Talk to Us? (Reader survey time!)

Reader surveyHi, friends! Today we want to invite you to take our reader survey. This is your opportunity to weigh in and help us learn more about who you are, why you read ABM, and what you would be interested in for the future. 

But first I want to open up to you about how we're doing and what our intentions are for the new year. 2014 was a weird, wonderful, and definitely challenging year. Our company has grown so much in such a short amount of time. And with that growth has come heavy responsibility. Emma and I individually became burned out in very different ways. We processed it differently, and recently we have been working out a game plan for the future. 

We continue to love our work and want to move forward as a team, but beyond that, we have had a difficult time envisioning what we really dream of for the long term. Several times we have set out to create a five year plan together, but to be honest, it is still unclear. We are still searching. 

We didn't start A Beautiful Mess with a business plan. We didn't know we needed one. And now that ABM is very much a real company on which families rely—it's just so different from when we started. There are many things about ABM that we consider fun, but it's definitely not "just for fun" anymore, and we take those responsibilities seriously.

At the same time, the heart of our content is homemade living. Decor, recipes, fashion, gift giving, and creating an inspired life. These things are fun. VERY fun. And so we're constantly trying to protect that side of things as well. I feel like it's very obvious when a writer loves the post they are working on. We desperately want to protect the passionate, hobby side of what we do. I'll be honest, it's a difficult balance. And I won't pretend that we have it all figured out. But after seven years of blogging, I do feel like there is always a way to evolve and keep the spark alive, if you will. So we're always looking for that. 

In addition to our personal feelings, there are undeniable changes happening in the blog world. When we started blogging there were absolutely no industry standards, no "blog trends". I feel like back then it would have been more funny than serious to even label blogging as an "industry". Things have changed. There are far more opportunities and with that comes more competition and more of a business world to learn and survive within. 

When Young House Love (one of our favorite blogs) decided to stop blogging this year, it shook us a little. Maybe not in the way you're thinking though. We're not thinking of quitting blogging at all. But we did empathize with them. Their choice caused us to begin to ask the bigger questions, like is this what we want to do long term? If not, how can we improve our choices to make it a long term career. How can we support and network with other bloggers? How can we help support healthy business practices within our growing industry? How can we stay inspired, grow, and evolve? What do blog readers even want to read? What should we cut out and move on from? Where should we invest more time, money, energy.  Etc., etc., etc... We've had many long conversations on these topics. 

I could talk about this all day, but I'll go ahead and skip to my point now. 

We want to evolve. We realize the importance of staying inspired and challenged. There is no room for "mailing it in" here. If we slack off and fall into a boring routine, it sucks for us, it sucks for you, and ultimately it will not achieve any of our goals. So we aren't going to do that. We're going to move forward, and we need your help! 

There are really two factors that determine where we go as a business. The first is our inspiration. We have to love what we blog about. We have to continue learning and feeling that challenge that pushes us to be better. The second factor is what you love. We want to write a blog that our readers enjoy and get a lot out of. We want ABM to be useful, encouraging, and inspiring. When it comes to DIY projects and recipes, we judge their success not by how many page views they get, but by how many of you actually MAKE the projects and recipes. That's why we do what we do. We want ABM to feel like a community, a place where you can make friends and learn things that make everyday life better. 

With that said, please take the time to complete our survey, linked below. Please be honest and candid with your answers. All surveys are anonymous because we want you to feel comfortable giving honest feedback. However, please also remember that Emma and I are humans with feelings. We will be reading the surveys, so please try to be constructive in how you word your critiques. It's so much easier to learn from a constructive critique. 

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

Comments are closed on this post, because we built in a comments section on the survey and want to capture all your feedback in one place. Thanks so much! Elsie + Emma 

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Reno Update at our HFHS House Project

Habitat house inspirationLast month we shared some updates about our Habitat for Humanity house project renovation planning and some details on the overall budget (you can read all about it here). We are nearing completion on all the contractor renovations, so I thought we'd share an update on the house with you. Also, I thought it would be fun to show you a few inspiration images throughout this post to try give you some idea of what we're planning to do. I don't want to spoil all the surprises—but a few inspiration images never hurt, right? 

One thing I love about the above two images (linked in the credits below) are the simple, pared down color schemes. Elsie and I LOVE color, to say the least, but in this home we don't want to go overboard as we don't know the future family's preferences, and we don't want to leave them with a rainbow bright house they don't love. So, we're looking to create spaces that feel open, clean, and feel interesting but not overdone.

