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little houses

Yes, I know, I should have taken more pictures along the way. In my defense, the times that I've been diligent about before/during/after pictures were the times that the project was a total flop - too much thinking, not enough doing.

I'm still working on my little 2x2 book but have made some progress which I thought I'd share, even though the progress would be more evident if I had taken other "during" pictures.

As a reminder, the inside pages of the book look like this:

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When the book is folded all the way down it has a vaguely house shape, even though the way it unfolds means the house is on its side or upside down. In any event, now that I have the pages, I'm working on the cover and thought I'd play up the house shape.

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This happens to me a lot. But do you ever look at someone else's work and think, that's not THAT hard, why, I could do that! I get myself into a lot of trouble that way. In the process, however, I learn that things are harder than they look, and I get an added appreciation for the work that I first saw. This, I believe, is a lesson that all of us could learn, over and over again. I think we are too separated from means of production and that once we try to make or grow or cook something, we find out all sorts of things we didn't know, and gain added appreciation for all the other people around the world who are making, growing, cooking. And is what I should keep in mind every time someone comes into the store and exclaims that they could make something. Just to be clear, there are ranges of meaning in such a statement. In many cases, a person could indeed make something that they see at the store, but when it is accompanied by a tone of voice that suggests we are overcharging (never mind that the price includes standing at the cash register 7 days a week) or that the work is somehow devalued just because it could be made, then my hackles are raised. On the other hand, when someone says they could make something (maybe accompanied by a purchase that enables me to continue to stand at the register 7 days a week) and then goes home and makes it, but makes it in such a way that their own artistry comes through, well, that is a very fundamental part of our mission at work. I think my favorite example was from the early days of our store and a woman came in and bought one of my blue sky snippets. She told me (and I remembered this) that she was at the shop with a friend and saw the collage, commented on it, and her friend said, "I could make that!" (and it is true, it is not a technically difficult piece to make, but I *have* spent several years collecting blue sky photos and keeping them organized by location so it is not that there is no effort involved). The woman told me, "well, I've been waiting for her to make it for me for a year now. I'm not going to wait any more." Sold. Either through sale of supplies or finished projects, since our shop needs to find some way to pay the rent, it is definitely useful when someone finds a way to reward us monetarily for the ideas that they glean from a visit. That said, we do want to encourage people to make things, and I definitely have more frustration from the "I'm not creative" comment than the "I can make that" comment.

ANYWAY, this is all just a roundabout way of saying that the shoe is on the other foot for this particular project. Because this little house shape has got me thinking about painting houses - and who hasn't seen a house in a painting? a box with a triangle on top? maybe some windows? how hard is that? I can make that!

ha ha ha.

First step: I cut out 8 pieces of corrugated cardboard. I'm making two of these books and each cover is a sandwich of two pieces of cardboard. There's a ribbon between the sandwich of the back cover and the sandwich of the front cover hides the back of the brad that the ribbon will tie around. The shape of the house is already set for me. Of course, I could add other embellishments, but the basic shape really is a rectangle with a triangle on top.

Second step: Gesso. Just to have a base coat of white on top of the cardboard, and because Michelle Ward told me to do it that way.

Third step: And this is where it all falls apart. My biggest problem really is that the pages of the book are a rainbow and so I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what kind of house would hold a rainbow. Has to be rainbow colors, right? stripes?  My first attempt had one set of colors on the front (red, aqua, blue, green) and another set of colors on the back (lavender, orange, coral), with white windows in the roof and body of the house. Didn't look good so I did what I always do which is add more. More colors, more patterns, stripes on the body of the house, with some polka dots inside the stripes, a line of dots along the roof line. Keep in mind that all of this is going on in a 2" x 2" space. UGH. At this point, my inclination is to keep adding more and more so I started thinking about collaging, and yet this tiny size really doesn't lend itself to that kind of approach.

Third step, redo: Even though the pages are rainbow, there was too much color going on. It just wasn't working. I gessoed over the body of the house, painted the roof a solid red. Decided to tie in the pages of the book (which are old atlas index pages) by using the same pages on the body of the house. I'm really having trouble with connecting the cover of the book to the interior pages - they are looking like two separate books.

I added a little gingham sticker at the edge of the roof. Don't ask me why, I just thought it was a nice touch. So that was Friday night. Red triangle, aqua washed text rectangle with a red door, green roofline.  Hmph. Kind of boring, and not really appropriate for a rainbow house.

