Friday, March 28, 2014

Introducing: The Monogram Tote

With spring just around the corner (it's been long overdue for Pittsburgh; I realize it's spring everywhere else in the US), I've been in cleaning mode.  While my design aesthetic highly favors simplicity, my every day life has been feeling a bit... abundant. (Excessive, to be exact.)

Over the nearly six years of running my business, I've added on more and more design elements to each silhouette, straying away from my original simple design aesthetic.

My everyday life started to adopt a similar regime.  I'd buy one pair of shoes, then love them so much, I'd go back and buy a couple more pairs in different colors. I did the same thing with beans (I know, weird).  I got on this kick about adding lentils and beans to my cooking;  I started with dried black beans, then all of a sudden I had to make room in our pantry for navy beans, kidney beans, and all sorts of different lentils because of my new found addiction of perusing the bulk food aisle at the grocery store paired with my ever-growing collection of hermetic glass jars. Did you know that our tiny studio apartment doesn't actually have a pantry but I commandeered our coat closet for pantry use? (Who needs a coat closet? Oh wait, we did. Thanks, Polar Vortices of Winter 2014.)

My husband says I need to "reduce my footprint".

Translation: I need to get rid of a bunch of redundancy in my life so that if we have to move somewhere after he graduates from school, he won't have a heart attack (like every move he's experienced with me) because I have so. much. stuff.

Enter: The Monogram Tote.

I am a no-frills designer who makes quality bags lightweight because I omit all the fluffy stuff that makes them heavy (unnecessary hardware, compartments, and nonfunctional elements).  I strayed a bit.  I'm coming back now. This bag is my first step to paring down to the core of Jenny N.  Spring cleaning, you could say.

Actually, this is my second step.  The first was the Wristlet.  I digress.

This Tote encompasses every reason I started my business in 2008:  To bring well-designed, hand made, highly functional bags, with a timeless aesthetic into the market.

No interior pockets (Hi, I'm Jenny, and I never use the pockets I sew inside my own bags.), just a metal bolt snap to clip keys or small pouches (i.e. Wristlet!).  One small zippered pocket on the front to hold a cell phone and lip gloss.  Sturdy bottom to minimize sagging.  Super spacious.

To address the hundreds of hundreds of requests (would that be thousands?) I've received in almost six years, I added a zippered top.

Done, done, and done.

Did I also mention you can monogram this bag?  When you simplify down to an almost purely functional state, there's a fine line between looking generic and branded.  I chose the literal sense of the latter.  :)

I hope you enjoy this lovely piece!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Looking Back 22 Years

I've told you before:  running a business is not all rainbows and ponies.  Remember the recall?  (I can feel a pit in my stomach just thinking about that.)

This time is no different.  

This February, I started to fall into a slump.  I turned into this annoyingly lazy and unmotivated version of myself that's likely due to the months gloomy skies + freezing temperatures (especially this year!) + burn out after a busy holiday season. 

I was starting to enjoy the sound of my bitching and overall excuse-making after a while.  Then I stopped recognizing myself.   Who was this annoying woman playing victim to her circumstances? 

Well, a quick vacation to visit with my parents kicked me back into gear.  No words necessary.  Just a VHS tape of myself from 1992 was enough to remind me of what I needed to do. 

My brother and I were on the swim team as kids.  I remember my dad waking us up before sunrise every day during the summer (note: all of the other kids are sleeping in late at this time) to get changed to practice for swim practice.  Like, practice in the morning, then go to team practice in the evening.  My sleepy eyes would be stinging on the car ride to the pool.  The sky was still dark.  The first dive into the pool was cold.

This is when I learned dedication, diligence, and discipline.

I don't have to chase the person I'll be 10 years from now; I just have to look back almost 22 years at the invincible girl I used to be (wearing the extremely uncomfortable yellow bathing suit for the divisional championship swim meet to qualify for the city championship meet).

When we're kids, we are invincible.  As we age, we learn to grow content with our circumstances, and start to accept our lame excuses.

No more excuses.