A Beautiful Mess and Habitat for HumanityHere's what you see when you walk through the front door. Still pretty rough, right? But I promise this is what progress looks like! Let's take a closer look. First let's head back to the kitchen.

Kitchen inspirationHere are a few inspirational images of kitchen spaces we love (linked in the credits below). 

I truly love the layout of the kitchen in our project house. It's not a huge space, but the layout is great. I like how much counter space there is and with the addition of a few bar stools (or chairs) it can do double duty as seating/eating area! I know we'll be looking to add some storage options in this kitchen as we move forward so the future family will have space for pantry items, dishes, cups, cookware, etc. Storage in small spaces can make a world of difference in keeping everything feeling organized and uncluttered.

Kitchen counter progressKitchen wallpaperOne update you haven't seen before is the new white tile backsplash! Wahoo! I love tile backsplashes as they are SO easy to clean, wish I had one in my house. :) You can't really see it in these photos, but the peeling linoleum has also all been removed from the floor, the broken counter top removed and updated (though not completed), and we started painting the cabinets. We still have some wallpaper to remove, walls to paint, floors to polish, light fixtures to update, and storage solutions planned for this space. It's a long way from being done, but it's shaping up nicely. 

Next let's talk about the bathroom. Wanna take a walk down memory lane with me?Original bathroomA little dingy, no? The linoleum was in three pieces and coming apart, the window had moisture damage, the shower was... well, you can see for yourself (which I think contributed to the moisture damage in the window). Overall the space felt dirty and wasn't being utilized to its full potential. It's certainly not the smallest bathroom I've ever been in, but it felt crowded and cluttered. This is the only bathroom in the house, so we want it to feel clean and as spacious as possible.

Bathroom tileBathroom floor peek
Here's a few sneak peeks at the bathroom updates so far. Lots of white subway tile on the walls. But we're doing something just a little unique with the bathroom floor tile. The room will be mostly white when we're done, but with a few pops of black to add a little contrast. I love a lot of white in a bathroom, makes it feel so fresh. 

Original bedroomSecond bedroom progressNot a ton has changed in the bedrooms yet. Mainly we've just rip up carpet and cleaned up the floors some, although they still need some work. You can also see the wallpaper border has been removed. We are prepping for painting already. :)

Laundry room missing floorRemember the surprise we encountered in the laundry room? If not, click here. Last time we updated you, this is what the laundry room floor looked like. We had to basically remove the entire floor because of rot, then new subfloor needed to be installed along with some updates to the foundation in that part of the house (it's an add-on room to the original house).

The laundry room has a floorYay! The laundry room has rot-free floors! We're not done though... we have some tiling in our future still. :)

A few other updates.... remember the front door?Front doorYes, this front door.

The front door is fixedIt's gotten a lot better. Could probably still use some paint though...

Living room light fixtureDining room light fixture update timeAt the moment we are thinking about light fixtures. Should we update them, donate & replace, turn a blind eye, keep talking about them but never really do anything... so many options. Just kidding. Basically it's a choice between updating what we already have or replacing them. We'll likely do a combination of both. We will for sure be perusing our local Habitat for Humanity Restore in the next couple of weeks in case they have any good ones that fit our space. Have you ever shopped at a Restore? It's a pretty rad place plus it (obviously) benefits HFH, so that's pretty awesome too.

Contractor to-do listHere you can see our contractor's to-do list. It's almost all marked out!!!

Just FYI we are working on creating some kind of landing page for our HFHS project. We want to make sure you guys will have easy access to all the posts we do about this project as well as links to help you learn more about Habitat for Humanity. Also, one reader had requested we share a layout of the house so you will have a better idea of the spaces as we move forward with these posts. Great idea! You guys are too smart! We are working on that as well.

Thanks for letting us share a small update with you! xo. Emma + The ABM Team 

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman, Photography: Emma Chapman and Sarah Rhodes. Inspiration Image Sources: Blue Door Room, Black and White Room, Mint Chair Kitchen, Pegboard*Habitat homes are sold to qualifying families at a reduced price with a zero-interest loan. Mortgage payments then go into a revolving fund that allows Habitat to build additional homes for families in need.  To learn more about Habitat for Humanity or to make a donation, visit habitat.org

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Sister Style: Cold Front

Sister StyleHi, friends! Can I just be an old person and talk about the weather for a second? (k—thanks!) The weather here is so indecisive this week. It went from jacket weather to an ice storm within a few days. Guess which one we liked better? 