Fourth step. Texture? Color? treading carefully, carefully... hoping not to go that one step past done which brings regret and more gesso. I *think* that I can bring a few more colors from the rainbow back into the house, but perhaps try for a little less contrast and crazy.

Punchinella - you know about this, right? It's the waste generated from sequins. It, along with bubble wrap, is on of my favorite texture-makers. I remain a polka dot person in so many ways (someone I used to ballroom dance with called me "Dotty" because every single dancing dress I had was polka dotted). I'm thinking about dots for the roof and stripes for the body of the house. For the stripes, I cut a sheet of transparency plastic - not as sturdy as template plastic but I just need it for this occasion so that will be fine. Using these as stencils and applying paint with a dry brush is a little more forgiving than trying to paint stripes and dots freehand.

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So far, so good. I like the added complexity of the roof. Over the red base, I laid a piece of punchinella and had pink, coral, orange and yellow on my palette. The brush could have been drier and there should have been less paint on it, so the end result is a little gloppier than I'd like, but I think it will do just fine.

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I had to mull over the stripes for a while. Not sure how much color to introduce - at war with my natural inclination to add as much color as possible. Purple, blue, green, aqua, yellow and white tubes of paint are out on the table.


And now I kind of feel like I need to call it quits. I'm at war with my natural inclination to keep going and going and going. Should there be windows? Should there be flower boxes? bushes? I don't know.  I kind of like the simplicity of these houses the way they are. Is it possible that I am done?

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I have an artist friend who says that books should have some surprise/reward for the people who actually open them. This has led to a lengthy debate about what this book should contain and how much of a surprise is needed. Is it enough that there are 38 pages each painted in a different color of the rainbow? Should there be some deeper text than the atlas index pages? a story or a journey?  I'm still debating. Each page kind of forms of a pocket so it would be possible to have removable tabs in each one, but then I'd have to write a story.  I did come across this Cherokee blessing which I think is just going to be a gift tag attached to the outside of the house:

May the warn winds of heaven blow softly upon your house.

May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there.

May your moccaasins make happy tracks in many snows,

and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder.

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gratitude hangover

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Whew! THAT was fun! Our fifth birthday party on Sunday was such a nice treat. After all the time we spent preparing, and my anxiety about whether there would be enough/too much food, if anybody/too many people would come, it all worked out quite smoothly. Though I forgot two bottles of sparkling juice in the fridge and I feel I should have been pushier with the cava. It was so lovely to see people and to share our gratitude. I was totally exhausted the next day though. I found myself thinking about all the people who didn't come to the party. It wasn't a bitter tally, more this feeling of being overwhelmed by gratitude; a feeling that even though so many people came to the party the night before there were so many more who didn't come - more people than could possibly fit into the space of our shop, and more people than I had cake for. Even though I was so wrung out on Monday, I was also so filled with gratitude, continuing to tally up the many people who have been a part of our journey.

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It was so lovely to see friends and family and neighbors and customers, to think about the journey that they have been a part of...  Just for example, one of my geography professors and his wife came to the party. They are very dear people but whenever I see him, I remember the first time I met him - just after I had been accepted to the Geography Department here at the U.W., planning to be a college professor, walking down the stairs of Science Hall and he came out and called after me, wanting to chat about what area I thought I'd be studying. I don't even know if this is at all true, but at the time, I got the sense that it was a bit of a pre-advisor interview, to see if I would follow in his statistical footsteps. Well, I didn't exactly do that and every time I see him, I am reminded of how far I strayed from where I thought I would be when we first met 15 years ago. I think what I enjoy so much about that particular connection is that even though one thing initially connected us, even after Science Hall stopped being a point of connection, we have remained connected and he could say he was proud of me (even if I didn't go and get my PhD like I was supposed to). And every single person who came to our party and who didn't come to our party has their own story and connection. Definitely an abundance of gratitude.

and food, too. You'd think our parents didn't feed us well given my anxiety over having enough food at parties (which always causes me to over-buy). We were so happy with the party platters from Willy Street Co-Op and the baker at La Brioche did such a lovely job! To be totally honest, while I love La Brioche cakes and would pretty much not get anyone else's, I've always been a little underwhelmed by their decorating. After I hung up the phone, giving them only our colors and the message, I had some second thoughts. I ended up, for myself, not crossing that fine line between being helpful and being meddling and simply sent the bakery a few photographs of the shop, just to give them an idea of our color palate and possible imagery (not necessarily the conventional roses and leaves). They totally surpassed my expectations and managed to duplicate the birds from our walls, and added the extra detail of the letter A at every corner which I loved. So yay for providing input without being too meddlesome (at least I hope that's how the baker interpreted my photographs), and yay for finding a way to communicate effectively.I'm feeling still somewhat traumatized by our long process of refining our bag stamp which surely left our graphic designer ready to pull my hair out.

