rhubarb-lemon bundt cake and rhubarb pie sound like perfect uses of it.

>> have you guys heard of Alt? I have been taking their free classes and I highly recommend. (It's on my bucket list to go to their full conference.)

>> I confess, I love me some NPR and I remember first hearing about the girls getting kidnapped in Nigeria but then the Nigerian government said they were returned... which somehow was a lie and they really are not home. So join me for praying for their return. I love this post about that.

>> I love to read. You know that. So although this book list is for moms, I think a lot of these would work for any book worm.

>> such a beautiful post about endings leading to new beginnings

Also, if you are local, the Moorea Seal store is opening in Belltown! I am so over-the-moon thrilled for her and her team! The launch party is from 6 to 9 p.m. and the first attendees get a little gift. :)

happy weekend friends!

xo, erika


creative talk: who is your audience?


Yesterday I wrote about asking yourself hard questions when you have an idea. My next business-y tip is in that same vein: It's another question, specifically regarding who your audience is. 

I make a lot of things, and a lot of times I make things or do things just for me. It doesn’t matter if anyone else likes them, although I do confess to wanting people to like what I do, just for selfish reasons. However, when I make something for my shop, I know that I need to think about who my audience is, and whether she would like what I’m doing.

Not sure if you know who your audience is? That’s ok — make them up and then, direct your efforts toward them. 

For instance, when I make my bags, I have a very specific woman in my mind. I know where she likes to shop, what music she listens to, what inspires her and so when I am designing, I am thinking about what she likes. 

What's easy for me, however, is that I have decided that I, too, am my customer and in that way, my audience is some one who is a lot like me. She likes simple, non-flashy, classic prints. She likes to be stylish and unique. She wants to buy handmade things on Etsy or in flea markets-- she doesn't want what everyone else has, but at the same time, she wants something that she'll love for a long time; she doesn't love one-time trends. She loves music that makes her feel good and long-winded coffee dates with friends and I can imagine her putting books in her tote bag and notes from her friends in her purse. This is the woman I have dreamed up in my mind that I design for. 

A lot of companies do this. They have names, even, for their personas and they talk about them as if they were a person. 

"What would Sue want? Where does she shop? How can we serve her better?" 

Putting a name or a personality to your customer or reader is not weird, but a solid marketing tactic that can really help you figure out your direction and go after it. 

And even better is if that person is similar to you. Like I wrote in a previous post, you want to feel passionate about what you do, and if you like what your audience likes, it makes it all the more easier. 

this post is the second in a series about creative business. read the previous one about asking yourself hard questions here and feel free to tell me what I should cover in the comments. 

xo, erika


creative talk -- part one

You know what I've realized lately?

There are a lot of creative people out there and a lot of good ideas.

However, a lot of creative people are like me: They feel crippled by the thought of starting something. I've been having more conversations with people who have ideas -- for a blog, for a shop, for whatever -- and I thought that maybe some of you would want to know a few of the things I've shared with them.

Step one: ask questions

Maybe you had a flash of inspiration in the shower or while walking your dog and the idea has become like a song stuck in your head. Maybe you wonder if there's anything to that idea.

I think there could be, which is why, I say, step one: ask questions.

1. What is this idea? Describe it in detail, whether it's an idea for a book or an etsy shop)

2. Where did it come from -- have I seen it before? Make sure you're not repeating any idea or somehow copying someone or something. Decide if your idea is original.

3. Why does it excite me? Do you honestly love this idea? If you're going to pursue it, you need passion to back it up.

4. Who else would like it? If you want an idea to fly, you'll need supporters. Unfortunately things that only we like don't usually go as far.


Answer these questions in full detail -- really get down to the nitty gritty. Journal about it, pray about it and once you think you have a bit of a handle on it, go to someone and tell them about it and listen to what they say.

I think the thing that has helped me more than anything with my etsy shop and blog is that I have a few people that I know I can come to with crazy ideas or problems and they will listen and think through things with. I trust their advice. However, I know that if I don't come to them with some things thought out beforehand, they won't be able to help.

When I first started my etsy shop, I made headbands. I liked making headbands, but I failed to ask myself question number three: Does this excite me. Honestly, I never liked wearing headbands, so why would I make them for others? If you're going to go after something, you need to like it as much as -- or even more than -- anyone else.

Currently I make bags and purses, but I've had requests to make other things, like iPad cases. The thing is, I don't own an iPad and I don't get excited about iPad cases, so even though there's a market for them, it's not something I make.

These sort of question-answer tasks are super helpful when you're trying to figure out where to start -- and it's honestly something I wish I knew well before I embarked on the whole blog-shop thing.

Have questions for me? Want me to cover something? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email. I'll be sharing more about other topics this week and I'd love input. :)

xo, erika


gifts for mom

I am not a mom but the thing is, I have a really great Mom. And I think if you met her, you would think she was pretty great, too. 

She's also one of those moms that usually just asks for practical things for Mother's Day; I think a lot of moms do that but I think on Mother's Day, you shouldn't get her the new garden hose or the new pair of socks, get her something that spoils her, just a little bit. 

A few of my picks for moms:

1. bottle vase by dahlhouse on Brika. Honestly if you're looking for a beautiful gift, go to Brika. It's a curated site of handmade goods and you cannot go wrong with anything. (full disclosure: you can find my bags here, too!)

2. limonata studs at Ann Taylor. These are so summery and sweet-- like lemonade for every day!

3. punjammies by The International Princess Project. Gorgeous lounge pants made by survivors of human trafficking in India. Also, right now, if you tweet #hopeformoms with an encouraging message, a dollar will be donated to the Princess Project and the encouraging tweet will be read to a survivor. (read more about that here!)

4. pressed flower phone case by With Lavender + Lace on Moorea Seal. This is actually a pre-order for this case, but I think even if the gift came a bit late, it would be appreciated. 

5. frehiwot scarf by fashionABLE. Beautiful loomed scarves made by Ethiopian women, who receive fair wages and business coaching. 

6. collar necklace by Akola Project. A fun statement necklace that comes in a variety of colors. Made in Uganda (which hits close to my heart) by women who receive sustainable, living wages. 

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