a pay it forward surprise


Ok, so first of all I should tell you that I haven't cried since... well, a while ago. Certainly not since the election. I keep wondering if there is something wrong with me. I even checked out a bunch of tear-jerker movies from the library just in case I just needed a jump-start. But I couldn't even watch them. And I know this probably doesn't fall into the category of healthy coping mechanisms but I just feel like there is too much to do. To be clear, I have most of my evenings to myself in my cozy little apartment and there is certainly time enough to spare for crying. I don't know, the tears just aren't coming. It's not just the usual holiday busyness that needs to be done, but the work, all the work, to keep this country moving on a path towards the ideals it likes to promote so much. Like preparing myself to be better as an ally or interrupter (already a friend was on the phone in a Best Buy and someone came up and yelled at him "English! English!") I don't think it should be the job of those who are the targets of hatred to be the sole defenders - I think it is something we must prepare all of ourselves to do. So, no time for crying just now. 


Add to that, this season has been full of slightly more than usual stressors. And, yes, I am aware that what I consider difficult is nothing compared to what other people face. But the end of the year/holiday season is a stressful time for an introverted shopgirl, as we count down the number of days I have left to modify the end of year profit report, and as I talk to what seems like exponentially more people per day, all of whom have their own stresses which I feel like I should try to ease, at least by finding the right card to send to Grandma, or by finding that thing they remember seeing maybe a year ago here in the store but they don't remember what it was but maybe I can help?  Then there's the uncertainly of bad weather falling on what could have been the biggest shopping day of the year for us but which fall flat because we live in Wisconsin and Mother Nature is fickle. Why she couldn't act out on Tuesday, I have no idea. Dad is fine but I did have go to the ER with him a few weeks ago after finding him unconscious in the other room. I am spending a little too much time thinking about what it would have been like if he died while I was just a room away playing internet games. I mean, at least I was at their house and not already at mine, but still. I am generally getting closer to having to face up to the mortality of parents. The holiday letter got done but now I'm obsessing over how it is being received (or even if it is received seeing as two have come back to me), presents to finish (WHY did I introduce a 9 year-old to Pinterest?!!). There is the whole disaster of a Trump presidency. Oh, I lost my wallet on the bus in the same week that I found out my tarot card for an art show I am participating in was the five of pentacles which is all about material loss and poverty and sickness and generally too much material lack for a shopgirl going into the 10 days she's been preparing for all year long and which, while, they can't make or break the year, can certainly do a lot of damage if they choose to. Well, I did work through that whole tarot card thing and am happy with where it ended up.


Oh, and I was also in the middle of an argument with someone who told me I had to consider the greater good so I was wrestling with my feelings of what the greater good was and their definition, as well as that annoying spot in an argument where both sides are just repeating themselves and not really getting anywhere. Anyway, as I said, all things that fall within the range of typical challenges that everyone is having to deal with. I am well aware that many people are facing much worse.

But last week I went to breakfast with Dad and quickly ran over to Bloom Bake Shop to get some treats for the store. The woman behind the counter told me that it was my lucky day because someone had paid it forward and was treating me to my baked goods. I did start crying. I didn't totally collapse in a sobbing heap as I keep thinking I might do so I feel proud of myself for mostly holding it together. Now, honestly, I've never received a pay it forward before. I don't quite know what the proper etiquette is. I have had friends who get one while they are buying coffee and they are inspired to pay for the next person's coffee so it keeps going. And I don't mean to sound so terribly selfish, but I just didn't think of it. Naturally I protested and tried to decline but the manager said I had to take it. So I did. I still tear up thinking about. But it was a good little "snap out of it" moment - just a reminder that I was getting a little caught up in what is beyond my control in the realm of sorrow and anxiety, and forgetting that there is also surprise and wonder that is beyond my control and that comes to us as a gift. So, yes, just a little reigning in on the holiday stress level.  I did narrow down my to-do list to things that need to be done by 12/25, just not going to think about the following week or inventory that follows shortly after that (another stressful thing!). Everything fits on an index card and I'm not going to allow myself to get a larger piece of paper.

Anyway I didn't realize how much the pay it forward was needed which makes me hope that we all find ways to give and receive this time of year, and all times.  I know I don't know who it is who left the pay it forward at Bloom but I feel such gratitude to that customer, but also to Bloom for creating the kind of environment where a person is inspired to do something like that, which leads me to all the people everywhere who are working and creating and doing, who are committed to seeing the promise in other people, to expressing joy and gratitude.


And just to reassure you, instead of paying it forward in place, I brought it downtown and made up little pay it forward packages for our customers. It was a perfect thing to occupy my time, instead of worrying about cold weather effects on sales or arguments I was in the middle of, I was putting my energy on positive things and gratitude. Naturally I had to put in our unicorn card.



So, anyway, that's where I am this Christmas week. Feeling thankful to be in Wisconsin on the cusp of the solstice, knowing that winter is still long ahead of us but that light is starting to find its way in the world. In fact, that light has always been here, whether in the surprises of pay it forwards or all the other ways you can never pay back the generosity of your own life, or in the warmth of family and friends who gather together, or in the random goodness of people who never know you, even in the moments of darkness or stress or sorrow or strife. I have such gratitude for all the ways that Anthology has allowed me to be at work in the world, thanks to you my customers and readers for all the ways that you are at work in the world. I wish you the very happiest of holidays, no matter what you celebrate (even if it is just the end of hearing Baby It's Cold Outside in stores), and a new year that is filled with good surprises, wonder and gratitude.




Laura's annual holiday letter


Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. L.R. Knost

Hmph. I was hoping for better election results to set the tone for this letter. Consoling myself with the popular vote isn’t working that well. My basic concern is that fear & uncertainty blinds people to the ways they can act positively, makes them feel sorrow & loneliness when they only need to reach out, elicits hatred & anger instead of love & trust. And I get it, it is hard. But fear and uncertainty, anger and hate are not what I want of my life. Call me willful or foolish but I commit to accept change, meet fear with love, challenge loneliness with connection, and recognize grace & bounty with gratitude. I choose the spirit of the holidays. I choose light.