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Now I've taken the last of the bottles out to the recycle bin and am putting everything back into place.  The week has continued at its usual pace proving there's no rest for the wicked, or is it weary? We received our shipment of Wisconsin and Madison postcards so I could finally fill the spinner from UW Swap shop and feel one step closer to being ready for summer tourist season.  I also got word that more lake papercuts are on their way, including some new notecards that we are anxious to see.

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Foolishly, after being so tired on Monday, I came in on Tuesday and started redoing the window, even though I knew there was a jewelry craft party coming in later in the day. We also had an interview on Tuesday with a writer for Madison Originals so it was a very full day. But it is always nice to freshen up the window. I'm reminded of the Brian Andreas StoryPeople: "I like change, she said, as long as I remember I like change.."

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New arrivals include some cheery new vintage remix posts, prints from the sweet Alison who finally gave into my nagging (hooray! I love it when that happens!), more repurposed book journals and night lights, detailed botanical and nature-inspired resin necklaces.

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We're still sneaking away on Wednesdays for field trip day. We brought our Dad to La Reve Patisserie in Wauwatosa so he could see how well his pastries compared, and then to the Milwaukee Art Museum for their exhibit on color photography. I do love that building - every detail works together so smoothly, down to the cases in the gift shop. I wish we had more buildings like that.

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And now I've been back at my house for over a week and there's no excuse not to get back to work. I did work on a jigsaw puzzle but earlier this week I cleared off the coffee table so I could work on some painted pages. I'm making a 2" x 2" book for the holiday party for the Bone Folders' Guild of which I am a member, if not a super active one. At our last meeting we learned a Turkish Map Fold so I cut some pieces of atlas index papers, painted them with twinkling watercolors, folded them and glued them all together. As is typical for my approach, it is the quantity (vs. quality) that adds any level of impressiveness to the project. I have a vague idea for the covers - that is my mission today to try and figure that out.

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And finally, there's a great grey owl in town near the Capital Brewery and we made a trek to see it (as one of our Facebook fans commented: "Come for the owl, stay for the beer.") Their year-round habitat is in Northern Canada and, at the most, they stray into far Northern Wisconsin during the winter. But apparently the rodent population in Canada is very low right now so they are making their way southwards. We are waiting to see what kind of brew the Capital Brewmeisters come up with in its honor.

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as a matter of fact

I AM pretty proud of myself!  Here it is, my brilliant, if I do say so myself, idea for our 5th birthday present:

I'm not quite sure how I got started in this direction but something about a custom/monogram necklace on Etsy brought me to this shop: Shiloh Valley Designs. The detail of the monograms made me start thinking that the detail of our logo could be replicated. There was a bit of holding my breath/crossing my fingers between the first time I contacted Josh (and then contacted our graphic designers to have them send me the vector file) and the time when he said he thought it could be done. The logo was definitely meant to be bigger and also more detailed in print but he was able to simplify it a bit, without losing the shape. I am SO happy with how it turned out!  And, yes, I had one made for myself and one for my sister. Happy Birthday to us!

almost ready

Linda Warlyn card

I'm mostly preoccupied right now with preparations for our birthday party on Sunday. The birthday cards have started to arrive so that is already fun. Check out this amazing piece by an artist I met at a Valley Ridge Workshop. The details are pretty amazing and it is a thrill to receive the kind of thing I usually only see in Somerset Magazine.

I'm slowly making it through the list, accomplishing some errands myself, doing a little delegating...  I finished Sachi's surprise birthday present necklace which I have tied up in a box so that I don't give away the surprise. But I promise I'll show you a picture after she gets it. It's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

The weather has been unseasonably cold so that has been annoying and has made for slow days at the shop. We're up against numbers for an unseasonably warm 2012 so that has been a challenge. These early winter months of the year can be such a letdown from the intensity of the holidays. I have some trepidation about fallout from state and national policies and politics so we are being a little cautious, though the advantage of our small size is that we never usually take huge risks when it comes to stocking the store. There just isn't room to store huge orders. That said, people have continued to come in to buy gifts and we've had some highly appreciative out-of-town shoppers who bode well for the tourist season. We really are most susceptible to weather so it will be nice when things start to warm up. At least the days are getting longer and we are enjoying the light of early evenings. It always feels so dark downtown in January and February.

