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January 2013

in between times

Sunday 003

That probably says it all, but it seems like cheating to stop there. The last few weeks feel rather discombobulated, but I'm not sure if that's any more than usual. We had a very strong holiday season which was interrupted by a snow day - that brought several inches of snow, enforced inactivity, and a general feeling of anxiety that I didn't particularly need (so close to Christmas a person could easily lose almost a month's worth of rent by being closed). In the end, we were already ahead of sales for the year, and we caught up on the weekend following after, AND we had a white Christmas and some lovely photo ops. The snowman at the Capitol were quite entertaining. I especially loved the playful aspect of a plot of land that hasn't been feeling so playful for me lately.

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I stayed at my parents' house during the great snow so that I could help them with shoveling, and am now in the middle of some cat-sitting on the charming East Side of town in a neighborhood with zillions of eateries - between scraping the ice off the sidewalk, deciding where to eat and carefully moving my feet around the cats, I've been keeping busy.

Sunday 002Sachi has been very industrious. She has several new project ideas and hasn't seem to take a break at all when it comes to making bird nest necklaces.  I haven't even looked at what I need to do to restock what sold. I'm feeling rather tired even though the competitive sibling in me has a hard time letting her pull ahead. Our mom swears she doesn't know where it comes from and that she did nothing to instigate it but there's no doubt that there's a little competitiveness that drives our actions. We have a little time, of course. The next three months are definitely the quiet time - the words my boss always said are running through my mind: "Don't hunt when the ducks aren't flying."

Certainly it is not like we have to restock the shop to the holiday levels right away. It's a little hard to transition so I have to restrain myself when it comes to reordering. Buying for the shop is probably one of my most favorite tasks... and much more pleasant to work on than all the other things that I really need to be doing this time of year. Because end of the calendar/fiscal year means all sorts of bookwork, whipping all the files into shape for the accountant and tax time, preparing forms for various forms that need to be filed. NOT that I begrudge paying the taxes, just that I wish it was less time-consuming. And then we have to inventory the whole place. Ugh. Perhaps the least fun task of being a shopgirl. Usually by the end, I find myself saying, "that wasn't so bad," but the weeks leading up to it are filled with procratinatory dread, restocking and cleaning that isn't super urgent but that feels like it would make the counting process easier, counting, calcuating, and counting some more. I've already started inventorying the drawers all over the place. I have finally reached a moment where I'm not so thrilled with the card catalog, or, rather, not so thrilled with the thought of counting everything in all the drawers.

Much more fun to be thinking about merchandising and buying. All I have to do is make it through the next couple weeks, and then we'll be heading out to the Craft and Hobby Association Conference and Trade Show. This might be our favorite trade show, not only because we get to see what's new in the craft world, but also because most of the displays are pretty creative and inspiring. At the gift trade shows, most of the displays, while they can be lovely, are a simple arrangement of product, whereas at the CHA, a lot of the vendors fill their booths with paper crafts and other ideas of what to do with their products. We are rotating around between shows so we missed this one last year and are especially interested to see what we see.

Meanwhile at the shop, it is mostly time to rearrange, redo the windows, pack up the Christmas and spread things out. I've started to do some planning ahead for the new year, looking at categories we might want to expand, starting my wish list. And though I should have just put these on the list, I couldn't resist one last (or first) purchase.  Even though they arrived this week, I'm kind of counting them as the first product of the new year. These fun paper straws make me think all sorts of happy party thoughts, but I think they would also be really cool for a piano-hinge book or some other book structure.  They come in lots of different colors - the vendor said I set a record for placing my order and making up my mind; little did she know I had to act fast or else I would have spent a week debating color combinations.


And last, but not least, Christmas day was lovely. I did come into the shop for about an hour to some work that I should have done on Christmas eve but was too tired to do, and wanted to get done before the next morning. Yes, I am a bit of a workaholic. But I enjoyed the rest of my day much more knowing it was done. Some selected Christmas items are on sale for 40% but the consignment items needed to be pulled from the sales floor and I was ready to consolidate and clean up just a bit. I did save the window for later in the week. I took some winter pictures because I'm starting to think about a Madison winter postcard series for next year, and then it was home for all the festivities.  I made matching Word Girl shirts for my niece and me.  Though the picture is blurry, I love the look on her face. Ultimately, the $5 gift card from Orange Leaf and the little Totoro stuffie from our shop were the hits... both of which I had in her stocking and were opened early.  I could have stopped there. Just like the little kid who likes the cardboard box better than the gifts that were inside.