I’d probably have more trouble with the ghosts of the past, she said, if my memory wasn’t shot to hell. Brian Andreas

The past has been on my mind a lot recently. Perhaps it started with the demolition of the Pyare Square Building, which has been a monolith in the background of my life. Flashes of memory occur at odd moments: walking into the bookmobile in Crestwood, clamoring over the fountains on Library Mall, the smell of laundry and Felly’s Flowers inside Hilldale. Not just places, but also people, those who are grown-up or gone but still a part of me. What I feel is less about sorrow, more about wonder over all that has changed, gratitude for what those past places & people brought to my life, and curiosity about what is to come. Maybe this is just the relic of not-even-that-horrible middle school years, but there isn’t anything I’d go back to. I choose the future.

Living creatively is really important to maintain throughout your life. And living creatively doesn't mean only artistic creativity, although that's part of it. It means being yourself, not just complying with the wishes of other people. Matt Groening

Thoughts of the past conjure past lives, the college student, even the child. Perhaps that comes from my art classroom volunteering and the déjà vu of walking down elementary school hallways. I’d like to think I’ve grown and changed but my path seems more circular than anything. Instead of matching pens & socks & sweaters, I’m matching fonts & photographs & paper. Thanks to our part-timers, there is more time for studio work and we added many more Madison/Wisco souvenirs to the shop. In the spring, Hillary Clinton visited Madison and wanted to shop at a store locally owned by women. Despite seeming always to be at the shop, neither Komai sister was there to meet her, and we’ve had to graciously bear our customers’ sympathy for missing “the most significant moment in Anthology’s history” (as one put it). I am thankful for all of our customers and their support of our American Dream. I am grateful for the opportunities and people that feed my creative endeavors and trueness of self. I choose what sparks my wonder and joy. I choose creativity.

In truth, home isn't necessarily where you sleep at night. It's where you feel like yourself. Where you're most comfortable. Where you don't have to pretend, where you can just be you. Elizabeth Eulberg

This year held a little more travel than usual, a mark of my progress in delegation. I took my beach pilgrimage to the shores of Lake Michigan and traveled to Mexico for spring break with Sachi and her family. Our buying trip to New York City was an exhausting & stimulating adventure, as usual. For variety, we went to a trade show in Toronto. We were inspired by many local & independent businesses, notable in comparison to U.S. cities, and came home with a severe case of Canada-envy. In October, I spent a week in the San Francisco area, visiting our uncle, wandering the city by myself, and splurging on a three-day art workshop. The time away was invigorating & inspiring. As hard as it is for me to leave work, I appreciate the ways such trips help me grow as an artist, person, and business owner. The workshops did include Californians telling me how horrible Midwestern weather is but I refrained from mentioning how much time Wisconsinites spend talking about drought and wildfires and earthquakes. I am grateful the Komais are all within a few miles of each other so I can be helpful to Mom & Dad, and continue my Friday-night sleepovers with craft projects, dinner at the grocery store, reading & games with my niece, now nine. I am happy with this life. I choose Wisconsin.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

If ever there was a time that I was thankful to have studied geology, this was it. I needed to remember that Wisconsin was once a tropical ocean, and may well be again; that huge & terrifying creatures once roamed the earth, and someday extinction will come to each of us. I would like to console you with six years of all three branches of government under Republican rule, but it is not a pretty picture. I am confounded daily by the lack of regard for free markets, small government and fiscal conservatism. Our Minnesota customers suggest there are successful ways to share wealth & build upon our Midwestern strengths; our Kansas customers tell us it could be worse. And that has been true since 2011. Sorry, Nation, if I could export only cheese curds & craft beer from Wisconsin, I would. But I will not keep a chair for despair. I choose soul on deck.

I just wanted to say I love Anthology so much. Whenever I'm stressed or just need to be in a creative space, I'll stop in. It's truly a solace. Anthology customer

My solace? Buttons. Small as they are, the production & sale of buttons is a source of ongoing consolation & connection. Whether it is “Black Lives Matter,” “Moms Stand with Planned Parenthood,” “live & vote your love & faith not your hate & fear,” or any of hundreds more, I see a little spark of commitment & connection going out our doors with each one. And that last debate before the election? When Donald called Hillary a nasty woman for telling the truth? In the two weeks before the 2012 election, we sold 789 buttons; in the two weeks before the 2016 election, we sold 2334. Over and over, I heard people who felt isolated from their families, who felt helpless and powerless. I am grateful to be present for people, to let them know they are not alone on their journey, to welcome them into a space that celebrates creativity and the gifts that all people bring to the world. Owning a business has given me a keen appreciation of our dependence upon each other, and deepened my sense of connection to the larger world. In these challenging times, I see the ways that ugliness has (always) been met by people who are deeply committed to the ideals of this nation. I am in awe of the ways that so many people are working, both as their faith and their citizenship demands of them, and grateful for the goals which we strive for (even as we fall short of them). Even in the smallness of humanity against the vastness of time & space, I choose dependence and connection. I choose community and country. And, why yes, I choose the women who tell the truth and are called nasty for doing so.

We’re here to end it, I said & she said, No, we’re here to begin it & then she turned & opened her arms & everywhere I could see there were people, like bright birds, calling with a thousand voices & suddenly I understood. Here is where it begins. With all of us, together, giving our children
a world worth loving for a lifetime to come. Brian Andreas

Across the miles & the years that separate us, I have unshakeable belief in our ability to connect with each other and to do the work that the world calls us to. I choose you. I choose friendship. I choose gratitude. I choose love.

December newsletter

Greetings from Anthology!

We hope you enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Laura and I are thankful to have each other as sisters and business partners; we are thankful for all the ways that family, friends, customers and community have supported us in our creative pursuits.

We are also thankful for the recent workshops we took that have sparked ideas and inspired new work. Laura flew to San Francisco for an art journal and collage workshop; she then treated me to a surprise letterpress workshop at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Both of us are now coming up with new designs for greeting cards, baby onesies, t-shirts, buttons and prints.