Over the last week, I've made an assortment of phone calls and errands, calling upon various local foodie people to plan for our party. I made little labels for our cheeses this morning, and I passed the balloon and ice errands along to my sister. I just have to pick up the cake on my way to the shop Sunday morning and I think we're good. I was happy that our shipment of celebratory wrapping paper arrived in time to be added to the window. 

Anthology window wrapping paper cheese labels

After a burst of jewelry making, I've been a little bit lazy lately. Not sure what's the next project I want to work on... besides the Charley Harper jigsaw puzzle I'm working on at home. I do have sewing that needs to be done - new headbands from that lovely fabric I found in Stoughton.

We are slowly restocking at the shop. These fun resined necklaces were a popular new order a few months ago so we reordered and expanded a bit. Though this necklace is perhaps a little ghostly, I really liked it and added it to our order.

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We are also building up our print inventory. Graduation seems an especially popular print-giving time of year and that will be here before we know it. I'm sure of that. 

prints at Anthology

And, of course, with tourist season around the corner, we are building up our collection of regional images, including some successful begging of our local artists for more Wisconsin dishes, onesies and t-shirts.
Jenny Blasen potteryRecreative Crafts teeRecreative Crafts onesies

Craft supplies ordered from our California trip continue to arrive. Yesterday brought an assortment of Tim Holtz trinkets that are always inspiring. I also have to say that his booth was the most well-organized and easiest to order from that I've seen in all my 8+ years of traveling to trade shows.

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And last but not least, we are happy that our collection of boxed notes (specifically thank yous), invitations and stationery continue to grow. And we haven't even been to the Stationery show yet! We're particularly fond of Smock paper with its commitment to eco-friendly and wind-powered production and packaging. It is a thrill to us that people continue to put pen to actual paper and send notes - makes these two stationery collectors very happy!

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sunshine, field trips and arrivals

Golly, I hardly know where to begin. Of course, if I was more diligent about blogging, I wouldn't have as many options. Despite the occasional snowfall, things are starting to warm up and liven up. Some nice sunny days have brought people out, and soon spring breaks will begin, which usually brings an assortment of visitors.

Two less than pleasant things have taken some of our attention: 1) tax time. Our corporate taxes have to be filed in two days and there have been some last-minute tasks taking up time. I really did get all my work done back in February but I was being a little careless about follow-through with the tax preparer. But at least that will soon be over. 2) ALDO. This is the city's Alcohol Licensing Density Ordinance, which applies to downtown Madison and keeps some restrictions in place on the number of bars that we have. The ordinance is set to expire in the summer and we are mostly keeping an eye on things because we want to make sure that the city is aware of our perspective as business owners  (namely that in the past two years, we have had a net gain of three drinking establishments in our vicinity and we've seen an increase in the amount of bar trash we have to pick up. While bars are certainly a component of State Street, they are not the only thing that brings people downtown and we want to keep State Street a lively, diverse and viable place at all hours of the day, not just during bar time. Seems like common sense, but there's always some Wisconsin element that seems to think more bars is never a bad thing).

Besides that, our main preoccupation is our upcoming birthday party. We're keeping it pretty simple, but just figuring how many party platters to order is certainly an important task.

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Around the shop, we've continued to add to our collection of regional imagery. Sachi is particularly excited about her find of prints from Project Wisconsin, a duo of artists who worked on variations of logos for towns around Wisconsin. We have New Glarus, Madison, La Crosse, Janesville, Oshkosh and Draper, to name a few.

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We've branched out even further regionally with a set of city prints. I was mostly focused on the Chicago print (you'd be amazed at how many people come up from Chicago and tell us that there's nothing like us in their area. Since we know about Paper Doll and Paper Source in Chicago, as well as a number of Chicago artists, we try to hide our skepticism). I purchased an assortment of cities, but mostly in the hopes of showing the artist that we can be good customers and would be worth his while to comply with our request for a Madison version.

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Prints have continued to be a strong category, particularly in the way of inspiring text, and we have restocked prints from our Kimberly, Wisconsin artist as well as other artists around the country.