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And now it is almost the new year. I don't really do much as far as resolutions go - the collage of many resolutions that I made a few years ago is still carrying me. Though Sachi and I started thinking about an actual time when we would be working five-day workweeks. Made it to owning a store by 40; time to set the next goals....

25/25 Day 25: Gifts & Gratitudes


Day 25. Christmas Eve/Christmas Day/later, depending on when you read this. We ARE open from 9 am to 4 pm on Christmas Eve but at this point, I think I've made all the suggestions of my favorite things. As a control freak/planner, I have been done with my shopping for a while. I am not bragging, but not having Christmas presents by this time would seriously stress me out. To avoid such anxiety, I am on the lookout for most of the year, and when I find something, I buy it and hide it in the closet. Shopping right now for me consists of last minute perishables for the stockings. But I know that other people have different traditions and better methods of sticking to a budget (because what do you do when you find something perfect in July, buy it, and then find something more perfect in December? For me, buy that also, usually.  Our mom's birthday is in February so I can at least just carry her presents over to the birthday).

In any event, as I thought about this list and coming to the end of it, it seems most appropriate to end not with things, but with gratitudes.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. -Meister Eckhart

And I know this is strange coming from someone who owns a shop, but I've become much more mindful of the stuffedness of our lives. When I was younger, I was quite a shopper... well, I still am, I just do it for the shop. But the kind of shopping I did seems representative of how we were as a nation - on this unending, and often unthinking, cycle of buying and searching for what's new. Does that really do any good? In our own lives? in the world as a whole? I'm just starting to feel that we overextended ourselves so much - doing and buying and seeing and acquiring without much thinking and being.

Now, clearly, I'm a capitalist, I like stuff, I like selling stuff, I like buying stuff, but I also think that we need more than just that. For me, the depth of the experience comes in shopping with local businesses and knowing that the stuff has some story and meaning. The depth comes in having my own store and connecting with the people who actually make the stuff, as well as connecting with the people who buy the stuff. The depth comes in having a shorter distance between the hands that make the stuff and the hands that receive it.

Friday 003

So here at the end of the season of preparing for Christmas, of buying and selling stuff, I am also thinking about my Christmas of giving and enjoying the moment.  There has been much discussion about the "War on Christmas" this year but I have to admit that I haven't really been paying attention to the discussion. Christmas has always been a magical time for me, but I think that magic has to be something that you create or maintain - it doesn't really matter what the outside forces are trying to do.... so I seriously question someone's ability to have a war on your Christmas unless you let them.

Christmas for me is about making the connection, materially, yes, to the people who I love. I wish everyone could just be out shopping for presents for the people they love. Obviously there are elements of obligation that add some less desireable element to the whole process, but as a stuff person, shopping for presents and sending my Christmas letter is one reflection of my affection. It's something that I really enjoy; then again, that's part of the reason that I opened a shop. But even though we are so often focused on the material gifts, there are so many gifts that I receive, so much abundance in my life. I feel so tremendously grateful for the opportunity and ability to create our shop. To spend time with my sister, to connect with local artists, to have connected with customers and so many other people, to be able to share the work that I do and the things that I love on such a grand scale. Thank YOU!

We've been receiving Christmas cards from many of our vendors - some electronic, some paper - and I've been grumbling a bit about electronic greetings. It doesn't really appease my need for holiday greetings. Then again, I don't have everyone's mailing address. So here I am as well, sending out my wishes for a very happy holiday season, for the blessings and warmth that surround us all, even in this cold and dark midwinter (how does that work when you live somewhere warm? It's such a great metaphor for us here in Wisconsin. I suppose you get by just fine, don't you?).  My hopes for you are the time to enjoy the gifts that you have, to sink deeply into the connections to the people you love and the things that you love doing. I thank you so very much for providing me the opportunity to do what I love.

Merry Christmas and a very very Happy New Year!


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25/25 Day 24: More stocking presents

Phew... well, THAT was an ambitious task.  I see how regular blogging could have a positive effect on the blog stats but every day has been a challenge. Still, I hope I do a little better in 2013 than in 2012 - I'd hate to become one of those bloggers who drive me so crazy (when I go to check on their blog and find the same thing that was there the last time I checked...).