The Downtown Holiday Open House brought big crowds and big sales this past weekend. Our craft table is covered with boxed holiday note cards featuring llamas, penguins, zebras and kittens. We’ve put out our holiday wrapping paper sheets as well—you’ll find figure skaters, tinsel trees, penguins, poinsettias, Christmas puddings and dogs in sweaters.

So far the most popular presents have been our irreverent desk signs (“I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter”), Wisconsin socks, wooden ornaments (laser-cut with our own original designs), Wisconsin coloring books, t-shirts, prints, pint glasses, and onesies for baby’s first Christmas.

We really didn’t think anyone would be in the mood for more political pins post-election, but we’ll keep cranking them out as long as people demand “Love Trumps Hate,” “Nasty Women Vote,” “When they go low, we go high,” Hillary (“Voted Most Popular”), and a "Someday Even Trump Will Be Extinct" dinosaur. Our artist friend Emily Keown painted a number of great designs and helped us sell over 3,000 pins between the final presidential debate and Election Day.

Stop in and see what’s new! Laura just installed the holiday window--come check out this year's theme.

If you are interested in receiving our annual holiday postcard you can e-mail us your street address at Anthology@tds.net

Thank you,
Laura & Sachi
218 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703

now it's really looking a lot like Christmas

Though I promise that we still only have holiday music at about 50%. I'm mindful of the fact that not everyone loves this time of year as much as I do, let alone feels cheerful hearing yet another round of "Santa Baby." I had an enjoyable day off before Thanksgiving exploring some of my favorite shops in town. Though it goes against the principles of the season for me to do to much shopping for myself, I've got my eye on some gorgeous alpaca throws at Pieces Unimagined (where I could also spend a lot of money on fixtures if I ever had more square footage) and a sweet ceramic cloud factory at Hazel. Meanwhile at Anthology, I wasn't entirely ready to let go of the post-election window but amazingly my Donald Trump dinosaur print fits right in with the natural history museum theme that I had planned for the holiday window. 





oh, and yes, we are still making buttons. Someone told me our button table made them sad, but we still have customers coming in to reenact the moment Hillary was shopping in our store and there are many "Nasty Women Vote" buttons that are going to show up in stockings this year, I'm guessing.


I had an unexpectedly long shift yesterday but that gave me time to do a little rearranging around the shop. There's still plenty to choose from, trust me, but a few holes are opening up. We have a few last-minute shipments arriving but on the whole, selection is best the sooner you come in. We've spent the year picking out and designing goods for you and hope we can help you find just the right present. Sachi is particularly good at brainstorming ideas.

Our Wisconsin ornaments have been especially popular and we are so grateful that Amie in Lone Rock has been able to keep us so well stocked.




I've gotten distracted with art projects not related to the shop like printing my holiday letter envelopes and making editions of my 2x2 book for our book arts group trade. Not to mention the looming deadline of getting craft projects done with a 9 year-old. I'm not sure how I ended up with so much hand-sewing. Oh, yes, that's right, I'm the person who introduced her to Pinterest. Stupid move.

IMG_8677 IMG_8673

Meanwhile, Sachi has started work on a new design for the shop. We always laugh over Portlandia's "Put a Bird on It" except for us it is "Put a Wisconsin" on it.


As the year comes to a close, we reflect on the challenges but also our immense gratitude for all of our customers, and for all the ways that our work at Anthology enables us to connect to our community and to fulfill our American Dream. I regularly have to consult my little book of compliments, but it makes relentless love a lot easier when I keep my eye on the prize that we've created and won.


relentless love is required

You'll have to excuse me because now a part of me is always trying to think in short phrases that will fit on a button. There are a few that have been rolling around in my head for a while - "resolved not resigned" came to mind a few weeks ago, but some new ones came to mind last night. But I'm running with relentless love.

Here's my little story from election night: as you know, we have been making lots of buttons here at the shop. The process basically requires that an original image be created (by us or the amazing Emily) and then brought to the copy shop to be reproduced. Now, we have shifted almost all of our copy work over to small local businesses except for this last piece which is usually just a page at a time. So, since October 19th, the copy shop guys have been printing pages of buttons for us. 3000 buttons, 20 to a page. Let's see, there was "I voted for her, take that asshole," "nasty woman voter," "votes coming out of my whatever," "I'm not with stupid," "I vote for tacos." I don't think there's anything wrong with that even if you do take exception to my "he started it" and think that I should have let the nasty woman comment pass. I feel that Hillary was merely stating a fact and was being called nasty for it and thus I feel that perhaps the word nasty will be thrown around a lot just because there are still a lot of nasty facts out there. I will note that Michelle's "when they go low, we go high" button has also been a best seller. Anyway, I have had nothing but civil interactions with the copy shop guys, just the usual retail transaction you'd expect. Then, on election night around 7 pm, I had to run over to get one last sign for the window. Just before I arrived at the counter, another sales associate was also approaching. The one behind the counter says to the approaching one: "Trump is ahead," and the approaching guy says, "good." Then I arrived at the counter, he gave me my copy and I said thanks and turned around and left. Now, wasn't that rather passive-aggressive to mention Trump just as I was approaching? I thought so. Should I have said something? I've always felt, as in the case of our store and our windows, that I have already used my actions to make my point. Perhaps I'm relying too much on being an introvert and wanting to avoid a confrontation and perhaps I should learn to think faster. I never think of anything to say until later. Should I do better about that? Though, really, they'd probably say I started it. And perhaps the Donald Trump as a toy dinosaur put them over the edge. Who knows.