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I've been doing a little rearranging around the store - assessing what is selling and what is not, what departments are strong and what should have more space. Our computer guy always said, "it's all about real estate," meaning that you should be carefully calculating how many square feet are given over to any one category. Just for example, something that only generates 2% of the sales in the store should not get 50% of the space. This is one way in which I find I agree with Republicans that government should be run more like a business. Our ideas of the outcome seem vastly different however - I would say that industries like mining should not get nearly as much attention or legislation as the service sector which is apparently 80% of Wisconsin's economy; likewise as a nation, if our economy is 70% consumer based, I would be more inclined to give a little more real estate to that sector, as opposed to a small percentage of corporations/people. Of course, the politicians' "business" seems less about what generates income for the state or nation as a whole and more about what generates income for their personal campaigns. But I digress.


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I'm still on the lookout for card spinners but I specifically need ones that are big enough to hold our bigger notecards. In the meantime, I shuffled things around a bit, even though I will soon have to shuffle things again for Mother's Day. Easter isn't as big of a card holiday for us so I managed to tuck the cards in a basket on our front table. I particularly like the letterpress card of the chocolate lab.

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I am finishing up several weeks of housesitting and am looking forward to returning to my cozy little life. While I was away though, I was very productive without the usual distractions. I ended up finishing a Blurb book graduation present and making quite a lot of jewelry. I have really been enjoying the drilled stones we got from Stoughton and am in touch with the Minnesota artist who makes them - he's already shipped out our order so we will soon have them for the shop. I am particularly enjoying working with the mix of rocks and pearls.

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 Other new arrivals include vinyl zip pouches in cheerful colors and springy hair bow bobby pins.

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Finally, our Wednesday field trip day was somewhat cut short by phone calls from the tax preparer and the need for Sachi to get back for a State Street business meeting. But we managed to make it to East Johnson street for U Frame It and Burnie's Rock Shop, as well as Fontaine, which was full of color and inspiration and was a nice mini getaway from the dreariness of March in Wisconsin.

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happy birthday to us!

Hard to believe it, but we are coming up on our fifth birthday! We opened March 15, 2008, so I always think "beware the Ides of March? Not so much." If I'm remembering correctly, I was at my old job until the end of January or so, but our new landlords kindly gave us the key to the space even though our new lease didn't start until March.  I would come over after work to meet up with Sachi and her many handy friends (and husband), who helped us with priming and painting and some heavy lifting. It's amazing to look around the shop now and see how far we've come (and how much we've filled in!). Below is the picture from our first newspaper interview.

We were a little envious of Fromagination and their cake made of cheese specially for their birthday, and somewhat stumped to think of something similar: cupcakes covered in buttons? card catalog filled with cookies? We'll content ourselves with an array of treats from the many wonderful local food vendors.  St. Patrick's day bumped us a bit off schedule, so we'll be celebrating Sunday March 24th from 5 pm - 8 pm at the shop. Won't you join us?

field trip Wednesday: Stoughton, Wisconsin

Yeah, who knew? I was well aware of the bakery treats to be had in Stoughton, not to mention the cheesey goodness. And I was familiar with the secondhand shopping opportunities as well. But Sachi and I went there today on our field trip day and found great crafty inspiration that I thought I should share with you. This is by no means an exhaustive list (I also got a great vintage suitcase for display at the shop from St. Vinnie's and three dresses at the Goodwill that we stopped at on our way out of Madison), but these are my three craft-related highlights from the day:

1. Spry Whimsy Fiber Arts. We happened to park on the street right in front of this place and were drawn in right away. I must say, there is something about Nuno felting that really appeals to me. I haven't done any felting at all, but this tempts me greatly. The shop is filled with felted creations and supplies and I've already put it on my Christmas list... and not just for myself.

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2. Diakonos Designs beads. Considering that we've put off our trip to Vintaj brass in Galena for warmer months, this was more than enough to satisfy my beading needs. The store is packed with pretty much anything a beader would want, including an interesting array of clay beads that were very tempting. I always like to see the way that individual store owners affect the composition of the store. It might seem that a bead store is a bead store is a bead store, but there are definitely some that stand out. I would count this store among them.  They had some inspiring created pieces, a great set-up for stamped charms and workshop options. I came home with some drilled river pebbles. I know, I know, I could do that myself. But it isn't something I've ever done before, and, honestly, I'm just fine to pay someone else to do it. I love what contemporary jewelers are doing with river rocks and I'm looking forward to making earrings - a pair for myself and maybe some for the shop, too.  Just a warning, if you are feeling strongly atheist (or just anti-Christian), you might want to wait to make a visit until you are at least feeling a little more pluralistic. Those who are paying attention, might have known that upon seeing the name of the store but my church education is a little slim on such matters. It is unfortunate that the Christian Right has tainted the image of the cross and scripture in my mind - I automatically brace myself for some tirade which I consider unChristian when someone comes across strongly as Christian, even though I myself, consider myself Christian and reject the way that we allow the Christian Right to dominate all Christian conversation, to the point where someone else might say that I am coming across as too strongly Christian. Such a tirade was completely absent from this store, but there was a LOT of Christian imagery - just in case that is something that makes you uncomfortable, I don't want you to accuse me of sending you there without warning.