Can we put in an order for a fluffy, beautiful, non-icy-dangerous Christmas? 

Sister Style Sister faux fur hoods! 

Sister Style  Sister Style  Sister Style  Emma's Wearing: Coat + Leggings/F21, Tunic/UO, Necklaces/DIY and shoes c/o Swedish Hasbeens.

Sister Style     Sister Style      Sister Style      Elsie's Wearing: T-shirt/Hello Apparel, Jeans/Madewell, Shoes/Converse, Purse/Kate Spade, Jacket/She Inside (last year). 

Hope your week is amazing and not too stressful! We still have some holiday shopping to do, so if you're a slacker like us, just know that you aren't alone. :) xx- Elsie + Emma 

Credits // Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: Janae Hardy. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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Make Your Own Photo Soap

Homemade picture soap by A Beautiful MessI love to make homemade soaps. You can customize the ingredients, fragrance, and even the look of soap. Using a photo to personalize the look of your soap is a project you may have seen before (it's in our first book, A Beautiful Mess Photo Idea Book).

But one thing I had never tried before that I was curious about was if I could use transparency paper instead of plain white paper. I really wanted to create a soap that you could easily see through. So I gave it a try, and the first time around I had an epic FAIL. But then I figured it out. I'll show you both in case you're curious too.

Homemade picture soap by A Beautiful Mess    For this project we are working with our longtime friends at Canon USA. I also used some colorful, pop art inspired photos I recently took of my friend Andie for this project. They're kind of weird, admittedly. Weird or art? To-ma-to or To-mah-to? That's hard to type. But I can say for certain that if you have a friend who will try any photo idea you dream up, you have a good friend. Don't lose them. :)

You all ready to make some soap? Get excited! It's happening!

Supplies to make custom soapSupplies:
-clear glycerin soap (can be found at most craft stores)
-essential oil or fragrance (I used Aloe as I love the smell.)
-soap molds or small cardboard boxes (think bottom of a milk carton)
-photos on transparency paper or copy paper, scaled to fit your molds
-packing tape if using transparencies
-microwave safe bowl
-scissors
-Canon PIXMA iP8720 Photo Printer

Best photo printerFirst print your photos. I used our PIXMA iP8720 printer to print on transparency paper because we were able to get the richest color here. That's extra important when you're printing on transparencies. Although from this photo you really can't see the images, huh?

Love my Canon printer!Here I just added a piece of white paper under the transparency after it printed so you can see those pretty colorful images a little better.

I also printed one of my photos to plain white paper so I could show you the difference throughout this post. Both work well, so feel free to use whatever you prefer. They just create a slightly different look, which I'll show you.

How to make picture soapCut out your photos so they are slightly smaller than your molds. If you are using transparencies, add packing tape to the inked side of those. This will help lock in the color.

Picture soap!!Melt your soap according to the package directions (most have a microwave option). Pour the soap into the mold, then add your photo. The goal is to get the photo directly in the center of the mold. Be careful as the soap will be hot after melting. You can use a spoon or a tooth pick to move the photo around without touching the hot liquid.

I found that the transparency photos lay much flatter in the soap than the plain white paper. The white paper as a tendency to curl once you add it to the liquid. So be sure to use your tooth pick to uncurl it once it's inside the liquid.

Allow the soap to set for about 30 minutes (or according to the package directions) before you remove them from the molds. If you are using plastic soap molds, you can just press the soap out. If you are using a milk carton or other cardboard, you can tear the paper away after the soap has set.

Homemade picture soap by A Beautiful Mess Here's the soap made with the photo I printed on plain white paper. I like how vibrantly the colors show through the soap, but you can see that the edges curled some as the soap set.

First transparency tryHere is my first attempt at the transparency photo soap. The ink swirled away from the transparency after I poured the liquid, loosing the image. Although I like the swirly look, it's not at all what I was going for. So that's when I figured out that you have to add packing tape to the ink side of a transparency before making the photo soap. Go figure.

Homemade picture soap by A Beautiful Mess  And there you have it: see-through photo soap. Fun, right?! I'll be keeping these in my guest bathroom, but I think this would also be a fun project to make and gift. You can use any photo you have to personalize it. Make some soap this weekend! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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Rosemary Olive Oil Bread

How to bake bread in a dutch ovenI love the smell of freshly baked bread. They should make that into a candle (surely someone has by now). I especially love adding a little rosemary to bread as it reminds me of my mom. She often baked a loaf of rosemary bread in her bread machine back when I lived at home. And if there's one thing I love eating, well, it's bread.