Anyway, yes, I will be switching copy shops. Yes, I am irritated with those guys. But I also feel sorry for them because a) I've worked corporate retail before and it is not a good feeling to be such a small cog in such a big operation, not to mention that uncharming warehouse space and b) what kind of life do you have where you want change in the system so you put your hopes behind someone who has done nothing but profit from the system and step on people like you to get what he wants, who promises to blow up the system which is one of the few things that is actually designed to help your life? when your hopes are placed in anger and fueled by hatred? I feel that there's going to be a disappointing outcome and not just for those of us who wanted a better outcome. But anyway, relentless love means I don't yell at the copy shop guys. Relentless love does mean that I make as many mindful choices as I can about the direction I want for this world. For me, most of that is moving as much of my money to small local businesses as I can, because I believe that small local businesses are better employers, do more for their community, and oh yeah, also don't make enough money to spend too much of it on lobbyists or donations to causes I disagree with. Relentless love does mean I keep making buttons. Perhaps a few will call someone an asshole, but the majority will be about the direction and the life that I want, not one consumed by hatred or anger or sorrow but one where I have pursued my passion and my creativity and where I help other people pursue theirs because that, I believe, is the only way for the world to be. Otherwise, I just don't see the point.

Oh yeah, and relentless love means I am giving serious considering to bringing back friendship pins. Remember those? I read an article about how people in Britain are wearing safety pins as a symbol of refuge, of safety. So that someone can be walking down the street and know they have an ally. But how fun would it be to be walking down the street and someone gives you a FRIENDSHIP PIN? Think about it. Also, I think we should see if the Southerners don't mind if we borrow "bless your heart" for a while. I feel like maybe that is a good response for a variety of situations. Like if you are walking down the street and someone yells out the n-word to someone walking near you - should you yell back "bless your heart!" or maybe just say to that person walking near you "bless their heart." Or to the guy with the Trump shirt who swaggered into the store yesterday? I would have liked to be able to pull off a "bless your heart" with just the right tone of voice. I'll have to practice that.

So here's what I'm thinking, in no particular order:

a. Action. Komai women are women of action. We don't do so well when we don't have a plan and I for sure have a lot of trouble with uncertainty. Drives my brother-in-law crazy that I can't be spontaneous, but there it is. Mostly because when I am uncertain, my mind is constantly running through the various options, what steps I will have to take, and the various outcomes. It takes a lot of energy and is irritating because I know that most of it is wasted since most of those outcomes won't even happen. So, fine, now I know what the outcome of the election is. I can start to make the plan for the next steps. I installed the window yesterday, I have buttons to make. Safety pins to dig up. One last photocopy job for the copy shop guys just to make sure they know that I am undefeated. 

(p.s. Two people recommended "ghost them" and "don't give them any more of your money." After complaining that no one takes the high road from my "take what you need" signs, I decided to take the high road. Not only not send them the dinosaur print, not even send them a relentless love button. Practicing what you preach is always so hard. I sent my copies to the new copy shop. I do not need the last word in the "battle" with two copy shop guys. They can have that "win." When I picked up my copies, the new copy shop guy complimented me on my dinosaur print so that's high road for the win.)


b. Connection. (you can skip if you read this on Facebook, but it is still part of my thoughts).  I REALLY did not want three Scott Walker wins to be good training for anything at all but I have learned a few things since 2011. Yes, horrible things are going to happen. In fact, there are going to be horrible things that you didn't even think about! So that really sucks. And even if thousands of you come out and protest, most likely, it will fall on deaf ears. EXCEPT for the ears of the people who are standing with you. And there are a lot of people standing with you. You have to be standing and you have to speaking to realize that people are standing and speaking with you, but they are there. Trust me. And all of this? It requires love, and it requires work, a lot of hard work. There are big forces in the world that feed on hate and fear and sorrow. They have always been with us. As an introvert, I would like to stay at home in my pajamas and just put Viggo's speech at the Black Gate on repeat. But that's exactly where those big forces do their work, when you are alone and disconnected and scared. As a store owner, as a citizen, as a Christian, I have been called out from my cozy nest. At times, it has been uncomfortable but I PROMISE that the reward was worth it. The connection, the love, the passion? it overwhelms the feeling that you can ease your pain if you just yell more or hate more or buy more or drink more. It shows you that the world is chock full of people who are following their passion, who are committed to what they love, who are working full out on their vision for this world and are doing so out of a grand sense of connection and love.

So, yes, the Scott Walkers of the world are going to continue to do bad things. I don't want to scare you, but they are going to do bad things you didn't even realize they could do. But your response cannot be to flee or to hide because those forces will just find you wherever you are. The only way to fight them is to join the fight wherever you are called: to shed light and love however you can, to call out injustice, to invite other people to find what they love, to challenge yourself in the ways you are complicit in a system that feeds on hate and sorrow and division. And when you join the fight, you will find that even though there are bad things you never even imagined, there is more power and love and connection than you could have ever imagined to fight this battle with you. And if you need numbers: I have been yelled at two times since 2011 and overheard disgusted mutters many times over that but we have sold 44,617 buttons and made at least triple that in connections to our community and customers. So the numbers are on the side of love.

c. Change. Have I ever told you about my death throes theory? I'm sure that I have. Here's the theory: there was a time in America's history when things were a particular way, great for some people, not so great for many other people. That time? it is in the past. It is dying or already dead. Like all times in the past, and we can't go back to it even though it looks nicer than it really was. I mean, do you really want to go back to a time when Spam was the greatest thing we had to offer? It's the old closing the barn door after the horse has fled or "that ain't no etch-a-sketch, this is one doodle can't be un-did" (that line from Juno keeps popping into my head). All that we have is moving forward, that's the only choice. So, imagine that time so far in the past and imagine that was the best time of your life, imagine that you feel that your entire life from then on has been on a steady downward slide, that there is nothing that is any better about now than what you had in the past, that all that was in the past is dead and that who you thought you were, where you thought your power and strength came from, is dying if not already dead. Sucks, right? And imagine that no one is providing you with the tools to adapt to the change, or the tools are being provided but they don't think they look like the way you thought tools should look. So, the death throes theory is that a particular way of life is dying. It is taking a while to die and the death throes are much more violent than I'd like them to be, there are people on the sidelines being struck out at but they are not really the true target. We just have to do the best we can to protect ourselves and to carry each other through these changing times. But death will come. We are not going back. We cannot go back.