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3. Saving Thyme fabric shop. Ah, if you only knew how many yards of fabric have passed through these fingers. Just like with bead shops, not all quilting fabric stores are created equal. In particular, each owner tends to reflect their strengths or interests as related to color. I am NOT a muslin/homespun type of girl so I've met with disappointment on occaision. This little quilt shop wasn't packed, but I found several pieces of fabric that I will turn into headbands so I'd definitely say that there was more in my particular area of interest than I expected. They also had an assortment of batiks I would have found appealing... if I didn't already have more batiks at home than I have time to sew. I did almost bite my tongue to keep from interjecting while a customer asked for advice on a quilt that she was making. She was working on her first quilt but didn't have it with her and was asking for recommendations for borders. From my own personal experience, of oftentimes missing the mark on borders, I really think that she should bring the quilt in to pick out the borders. But then again, I'm the type of person who has to see a thing in person. I'm sure that whatever she picks out will be fine. Right?

(Sorry that I don't have a picture of my fabric. It's already waiting in the cold water wash laundry basket at my parents' house).

random acts: the bunk bed story

And yes, I purposefully left off "of kindness." These are the things we do every day, a lot of times without giving them a second thought. A lot of times, they are done as a favor to ourselves, but they end up reverberating in ways we never expected.

Case in point: our childhood bunkbeds. I am trying to remember when we even got these things: we lived at the orange house on Dogwood Place in Crestwood. Maybe 1978?  It was a small two-bedroom house and my sister and I shared a room. It was a great thrill to have a bunk bed, even though there was much debate about who got the top bunk. Our parents wisely got a set that could be taken apart and turned into two single beds so that when we eventually moved, those beds moved with us into separate bedrooms. I did eventually get a double bed but we have kept the parts, including upgraded mattresses, for years. I even used that single bed for a while at my first apartment. Do you ever have a vague idea of a reason that you are saving something for?  I'm pretty sure in my younger years, I expected to have children who would certainly want bunk beds, and when my niece came along, I was certain she would want one too. My brother-in-law is fond of saying that we can't relive our childhoods through the girl, but that doesn't stop me from sometimes imagining that I can. In any event, the girl is now 5 years old and it seemed apparent that there were other ideas for her bedroom, present and future. Luckily, our mom's decluttering rampages outmatch any sentimentality that I have.

Realistically, the unassembled half of the bunk bed has been sitting in my studio for several years. The mattress alone, while not at all king-sized, created significant barriers to using the room to the best of its ability - just imagine a single bed mattress tipped on its end, resting against the futon. I mean, sure it was great to drape pieces of fabric over, but in a relatively small space, it really closed things off. But I worked around it, reluctant to bother my brother-in-law to borrow his car to transport the thing to rest with its other half in my parents' basement. It is totally the kind of thing that you stop seeing after a while. But WHAT was I saving it for? Mostly the slim chance that my niece would want it. Now, that is not a totally unreasonable reason to save something, but sometimes I feel that we save an awful lot of things for slim chances.

Anyway, back to Mom's decluttering. She's been hard at work in their basement, cleaning and getting rid of things. In the process of an earlier decluttering, Mom discovered Freecycle and was back to using it. She mentioned in passing that she was conversing with a woman about our bunk beds, except that she was going to have to tell the woman that there was only one mattress, and also that the rung of the top bunk was missing. But wait! I HAVE that other mattress! Lucky for all of us, Mom randomly mentioned the missing mattress. But that's not really the random act - the real random act is the freecycling.

So all the pieces of the bed were reunited and the woman made arrangements to come and pick up all the pieces a few weekends ago. For Mom, the kindness is in the amount of space freed up in the basement, and for me, the unexpected kindness is that a mattress actually does take up a fair amount of space that could be better served in one's studio. Of course, what's nice all around is that we got to enjoy those kindnesses and someone else gets to enjoy "new" bunk beds.