And pizza.

And donuts.

OK, let's focus. I can feel myself starting to drift off into a food day dream. And as I write this, it's getting dangerously close to dinner time, so I need to try and shift my thoughts away from donuts for a minute.

How to bake dutch oven bread via A Beautiful MessA few years ago I set off on a bread baking challenge. I had recently read 52 Loaves and also recently been dumped. So, baking a bunch of bread really appealed to me on a lot of levels, you could say.

I tried lots of different kinds of breads and methods. It was a delicious adventure for sure. But I've got to say that one of my very favorite methods is one of the first ones I ever tried. It is what is commonly called French Oven Bread. It's super easy and makes your whole kitchen smell amazing (and it's totally yummy too). So, I thought I'd share a simple French Oven Bread recipe with you in case you've never tried it. And yes, this one involves a little rosemary. :)

How to activate yeastRosemary Olive Oil Bread, makes one loaf

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
big pinch of sugar (I don't measure this, but it's probably a little less than 1/8 teaspoon.)
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons olive oil

Add the sugar to the warm water. Give it a stir. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and allow it to start to come alive for a couple of minutes. It should begin to foam a little (like in the photo above). It's black magic!

In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, rosemary, and olive oil. Pour the yeast water into the bowl. Stir until a soft dough ball forms. Then knead for 3-4 minutes. I do this directly in the bowl with well-floured hands. This dough is quite soft, so it's super easy to knead. If you find that it's sticking to the bowl or your hands too much, just sprinkle in more flour. A super soft dough like this can withstand some added flour during the kneading process. :)

Homemade bread doughPlace the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for 1-2 hours (until it doubles in size). If you're house is super cold this time of year (like mine is), I'll often turn the oven on for a couple of minutes, turn it off, then place the dough inside and shut the oven door. Just make sure the oven isn't hot enough to cook the dough. 

First riseHoly cow—that's what I'm talking about! It blew up like a hot air balloon!!!!

Calm yourself. OK, now punch the dough down. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Then place back in the bowl and allow to rise for another hour. 

Ready for second riseI moved my dough to a proofing bowl because it makes a fun shape on top of your loaf. This is totally optional. You could just allow the dough to rise the second time in the same bowl if you want. Remember to cover your dough while it rises so it doesn't dry out.

Second riseBoom—balloon moment #2. Now we're ready to bake. Depending how long it takes for your oven to preheat, you can turn your oven on a little before the end of the second rise. Set your oven to 400°F.

Remove the knob on a dutch oven before bakingDepending on your French oven (or dutch oven), you may need to remove the lid knob before baking at this high of a temperature. As you can see, I have a Le Creuset. Some of their French ovens (the Signature range) have lid knobs that can withstand higher temperatures while other French ovens (the Classic range) are only recommended to go up to 375°F. Check your brand's website if you're unsure. And I say, better safe than sorry, so I tend to remove the lid knob before baking bread out of habit as I've had a number of different French ovens over the years. Some French ovens won't have any of these features and you won't have to worry about this at all! But if you're new to baking in a French oven, I just wanted to make sure I draw this aspect to your attention in case you have one that needs special care.

Dutch oven breadCover the bottom of the French oven with parchment paper, place the lid on, and allow the pot to heat up with the oven. Then flip the bread out of the bowl and into the pot. Be careful, the pot will be hot, so you don't want to touch it. As you can see, my flipping was subpar. Boo! So you can only see about half of the proofing bowl design. Oh well, doesn't affect the flavor or texture of the bread, so it's not a big deal. But I'll have to work on my flipping skills some more. :)

Bake with the lid on for 10-12 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake for 18-22 minutes until the bread looks crusty and done. Once you remove the bread from the oven, sometimes you'll hear it kind of crackling. That's a good sign!

How to bake bread in a dutch oven How to bake dutch oven bread via A Beautiful Mess Allow the bread to cool enough to handle before slicing into it. I love to eat fresh bread when it's still warm enough to melt butter added to a slice. That's what I call luxury. This would make a great companion to soup or if it gets stale, French toast. :) If you have an oven safe vessel, I highly recommend you bake some bread this week! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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