d. Work. So much work to be done. It's exhausting. I know. But the more that I have learned, the more that I have seen that our American ideal of welcoming the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to be free? We have a ways to go before we live up to that. Through all the ages, this country has received its immigrants with less graciousness than I would like, it has profited from the work of people without truly compensating them, it has manipulated people and it has marginalized people that don't look or act according to certain narrow expectations. The American ideal did not just fall on November 8th, it has always been rather tenuously maintained. And there are many people who have never really benefited from our "liberty and justice for all." They probably woke up on November 8th and thought, yep, just like I've been trying to tell you. I was already feeling so strongly that there is a lot of work ahead of us. Yes, it would have been easier with Hillary in the White House, yes, Donald Trump is probably going to create more work, but the work didn't suddenly appear this campaign season. In fact, if anything, what this campaign season has done (and the Obama years) has shed light on the work that needs to be done. Some of it, I'll be honest, I thought was already done. I am starting to awaken to the experience of African Americans in this country. It makes me sad and mad that we purport to hold people to certain standards of democracy and equality around the world when we are failing so miserably at it here. Over the course of this campaign, I have heard the stories that women share about casual and malicious invasions of their personhood, so many stories, stories that also make me sad and mad at this ongoing failure. But that doesn't change my feelings about the value of government and the value of pooling our resources to collectively create a better future, about our strength in our love and our ability to be good in the world, about the value of striving for our ideals. We just have to constantly push ourselves to broaden our circle. It starts with listening and connecting, crossing over lines and reaching for what brings us together instead of focusing on what divides us. And it gets going with work. It is big work about where you spend your time and your money, about being the world you want your children to inherit; it is little work about being ready to be an ally and an interrupter. When I woke up this morning, I was thinking about incidences of hate crimes that I hear on the rise. But you know, we have choices when we sit on a bus or when we are standing at a gas station or when we see someone vulnerable. I haven't quite figured out what my response is going to be. I am seriously considering adopting "bless your heart" as something to yell out. Or maybe just carrying around that box of questions for awkward single people to ask on first dates and be ready to start a conversation. Do you ignore people who are being hateful? Do you try to respond to them? Or do you just offer your presence and friendship for someone who is the target of hatred? How do you interrupt and diffuse a situation? When you've been in a situation where someone was bullying you, what would have been helpful? Someone yelling back at the bully? or someone just sitting by your side drawing your attention away from the bully? someone sitting down between you and the bully? I think we need to be more ready.


e. Math. I just crunched the numbers for consolation. Pro: 59 million out of 318 million voted for Trump. That is NOT a majority of citizens over the age of 18. You can stop feeling sad or mad or bad about 50% of the people you see each day and knock that down to one in four, one in six if you want to include children. Con: Why is it so f*ing difficult to get people to vote? I know, the answer actually relates back to the previous paragraph. To the ideal of democracy vs. how this nation actually functions. Do you know I learned about women registering to vote for the very first time in their life? They were in their 30s and 40s! What does that say about our system that they have gone so long into their life without voting being demanded of them? And let's not even talk about all the ways the GOP has tried to obstruct the votes of African Americans or about people waiting HOURS in line to vote. In all my life of voting, I have never had to wait more than 30 minutes. Why is that not true for everyone? The reality is that a lot of people are trained to expect that their vote is meaningless, are discouraged in so many ways to even cast their vote and then it's a downward spiral between the system not working and no one demanding, via their vote, that change be made.

f. Gratitude. Oh. My. Goodness. Did you see all those people working their heart out on this campaign? I am in awe. Did you wake up feeling sad and then read all the posts on Facebook about people who were sad, but also mad and ready to stand up? Not just absorbed in what this means for them but thinking about the wider world. Perhaps feeling totally depressed or angry or sad, needing some time to grieve but also looking up and feeling committed. I am really so in love with everyone right now.

g. You know the song going through my head right now? "Everlasting Love." The Carl Carlton version if we must be honest. Except instead of "everlasting," "relentless." That's what I have to come back to. Because the other option? The other option is to be so overwhelmed with fear or sorrow or anger that you've forgotten what you love, what gets you out of bed in the morning, what propels you forward. The other option is to let your anger consume you so that you stop seeing what connects you to other people and you only see how you are divided. You stop seeing that you have choices to make. And then you become everything you are feeling sad or mad or bad about.


collaging with Kelly Kilmer

Election night. Eek. Are you freaking out? The rest of the family is working the polls so I was left today to tend shop and commiserate with anyone who comes in and try to put on a cheerful face. But that's probably better than staying at home fretting. I certainly will be spending a lot of time getting consolation from Pantsuit Nation. Except the one drawback is that now I feel even more pressure now that I've read so many stories of all the different people around this country who are voting for Hillary and whose well-being depends on the outcome. We're not just talking sanity and ability to hold one's head up in the world, I mean whether or not they get to stay a family, whether or not their child gets health care. As I was saying, eek.

But probably enough has been said on the matter. I mean, I could have said more but I had this entire post written at 2 pm and when I went to hit save, the internet hung up on me and I lost it all. So, rewriting now in the evening, trying not to obsess about the early results coming in. Because what I really wanted to talk about was what motivates me as a citizen of this country and as a child of a creating God. At its core, really, is my belief that we are all children of a creating God, that we are all created in God's image and that we are precious and beloved and valued. That we all have amazing things to contribute to the world and that the world is better for all of us being in it, following our hearts and creating. And even if there is no external divine being, there is still the uniqueness that is each of us, and the constant creation and change from the moment we take a breath (and create carbon dioxide) to the moments we pick up whatever it is that we choose to do and make with our hands. For some, that is creating a home, for others that is gardens, meals, financial success for their clients, avenues for their students to grow and learn. Not to mention the knitting, crochet, the origami, paper collage, painting... I am thankful for all the creative endeavors!

Most recently, I am thankful for the opportunity that I finally gave myself to take a workshop, well, workshops (three days, four workshops) from Kelly Kilmer. Her workshops have long been on my bucket list mostly for the combination of image and text and paint that feels like it is right up my alley. I notice a lot of people painting nowadays and, frankly, I am really good at painting backgrounds but that is about it. What I've really wanted to do is create some collages with my own photographs and to work more on integrating collage images onto a page. Boy, did I get to work on that! I don't think I've had three solid days for such work in a long time - it was inspiring but also a little exhausting. I'll have to build up my stamina.