More dedication, diligence, and discipline.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


After shoveling the driveway, Hubert and I frolicked through the backyard.   I took pictures.  Of course. :)

That is all! :)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Gifts: Valentines I Wouldn't Mind

I love being a return customer -- I love knowing I'm going to love what I get.  Like when Shay and I consider venturing out to new restaurants on date night, we often just look at each other and say, "Vietnamese?" and walk to our favorite little Vietnamese spot in our neighborhood.  We know it'll be good, why not?  (It's a combination of seeking guaranteed satisfaction and being lazy, to answer my own question.)

Thus, I went through shops I've purchased from and found a few items I wouldn't mind getting for Valentine's Day. :)  Because I know I'll love them.

Ampersand wood sign, Oh Dier Living
Everyone loves our gold Holla sign.  It sits in our entryway above this bench and tells guests that we're friendly, and just a little bit gangsta.

"Happiness" print, Clare Elsaesser
These three prints hang above our bed.  I actually wrote a post about her prints here.

Lace bracelet in mustard, branchbound
A very similar pair of earrings to these are my go-to pair for making a statement when I'm wearing something understated.  Yeah, I'm always wearing these earrings.

Lychee rose goat's milk soap, Savor
I cannot say more about Savor besides the fact that I come here every couple months to stock up on whipped soaps and body butters.  I've been obsessed with Savor soaps since 2008, when I first joined Etsy. Lychee Rose Creme Fraiche is my favorite, but I'm never disappointed when I venture out and try other scents. :)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Introducing: The Duffel

Meet the Duffel.  You've been asking me for a larger bag (larger than the Archive, I know!) and I've been taking names and sketching away.

I actually did a little bit of homework to figure out how big I should go.

I first thought about all the things my sister in law needs to carry for her toddler son.  She used the Archive Bag when my nephew was a newborn, but toddler's diapers, clothing, and toys are much bigger and need much more space for long afternoons at the park and museum.  Toys, books, diapers, wipes, change of clothes, baby blanket, sippy cups, snacks, and mom's purse essentials plus a cardigan.

I looked through my husband's backpack for school to see what he carries to campus.  Right now, he takes his Backpack to class when he only needs his laptop, a binder with notes, and his essentials.  But he needed a larger bag for his trips to campus on the weekends to study and go to the gym:  2 textbooks, binder, folders, 15" laptop, basketball shoes, change of clothes, and essentials.


Then, as a bonus, when I went to my hair stylist to get my hair trimmed and layered (can you tell in the photo?),  and asked her what she carries with her to and from the salon every day.  Blow dryer, straighter, curling irons, a variety of round and flat brushes, a few pairs of scissors, combs, fabric cape, and her purse essentials.

I had gathered enough data to spec out the dimensions of my newest bag.

The Duffel is 3X the volumetric capacity of the Archive bag, which means it will carry a LOT.   Baby stuff, travel stuff, work stuff, school stuff and gym stuff -- it'll handle it.  It has a heavily reinforced bottom to minimize sagging and those metal feet to protect the bag bottom. :)  

Unsnap the sides to create a roomy tote bag for carrying lots of things for long adventures.

See more info on the Duffel in my shop.

I'll be adding new colors in the next few weeks, but if you'd rather not wait, message me with what color you would like and I can make one for you! :)

Hope you love it!!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Out of Focus

Well, December was a busy month!

Thanks to Etsy for making me a featured shop in early December, I was able to stay very busy through the holidays.  Okay, okay.  I got SUPER busy.  I got burnt out a little bit towards the end of the holidays and took a few days off to spend time with family.  Then I was back again, designing and prototyping a new bag for the shop.  Right in the middle of that process, some new fabric came in and I couldn't help but try it on for size.  (You can see what I made here, here, here, and here.)

With all the hyper-focus I experienced filling orders during the holidays, I'm finding it difficult to bring a goal to fruition without getting distracted with something else on my list.  Is this what happens every January when you set a bunch of goals and want to accomplish everything all at once? 

I feel a little like I want to dabble lightly into one thing and then jump to the next without really putting too much effort into it.  Okay.  This is actually my nature.  I'm notorious for starting projects and then ditching them soon after beginning.  I'm going to whip myself back into shape soon.  Swear!  It has been written in stone (on my blog, close enough), which means I have to do it! 

Which brings me to my latest procrastination project:  I did a little makeover on my website.  :)  She's a little simpler and a little classier.  :)

That's all for now.  I'm on to the next project.