And earlier this week, Mom received this note: 

 "Since then, the boys are sleeping soundly and cannot wait to get in, on or around their beds. After spending all their lives together in a shared bed, they are relishing their personal space. It is darling to me to hear one of them invite the other to come join in the private sanctuary of his own bed. Their excitement and enthusiasm is so high. As a single mom with a very tight budget, I particularly appreciate the quality of the beds, the lovely aesthetic of the wood and your kindness. Just yesterday L remarked, "These sure our good quality beds, Mom." A and I agreed wholeheartedly. Then we gave another round of thanks to the Good People who shared them with us. 

We have gotten many terrific things from freecycle, including our pets and even friends. My boys and I are fond of saying that we've won the Lottery of Life because we are fortunate in so many ways. I just wanted you to know how much these bunk beds have added to the quality of our lives. We will be thanking heaven for them, and for You, for many years to come."

And perhaps this is just me rationalizing my laziness in not taking the mattress out of my studio sooner, but I find it tremendously rewarding that THIS is what I was saving my half of the bunk bed for. What are you saving? What are you saving it for? Is it possible that you are saving it for something completely different?

And I know, this seems totally tangential to the matter of Anthology and creativity, but I actually feel like this is very much about our creativity. My manager at my old job used to tell me that she thought that God gave you good ideas, but if you didn't use them quickly enough, God would take them away. I'm pretty sure that concept was nowhere in my UCC upbringing, but somehow it stuck with me and I started getting a little worried. Because, honestly, I have a LOT of ideas. I can't even really use them, certainly not all at once. So, for a while, I started writing all the ideas down in notebooks so that God couldn't take them away. Well, we can see how that could all go wrong. But mostly for me, it led me to a place where I was completely overwhelmed with ideas. I had SAVED so much that I didn't even know where to begin. I think this relates also to an American sense of consumerism - of constantly getting and having, finding what is next/newest/biggest/cheapest. It leaves one with a constant sense of insecurity - that what you have is not enough, that you need to hold tightly onto what you have so that you have it when you need it....

But in recent years, I am coming to a different sense. A sense of abundance, of trust. A sense that when I need something, I will be able to find it. I don't have to save all those somethings for their potential usefulness at some unknown time in the future; rather, when I need something, it WILL come along. Not only that, but there are a lot of people who need things more than I need them. Freeing these things or ideas that I have saved, like freeing up the bunk beds, can create a whole different chain of effect in this world - one that is much farther reaching than if I had kept that mattress propped up against the futon in my studio.

Now, I'm not saying that the system is perfect. I am certainly not perfect. There are still a lot of art supplies and trinkets and magazine ads in the drawers and boxes in my studio. There is an outside chance that I will need them someday. There is a more likely chance that someone else will find them equally if not more useful. Sometimes you aren't ready to stop saving. I realize that. Sometimes you stop saving only to find out that your niece really really DID want a bunk bed. Or you find out that the thing you have in mind doesn't come along. In my experience, something different or better comes along in its place. It doesn't usually end up being as heart-wrenching as I thought it might be to have not saved. So I am gaining a sense that it is fine to let go of things that don't serve my purpose right now.  I only write down a fraction of the ideas that I have, but I still have more than enough for several lifetimes worth. I don't buy all the doilies that I see at the thrift store.

What was I holding onto so tightly? In the end, that often lends a sense of guilt and weight - all those things that you should be doing, all those ways that you aren't using those wonderful ideas that God gave you, all that shelf space you could free up. And then, I believe, that guilt and weight, usually leads to more guilt and usually inaction and paralysis and complete overwhelmedness. And that doesn't end well.

This is a particularly hard concept, I think, in the art world. When you see something that might be useful someday, well, sometimes you should get it, because when you need it, you won't be able to find it. That is a common narrative. Or how about the people who can't resist a bargain or adding to their collection of supplies? Oh, don't get me wrong, I like to collect supplies as much as the next person. But I am aware that it has to be more than just the process of collecting for me. And maybe I only need to buy one or two of something instead of 20.

Here's a perfect example: I had several different ideas for various art projects dealing with sticks. So, for a while, I collected sticks, and I kept them in a box in my studio. Now, perhaps this example is too extreme. Because, really, doesn't pretty much everyone know that sticks are available all the time? It depends. Once you start looking for them, you might realize that. In geology terms, I believe a professor of mine used to call this "shale googles." Shale is distinctive and sometimes you get to a spot and you are supposed to see it and you don't see it, and then all of sudden, you see it everywhere you go. I think in many cases we let ourselves get carried away by some idea of scarcity that doesn't exist. Now, I know, sticks are not the same as precious vintage linens or wool sweaters or whatnot. And some things seem to be getting rarer. But ideas? No, as my old boss used to say, "ideas are a dime a dozen. It is follow-through that is priceless."