So the first thing I should say about a Kelly Kilmer workshop is that she is not kidding when she says she doesn't pack light. Holy cow. I spent several weeks before the workshop, fretting over what to pack in my suitcase, dealing with insecurity over lack of an art journal, and so on and so forth. In the end, Kelly reassured me enough though I think next time I will just try to bring some collage image and leave the rest at home. Airport security took my deckle-edge ruler! Sad! At least they let me keep my bone folder. But, seriously, Kelly had zillions of stencils, markers, washi tape, collage images, stamps, you name it. I felt very spoiled. I didn't even need to bring an art journal to work in as we ended up making three! yes, three! books to work in.




Here are a few progressions of pages from early stages to more or less done. I realize that many people might have stopped earlier and that there is something to be said for white space, but I am pretty much incapable of leaving it. I really wanted to focus on everything that Kelly was teaching us but I'm also looking forward to melding this with some of the other techniques I have learned over the years from other instructors. I'm particularly thinking of random marks making with sumi ink. Something to explore. Also, I was trying not to think too much and just focus on being present and in the process, but I am hoping eventually that some Madison related collages will come out of this. With that in mind, I tried to put a Madison photo in every single collage. But sometimes it didn't make it through to the end. I decided to let that part go and not be so focused on creating product for the store, which is certainly so much of my focus otherwise.




I really liked this guy and the collage as it started to shape up. Sometimes we had a journal prompt to think about from the very beginning of the page but in this case, Kelly gave us the journal prompt towards the end. It was something like "what are you sorry about?"  Well, this guy didn't really look like he was sorry about anything so my text was pretty unapologetic. 



Here's the start of another collage. I found it really interesting to play back and forth with focal and background images. I think my collages are so typically either flat (no difference between focal and background) or background with a single foreground. In this case, we ended up putting some focal images down early - what with paint and more collage and stencil, sometimes new focal points emerged or focal points ended up more integrated with backdrops.





Another picture from early in the process compared to the end. Oh my goodness, I love using stencils.





Here's a mostly finished page: my parents and my sister on the left, me on the right: 


and another mostly finished, with my mom's adopted parents on the right: 



and one more from the beginning:



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These are the pages that are still works in progress. On the right-hand side, a two-page spread that started with a journal prompt about serenity. That might be what I go home and work on for the rest of the night.  


And the journal we created on the third day with various painting techniques, and stencils of course.  


 and a two-page spread from the painted journal. Not quite sure where this collage is going. It still needs work.


So, there you go: three wonderful days with an awesome teacher in an inspiring studio in California. I have plans to finish the pages in the three books that we created, plus an idea about a deck of cards with collaged images... Not to mention the Madison/Wisconsin projects I hope to work on. I should really schedule some time for myself. 

So, deep breath. Long night ahead of us. I hope after all of this is said and done we can still focus on the gifts that each one of us can bring to the world and our gratitude for what others bring to us and what their creative energy does in our world.

making buttons. again.


Weird. I feel like I've been here before. Except this time the anxiety is about the entire nation and not just my state. It didn't end so well last time (Walker's re-election) (or the two times before that). Fourth time is a charm? And yes, I know. I've been absent from here for a while. I didn't even say anything to you after I got back from California! Eek. That trip was amazing. I am super inspired about art projects and techniques. I will fill you in shortly. Also, on recent arrivals. But let me just tell you, that nasty woman comment that Trump made during the last debate? It REALLY hit a sore spot. With a lot of people. And so, what I have been up to since October 19th? Making buttons.

I am quite tickled at the number of women, of all ages, who walk into the store looking as if they are on a mission. I'm pretty sure they are responding to Sachi's "Nasty Women buttons" sandwich board but haven't quite figured out a graceful way to say "you must be looking for nasty woman buttons."

It's like the days of the protest all over again, people surrounding the button table laughing over buttons, commiserating over family members and coworkers, not to mention Donald Trump himself. And now, just two days to go. I'm alternating between freaking out, trying to be calm so that I can be comforting to other people, reminding myself of all the work that has to be done anyway, while trying not to think too much about all the work that will have to be done should the White House become invaded by Republicans. Because, I tell you, it happened to the Governor's mansion here in Wisconsin and it ain't pretty (and even though Donald Trump is such a horrible little person with a little mind and a little heart, I have to say that the current crop of Republicans hasn't impressed me much either. ahem, Paul Ryan). 



But anyway, it's hard to look up and think about other things. I'm mostly preoccupied with trying to figure out what window to install on November 9th and how many photocopies to make for new buttons. We will have sold close to 3000 in less than a month by the time Tuesday rolls around. I am grateful for Emily in Texas who provided us with a new infusion of button-making energy and has been tremendously creative and a source of great entertainment for our button table. Her many buttons have been quite a hit. I can't tell what the copy shop guys thought about the "Pussy Grabs Back" button. "Nasty Women Vote" is a simple and popular option as well. Emily even inspired us to do a little hand-lettering ourselves. Sachi made a great Russ button and I have a few other variations on the nasty woman theme. We are thinking also about new hand-lettered buttons for future series. Maybe some Wisco buttons?


We had quite a buzz of excitement on Friday when Joe Biden was next door at the Orpheum. No, he didn't come to the shop. But it seems like everyone who went to hear him speak came and got their Nasty Woman buttons afterwards. We were swamped! But it was a lively crowd with amazing energy and a good way to kick off the last weekend of getting out the vote in all the different ways that people are working.  And also, someone invited me into the Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook and it is so wonderful! Inspiring, liable to make you tear up, a wonderful reminder of all that we are working towards and all the people working with us in this nation. It came along at a perfect moment and is making these last few days bearable.