If you're wanting more frequent updates on what I'm up to, follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram!  (I'm addicted to posting everything from my phone in real time, which is why it has been difficult for me to sit down, focus, and write a blog post.  Sigh.  The woes of instant gratification.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

ERMG! Featured Shop!

Wristlets in a crate --this is the most of any bag type I've ever stocked in my entire life. Thus, I documented it.

Have you ever noticed that you perform better when you have a bajillion things to do on your list?  Like, somehow, the time-management skills that were dormant your entire life come out and you somehow accomplish everything on your list and still have time to bake a batch of cupcakes, too?

Well.  Here's a story for you.

Freshman year of college.  Second semester.  I had a Calculus and Organic Chemistry midterm scheduled on the SAME DAY and I had the classes back-to-back.  I could have sworn that if that alone wouldn't kill me, the 6:15am Yoga-Pilates Fusion group fitness class I had to teach that morning just before the midterms would just about do it.

Would you have guessed that I was as cool as a cucumber that morning teaching my class (and got compliments on how great the class was?!) and I aced both exams?  I was.  And I did.  (Let it be known it was the first and only time I ever aced anything engineering-related in college.  Just so you know -- I'm not some closet genius or anything.)  I ended up with a B in both classes at the end of the semester, but it just goes to show how you can really unlock some hidden potential when you're under pressure and really driven to exceed.

These past few weeks, I've been feeling a little bit like there has been a bend in the time-space continuum and I have been gifted more hours in a day.

That can't happen.  What has really happened is that I've been able to add more work days into my schedule with a little bit of math.  I've tacked 4 additional work hours onto 2 weekdays per week and dedicate 4 hours each weekend day for work.  And BOOM!  8+12+8+12+8+4+4 = 7 work "days"!    And I still get my weekends.

Somehow, with the added work hours just casually slipped into my week, I have managed to really get ahead in my sewing schedule, keep up with orders, add more inventory, add new inventory, and stock up for Handmade Arcade and still manage to feed my dog and husband three times per day.  Who ate the bacon-wrapped, sausage-stuffed chicken roulade and who ate the dog kibble, I am not sure, but they are both alive and well, thanks to this gal.  Clearly, I have some untapped potential, people!

Feeling a little super woman-ish, I've decided to do this crazy thing:

I've extended my Made to Order Holiday deadline to December 6th!  That's TODAY!  Yeah, I know.  Super cray cray.  Order by 11:59pm EST today and you'll receive your order in time for Christmas.  For.  Real!

Okay, now to the juicy part (it's not that juicy, I spoiled it with the title!):


I've been dreaming of this day since April 17, 2008 --when I first opened shop.  I have worked extremely hard for 5 years to get to where I am today, and I feel so honored that Etsy is appreciating all my hard work with this feature!  :)

When I received the email about my upcoming feature three weeks ago, I called Shay and screamed and squealed and danced for approximately 15 minutes before realizing I needed to reply back to the email letting them know that I was in!  Then, of course, the preparation began for stocking my shop for the feature AND the vendor event the Saturday during the feature.

(I'm pretty sure I was way more giddy after reading that email from Etsy than when Shay proposed.  In my defense:  I have been wanting to be a Featured Shop longer than I've been with Shay.  Just so it's semi-justified.  I cried more with Shay's proposal.  Fair?)

Please enjoy my interview on Etsy!  I'm so happpyyyyyyyy!


p.s. Yes, I just linked to the interview thrice! (How annoying, I know.)
p.p.s. Well, four times, now.  I'm done.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Introducing: The Wristlet

I was out with my husband meeting up with friends a couple weeks ago at a bar when I realized how badly I needed a small bag to carry just my phone, ID, credit card, keys, and lipgloss.  Sometimes, a girl just doesn't need to carry her entire life on her shoulder.  This was one of those times.

Before you go thinking that I've never owned a wristlet, let me tell you that with the phones growing in size every year, my phone was just outgrowing the wristlet I was using for years.   Hence my need to design something to suit my needs. 

My Samsung Galaxy SIII is, by all means, not the largest phone on the market and it wasn't fitting in the wristlet I currently owned.  With plans to buy the Samsung Galaxy Mega (which, according to my brother, who works at Samsung, looks like you've slapped a tablet to your face when you're talking on the phone, which is precisely what I like to look like when I'm walking around)  I needed to design something that would accommodate women like me who want to carry our large phones in teeny-tiny bags.   We deserve wristlets, too, right?!