ANYWAY, gotta be winding things down now for Christmas, right?  For some reason, stocking presents are still what I have last, so I thought this would be good for the last product post. And yes, I realize that this is only #24 out of 25. I have something planned for #25, don't worry.

More little things that fit in stockings:

1. mini soaps and travel candles. We love the scent and I like to keep a little bar around my house just for the scent, plus the packaging design is lovely... so, yes, I admit, that I DO judge a book by its cover.

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2. Decorated clothespins. Great to hold little things - we use them with a ribbon like a clothesline to display our prints, but you could also attach magnets and use them on the fridge.... does anyone have a magnetic fridge anymore? I have so much more fondness for my old fridge knowing that those fancy stainless ones won't hold all my magnets...

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3.  Pocket mirrors. Made right here in Madison.

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4. Handstamped bracelets. Made in Oshkosh.

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25/25 Day 23: More gifts for Her

Still not done? Ok,  I'm not judging. These last days before Christmas are really hectic for me so I try to wrap things up early... but they are really hectic because a lot of people are still out shopping so you should be happy to know that you aren't alone.  We come from a family that would buy things all year long and stash them in the closet; but I know people whose family tradition is to go out Christmas eve and buy presents. The control freak in me has trouble handling that thought.

BUT, if you are still trying to figure out gifts for her, we still have plenty of choices:


1. Calendars. It seems we aren't the only one who gives our Mom a calendar for Christmas. We love the design of this Snow & Graham calendar, though of course it is more decorative than functional.

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2. Jewelry. We still have a lovely array of jewelry to choose from, including the botanicals from a California artist and also the detailed woodcuts, also from California.


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3. Picture frames. Mosaic picture frames from Emily in Illinois, and plenty of button picture frames made right here in the shop.
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4. Scarves. We just got in some lovely new hand-dyed rayon scarves, and also have Laura's cyanotype silk scarves and the totally amazing yo-yo scarves made from recycled sari silk.
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25/25 Day 22: More gifts for Him

Judging by the proportion of men to women in our shop, the men need more gift suggestions, but just in case you are still looking for a gift for him...

1. Just in the nick of time, we received more neckties from Jes out in Brooklyn.  We love her great designs.

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2. The very popular Illustrious Omnibus of Super Powers, as well as the Grand Taxonomy of Rap Names. These prints are very popular and also provide a great source of entertainment for the guys who are waiting while their girlfriends are shopping, though they might get a crick in their neck from having to look up at where they are hanging.

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3. Playing cards - the Spy Deck and the Gentleman's Deck, complete with tips and trivia.

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4. iPad cases. Upcycled from men's flannel shirts. We love that they kept the pocket!

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25/25 Day 21: Made by Laura or Sachi

Sometimes when people ask, I get a little tired of touring them around the entire store. But about 25% of our stock is made by either Sachi or Laura, reflecting a variety of materials that we tend to dabble in. Sachi's formal training is in printing and drawing; Laura's first foray into making things to sell was in the quilting realm - but from there... well, it's anyone's guess.

1. Jewelry. Relatively simple construction relies mostly on the loveliness of enamels that we acquire from Duluth. Laura spends many a happy evening sorting and coordinating these trinkets. Meanwhile, Sachi's speciality is a little finer & delicate, her sweet little bird nest necklaces are very popular gifts.

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 2. Laura's magnet picture frames, an easy way to display the latest picture and a popular gift item.

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3. Photo snippets. Mementos of Madison in one-inch or two-inch photo squares.

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4. Sewn ornaments. By Sachi, who has patience for much more hand sewing than Laure ever will. Just a cautionary note: the felt Wisconsin ornament is selling quickly so you might want to call us to make sure we still have them. (608) 204-2644.

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5. Laura's cyanotype scarves. Printed on white silk using the light of the sun and the shadow of objects such as doilies to create lovely patterns.
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Well, that's good for starters. Of course there are the popular button bracelets which are made right here at the shop, paper packs assembled from our paper assortment, earrings, collages, onesies designed by Sachi, Laura's quilts and table runners, knitter's pockets....

25/25 Day 20: Gifts for the Home

I have to admit that I've always been one of those people who puts art on the walls within a week or two of moving to a new place. Well before the entire kitchen is unpacked. But if you know someone who has moved recently, or who could use a little house warming, may we suggest:

1. Art. Crazy idea? Maybe, maybe not. Prints have certainly been one of our strongest categories this year. We have many different artists' works to choose from, framed and not.