Sachi and Mom are both working the polls on election day, and Mom has also been busy volunteering at the library helping the early voters. I'm in awe of the stories of people waiting in line for hours to cast their vote. Though also frustrated - doesn't it seem like we are a resourceful nation who could arrange things so that it only took every person no more than 30 minutes to vote? Why is that so hard? I feel incredibly fortunate that the City of Madison has dedicated itself to the voting process and expanded early voting this year. It took me about 10 minutes door-to-door, slightly less than my usual average of 20 minutes. Though I usually like to get my number on the day of, I was getting really stressed out about being hit by a car or something on election day and being unable to cast my ballot. Amidst all the other stress, it was nice to have already cast my vote. Anyway, apologies for not staying in touch. I will be back with pictures of my collages and trip to California, pictures of new arrivals to the store and shortly after that, the holiday window debut. Because, yes, it is time to think about Christmas.

I hope that everyone is remembering to take deep breaths, hug some little ones close to you, maybe work on some art projects - do whatever you have to do to make it through these last days of the worst election season I've ever known. Let's all work for good things on Tuesday, and liberty and justice for all ever after.





heading West

oooh.... I'm SO excited! I'm heading off to the San Francisco area to take workshops
from Kelly Kilmer
, an artist I have long admired. More specifically, an artist I have admired and who works in a similar medium/style such that what I will learn from her will be ... not just useful, but, that too. I'm trying to calm down about it all - I've never taken an art workshop so far away, one that requires me to pack my workshop supplies and clothes for a week into a carryon suitcase. It has also been a while since I've treated myself to three solid days of art making. Not that I can really complain since I have time for that every day, but there's something about the solid block of time that has got me constructing lists of projects to work on. I have an idea about making some collage pieces including Madison imagery that would eventually turn into prints or cards for the shop. I have an idea about using some of Dad's old pictures (now bound in a spiral bound  book) as collage background. I had an idea about continuing work in a book that I started in another workshop. So many ulterior motives. I had an idea about bringing a gelli plate along so I could print during the workshop. I had an idea about having to go to the art supply store and see what else I might like to have with me.

But I've calmed down now. With only two days to departure, that's a good thing. We are making two books in the workshop so I've decided not to bring along any other books to work in and I am giving myself permission to just learn and play and not necessarily generate something on the spot for the shop. Those things have a way of coming out.... eventually. Today is for all those last-minute errands and schedule-checking. I'm bringing a travel journal along - and, yes, I did not go out an buy a new one, I'm using one that Sachi gave me for Christmas last year, plus washi tape and some modified pages, and have been plotting out my itinerary. And in the theme of not actually calming down, it occurred to me at the last minute that although I am not packing all of my washi tape with me, I could take little pieces of washi tape in my travel journal and use them if I need to.

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In addition to the workshop, Mom is coming with me for part of the trip and we'll be visiting her brother, plus I get two days by myself in San Francisco, plus a day of dragging them to the inspiration stores in Berkeley (Castle in the Air) and Oakland (FLAX). I know I've mentioned this before, but that particular leg of a trip, with my uncle, was when he lowered the boom and declared that it was really time for me to open a store of my own. It has been a while since I haven't traveled with Sachi, who is the travel agent extraordinaire, so there's some extra level of preparation required. Oh, and at the last minute, I remembered Fluevog shoes which I've never even tried on (so maybe they don't fit my wide foot) but which several friends have been recommending. Because, let's face it, thinking about shoes is so much more pleasant than thinking about the presidential race.

Which, well, I won't say anything here, you pretty much know where I stand on the matter. We have been making more buttons and I'm very excited to be partnering with a formerly-of-Wisconsin-now-in-Texas artist on some new designs. She's been drawing and painting and I've been busy in PhotoShop making them into files to print and make into buttons. 



I did install the pre-election window and haven't had too many men yell at me for it. And, no, I am not making generalizations about that because in the history of the store, the only people who have actually yelled at me for my political views have been men. Two older men yesterday asked very sincerely if I had Trump buttons. They were both really puzzled, one even asking me why (which, really?) but I have now prepared my simple, "we don't agree with his values" reply. Because there's nothing that a long conversation can actually resolve, particularly given that we are in a "customer is always right" power imbalance. After I replied, the man turned to his middle-aged daughter and said "they don't have Trump buttons?" The daughter said, "don't start with me, Dad. I mean it." Has this election season been particularly trying or what? I find myself holding my breath when people are near the button table - looking for cues as to which way this is going to go. Is there laughter? silence? 

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As far as the rest of the shop goes, lots of great product has been arriving. We've both been busy working on new print, card and t-shirt images and are awaiting another delivery from our Willy Street printers. We've still been getting goods from the Stationery Show so there's plenty in the way of new cards.



Also some particularly lovely new wrapping paper, which required a total revamp of the sheets. We still dream about having floor to ceiling rungs for wrapping paper so that each sheet gets its own rung. Someday....


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The desk signs continue to be big hits, and we expect the unicorn and rainbow washi tape to be as well.




And we are happy to keep adding to our collection of Wisco goodness. And over the moon that includes Kennedy Prints.

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oh, and I've been working on Halloween costumes. Food-themed this year, and I had lots of fun making my popcorn crown. To the point where I am seriously tempted to make a vote crown and stand in the medians near the Madison Public libraries in my spare time and send people in to vote early. Sachi is still working on the logistics of her mac and cheese pizza slice. I think this afternoon we'll be gluing the candy dots on the tunic for Lily's costume. The Downtown Family Halloween is on Wednesday this year and it is always a fun and lively afternoon of candy distribution.



Finally, it is not too late to start thinking about holiday shopping and craft fairs! Unfortunately, the Craftacular is taking a break this year but we always enjoy the artists who come together for The Crafty Fair. Mark your calendars!


planners (no, it is not too early)

I've actually found myself wishing I had my 2017 calendar a few times of late and we've had a full stock of planners for at least a few weeks. To the point that a few are starting to sell out. More significantly, we do have planners that start with the academic year (starting August 2016) so it is really not too late.

We spent a lot of time at the Stationery Show in May looking over planners. There are zillions of planners out there right now - we are particularly happy to see that electronic calendars have not made paper planners obsolete. Many people seem to be using planners more as journals, which seems perfect (as someone who always fails to fill a whole page, the idea of a small square for each day is especially appealing).