(And if we're being super honest right now, I offered a wristlet bag 4 years ago but with my fashion sense evolving, I wanted to design something that reflected my current artistic aesthetic: simple, well-made bags meant for everyday use). 

So here we are: a no-frills bag.

The Wristlet is a simply-designed, durable, and lightweight purse optimized for minimal baggage and maximal dancing for a night out on the town with friends.

It can even be used as an every day bag if you're a minimalist when it comes to purses.  If you're a maximalist for baggage (like me), you can clip this cute little Wristlet in your larger bag (like the Archive or Ruche) for easy access to small items (i.e. makeup, coins, business cards).

Perk!  You can also attach the bolt snap to the zipper pull to make sure your bag stays closed all night.  (I know, right?!)

I hope you love the Wristlet as much as I (and some customers who have already ordered the bag) love it!!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recipe: Pho Ga

I told you back in 2010 that I would post a recipe of my pho ga, so here it is! Over 3 years late! (I'm a horrible person, I know)

I make pho at least every other week.  It's my go-to dish for cool weather days.  It's also a great elixir after an inebriating weekend or for a case of the sniffles.  It's a richly flavorful soup without that stick-to-your-ribs soup belly fullness.  This soup will also perfume your entire home with the smells of Vietnam with the anise, coriander and fish sauce!  I've never been to Vietnam, but I imagine it smells like pho.

As a child, my parents took my brother and me to eat pho at our family friend's restaurant once a week for the 8 years we lived in New Orleans, so I'm seriously fueled on pho broth.  I'm also Vietnamese, so this broth literally runs through my veins.  Fun fact: when I donate blood, I actually donate a bag of pho broth. 

No joke, my husband told me I kind of smell like pho after a workout.

See.  In my veins. And sweat glands.  I do not lie.

Pho Ga 
Serves 4

whole chicken (organic is preferable)
ox tail (optional)
pho noodles 

5 whole star anise
2 Tbsp whole coriander
2 Tbsp whole peppercorn
4-5 whole cloves
1 Tbsp Rock Sugar (1 Tbsp white sugar also works)
4 inch knob ginger root, unpeeled
1 onion, first layer peeled off, reserve ~1/4 for garnish
1 bunch cilantro, stems only tied with cotton twine, reserve tops for garnish
Fish sauce (I don't know the exact amount, I use this to salt the soup, so taste as you add)

Onion, sliced thinly
Cilantro, leaves
Green onion, thinly sliced (optional)
Lime juice

In a large pot, fill with water and bring to boil.  Char ginger and onion either directly on fire of gas stove or broil in the oven, turning to char evenly (I use a toaster oven).  You can lightly peel off some of the char, then slice ginger into large pieces and add onion (whole) and ginger to pot. Add anise, coriander, peppercorn, cloves, sugar, cilantro and fish sauce.

Add oxtail, bring to boil and reduce to simmer on medium-low until tender (30-45 mins).  Remove oxtail.  I save this oxtail to snack on another time with sauteed bok choy, or I'll use it in my bun bo hue soup another day.

Add chicken (breast side down to prevent drying).  Bring back to boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer until chicken is cooked through (40-60 mins depending on size of chicken).  Remove and slice or peel into pieces.

** Throughout the cooking process, skim off the foam and fat that floats to the top.  It's important to keep the broth clear! **

Discard onion, ginger, cilantro and strain broth through sieve into container to get beautiful clear, yet flavorful broth! My MIL loves a little soft onion in her soup, so you can save this if you'd like.

While chicken is cooking, in a separate pot bring water to boil and cook pho noodles until done. Drain and rinse with cold water to remove starch and prevent the noodles from becoming a huge sticky mess. Set aside.
Combine sliced onion, cilantro leaves, green onion, some lime juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix and let sit and be merry. Set aside.

To serve, add noodles to the bottom of a large bowl, add sliced chicken and then the garnish.  Ladle on hot broth and serve!

Everyone you serve this to will love you forever.  At least until they're done with their bowl of pho and want seconds.