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2. Madison posters.

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3. Cut metal art. Recycled from steel oil drums and cut using simple techniques by artists in Haiti.

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4. Wisconsin dishtowel. No such thing as too many dish towels? Our mom and dad have to agree to disagree with each other as they land on opposite sides of this particular debate. But this towel is a nice souvenir for those who are going away or are away already, or to take as hostess presents when visiting abroad.

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25/25 Day 19: Gifts for stockings

For some reason, stocking presents seem to be the last ones that I get around to.  I still have my brother-in-law left, but I might just head to Brennan's or Willy Street Co-Op and get some tasty food. I do like the challenge of finding rather small in size items... though my brother-in-law teases us about not particularly sticking to a budget. It turns out it is very easy to find small things that push you over any limits. But in the interest of sticking to size and budgetary limitations, here are a few stocking present suggestions:

1. Magnets. Now that we have added to our collection of old metal furniture, I'm feeling happier about the arrangement of magnets in the store. I used to have to walk customers all around the shop to find the full assortment. I am personally quite fond of our sarcastic bird magnets, but I'm not sure if they are totally suitable for stocking presents. Perhaps Curly Girl is a better choice. This is another vendor we have carried since we first opened the shop. I always loved the notecards and had them at the top of my list when we first started making plans. I feel the same way to this day.

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2. Little notebooks. I have a major weakness for little notebooks, but I am particularly fond of these little guys. I carry one in my purse to write down reminders, and also things that my niece tells me... often while we are driving around in the car.

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3. Mini clothespins. There was a young boy in the shop recently who felt that such mini clothespins were utterly useless, but we actually find them quite useful. My sister has prints hanging up along ribbons for decor in my niece's room - she uses these little clothespins, just as we do around the shop. I like the ability to easily change things around.

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4. Luck. Lucky pennies and lucky charm necklaces.

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5. Buttons. We do have an assortment of non-political buttons, but many people are purchasing from our protest and campaign assortment for left-leaning stocking presents.

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25/25 Day 18: Gifts for bicycle lovers

Goodness but there are some dedicated bikers out in the world!  Every morning while I wait for the bus, I still watch people ride by me on their bikes. In December. Granted, the weather is milder than usual and they haven't had to break out the heavy-duty snow tires yet, but still.  Kudos to them for their dedication.

I don't know if it is because of the growing number of people riding their bikes or the growing number of people intending to ride their bikes or feeling nostalgic about riding their bikes, but bikes as a motif have been very popular this year. For those, may we suggest:

1. Bicycle paper products.  We have several different small presses making notecards with bicycles on them, as well as some new bicycle wrapping paper.

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2. Bicycle prints. on paper, but also on dishtowels.

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3. Bicycle dishes. Made by Beth in Milwaukee.

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4. Bicycle tees.

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25/25 Day 17: Gifts for Market-goers

I have to admit, that I have bit of a fear of chickens and have never really understood the chicken decorating impulse.  On the other hand, I am really inspired by all the people who have coops in their backyard, who have gone one further from shopping at the farmer's markets to actually growing their own food. I see this as an integral part of the new age - a deeper connection to and care for community, place, food, people. It's exciting to see.

In terms of items at the shop, we have an assortment that seems to appeal to the urban farmer/market shopper.

1. Nikki McClure prints. These prints, to me, are the epitome of everything I just talked about, and more. I'm quite sure that Ms. McClure lives the principles that she includes in her prints, which are printed with soy ink on recycled paper in the U.S. The images are prints of her paper-cut pieces - she starts with a black piece of paper; everything which is not black has been cut out with an exacto. Her prints tend to be popular with guys - the imagery is certainly less frou-frou than some of our other prints.

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2. Chicken dish towels.  Though I don't know... do people who keep chickens like items with chickens printed on them?

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3.Victory Garden prints.  A nod to the past with a contemporary twist. Great graphics for kitchens. Printed in Portland, Oregon.

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4. A great canvas tote bag for all your market produce. Printed just outside of Chicago and perfect for expressing your Midwest pride.

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5. Hmm.... Guess it's a post about prints. This great print comes from an artist in New Jersey. Sachi saw them at Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago and ordered them for the shop.

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