So, here's what we have:

1. Academic year calendars, running August 2016 - December 2017:

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fun polka dots and florals in a hefty ring binder format. Not the kind of thing I would carry around with me but would be a really fun guided journal:

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and the ever-gorgeous, Rifle Paper florals:

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2. blank planners and notebooks with options for dated pages:

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3. 2017 planners:

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not very exciting covers, just solid colors, but really great pages for goal-setting and planning:

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 and, yes, I will follow this up shortly with a wall/desk calendar summary.


Toront...OH, my goodness how fun is this!

A week ago, the two Komai sisters + our Mom, went up to Toronto for a few days. It was our first time there, ostensibly to attend a trade show and buy some things for the shop, but also to visit the charming Olivia and see a new city. It was a fast trip: two days at the trade show + one day to cover an impressive list of indie craft and paper shops. Clearly we will have to go back.

The show itself went well though we found some people weren't quite set up for shipping to the U.S. and were a little self-conscious at the end by all the people who said "America! What are you doing up here?!"


We found some goodies (like the blue and white dishes above) and didn't get too carried away with Canadiana, I don't think. Some of it was hard to resist. The art of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest has always really appealed to me, and we found a great company which works with artists from First Nations to produce and distribute their work. I know, I can't go all Pacific Northwest, but we ordered these great pocket tokens with images of eagles, salmon, bear, frogs and more on one side and accompanying words like "peace" "power" "solidarity" on the reverse. Though I feel like a little more crabbiness of my mood of late (canNOT wait for this election to be over!) might be creeping into the store (just a few more expletives that I have in my daily vocabulary), I also feel like these tokens embody things that we could all use a little more of. Most of our orders are on a fast track so they should be arriving to the store in the next month or so. Sachi even managed to buy cards on site at a store we visited where the artist was working behind the counter and was open to a wholesale purchase. Our customs declaration form was something like: "stickers, washi tape, stationery, books." I'm pretty sure the customs agent would put those all together in one category. oh, yeah, here's a picture of our personal shopping haul from the trip:



I think for both of us, the most striking thing about Toronto was the sheer volume of local and indie shops. Now, part of this might be because we wouldn't recognize a Canadian chain store if it hit us on the head. Another component is that we had an advance team do all the scouting for us, and Olivia knows exactly what kind of stores we like. But my common complaint when I travel to other cities is that I can't find the local and indie shops. I would like New York's version of Anthology, Atlanta's take on Paper Source, you get the idea. In Atlanta's defense, I have actually found some great stores there but on the whole, going to big cities seems like a real scrounge to find indie shops. Even the Haight-Ashbury's of the world are starting to get a creeping in of American Apparels or whatnots. SO, anyway, the point is: kudos to Toronto! We have a sneaking suspicion there is something written into city planning up there which helps the process. We ran out of time to see everything but some of our favorites were: Kid Icarus, Hanji, The Paper Place, Likely General, Scout, Juxtapose, Good Egg, Page and Panel, Just You, and Type Books. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. And I KNOW we didn't get to them all. Can you tell me that many indie stores in New York City? In L.A.? in Chicago? I mean, please do! I know that a few exist in each city, but I think Toronto's numbers are going to be hard to beat. It would be nice if our city planners could be so accommodating of indie business. In addition to shopping for our personal enjoyment, adding to our washi tape stash and presents, Sachi basically had her little notebook out all the time, getting inspiration from the many great artists that we saw (mostly, sketching out ways to create Madison and Wisconsin versions of Toronto and Canada prints). The sisterly competition eventually kicked in and I got started on a new print as well as our custom Madison washi tape project. That is taking me forever. I know.

As always, it is nice to see what other shopgirls and boys are up to, to get a sense for product mix and product placement. Though many people have asked us for patches, we've been a little slow on the uptake, but after seeing the awesome assortment of patches and enamel pins in Toronto shops, we decided we had to add to our collection. The first shipment already arrived but there are more on the way.


As far as other store arrivals, we are still in the middle of the National Stationery show order roll-out. There was a little flurry of 8/1 shipments, as there will be for 9/1 and 10/1.  Some arrivals from the last few weeks include: coloring books, adulting stickers, cute Japanese rubber stamps, screen printed cards.

(just as a reminder, though I will post some photos here, the fastest and best update on arrivals to the shop can be found on our Instagram account, if you don't mind also getting pictures of the general life of a shopgirl).

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We are gearing up a bit more for election season. Sachi had a brilliant idea for a post-election window which I'm not sure I can quite pull off, but we are slowly gathering goods for an October-November window. It's going to be good. I have been a bit of a slacker when it comes to button-making but did a major restock today, as well as adding more Hillary buttons. I don't really want a lot of buttons that even have Trump's name on them, but I couldn't resist the one about tiny hands. Sachi says a few people have come in looking for Trump buttons but we can't quite tell if they are just trying to get a reaction from us. As usual, the shopgirl fallback: smile and nod, is the way to go. Once I thought someone was joking about Scott Walker buttons. That didn't go over so well.




It is also move-in season around here as the students switch to new apartments and new students start arriving to town. For us, that means wrapping paper season, as it is a quick and easy (and pretty) way to add decor to a dorm or apartment room. Sachi ordered some new sheets in New York which I hadn't even seen. I particularly like the swimmers, but the florals from Rifle Paper and others are nice as well. It's easy to pick up some frames at the thrift store (or off the curb) and fill them with an assortment of papers for a nice wall collage. 


I am making progress on my set of 15 crowns. Doing some hand lettering with Sharpie paint pen on mirrors and trouble-shooting the gluing of the paper crowns to the glass mirrors. I'm getting closer. The deadline is early December so I think I'm more or less on track. We are working on a few prints to send out for screen printing locally so I'm looking forward to those (including Sachi's glue guns not handguns sign which she, naturally, redid with fancy hand lettering). And other than that, believe it or not, it is time to think about Christmas. I'm just finalizing the budget for the holiday season and then we will get to work on stocking the store for the holidays. I have an idea for a holiday window which hasn't been supplanted so I guess we are going with that. We'll see how it all comes together. I'm still feeling like I need a few more products to pull it together but it usually all works out.