So I do think it is important to have some balance - not just the collecting but the using and letting go; the very close examination of what exactly you are saving and what you are saving it for. If all that I had done since I learned of the idea of God taking away ideas was to write down ideas, that would have taken all of my time, and I would have ended up with a different sort of job than the one that I have now. If there is a specific project in mind, well, that's ok, but are there 100 specific projects? 1000? How many lifetimes will that take? Maybe it is time to winnow things down. Maybe it is ok to send those things out into the world and let them be put to use, trusting that someone, somewhere, will do the exact same letting go at the exact same moment that you are needing something. It's a big jump to take.

But I have to say, for me, this has been very rewarding. I don't have a box of sticks in my studio, that's one thing. I do have a huge pile of rocks - that's harder for me to let go of. My reward has been felt not as much on a material level, but in terms of trusting my intuition and the process of creation. Not relying as much on what I have saved up, but the ways all that I have saved and learned inform the artist that I am, and then let it go, and see how it comes back to me in ways of new ideas and creations.

It's kind of like standing in line at Noodles. There are some people who are anxious about getting a table; when there is a long line, they will quickly go and reserve a table for themselves - send part of the group to stand in line, while the rest get the table. Except, at Noodles it is entirely possible that someone could have used that table and left in the time you are standing in line. As they say: "get your table after you place your order. to do otherwise will disturb the fabric of the universe." Well, something to that effect. If you can stand and trust that you WILL get a table, the wait is a lot different than if you are standing there not trusting in your ability to find a place to sit, right?  Either way the end result is the same - you get a table (Clearly I'm an optimist.... but you knew that already). I mean, isn't the wait for anything much less anxiety-prone when you know what the outcome will be instead of when there is some level of uncertainty? is the process of creating much less anxiety-prone when you can trust that there will be an outcome, that you will have the inspiration that you need? That you didn't have to save up, or reserve a seat, in order to be able to have a feast?



week in review

Let's see, where to begin? The week has been a little off-kilter because Sachi needed me to work on Monday and she worked Sunday for me. I'm not quite accustomed to having a Sunday off, though I spent it with the girl, so it wasn't totally "off." We are still taking field trip days on Wednesdays so that breaks up the week and it is also that slow time of the year... which means I should have plenty of time to work on projects but I might have overdone it on jewelry-making the week before.  I was rather sluggish this week.

We started the day with chocolate chip pancakes at The Original Pancake House. Then back to my parents' house where we played in the snow. I was chipping ice and Lily came up with the idea to create a miniature golf course. Here she is with her ball stuck in the water hazard.

Golf 003That afternoon, we went to the Chazen to watch My Neighbor Totoro as part of the UW Cinematheque's Miyazaki animation series.  It was fun to see the film on the big screen and to walk around the Chazen just a little bit. I already have my favorite pieces that I like to return to.

I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the chaos in the office so I started tackling the file cabinet. We are now in our birthmonth and will be celebrating our 5th birthday towards the end of the month. To that end, I've been thinking a lot about where we've come from, where we are going. I have plans to take some small business development workshops so I can do what I need to keep us growing. Let me tell you, spending hundreds of dollars on workshops that weren't art-related was not a thrilling task. All I was thinking about was Valley Ridge Art Studio. But I'm sure there will be time for those kinds of workshops too. (Speaking of, the Create Mixed Media Retreat Chicago workshop registration has begun. We went down last year as vendors and we're trying to figure out what we have room for in our schedule this year).

Here's a newspaper clipping I found from the very beginning of the store. That REALLY brings home how far we've come. I remember when the photographer came around. We weren't even open yet and things were rather in disarray, but the person who arranged the interview recommended that we have something interesting for the camera so we set up this pretend arrangement of product. Probably the only important thing was that the girl was in the picture. LOOK how much she's grown!


And we've started to ponder birthday party plans (specifically party platters and how much cake to get). I finished up the birthday postcard so we are getting ready to mail that out. If you aren't on our paper mailing list and want to be, feel free to send us an email ( and we'll send one to you.

Tuesday 015

Oh, also this week I watched Makers on PBS. It has had me stewing a little bit - about feminism past, present and future, about my own role, my hopes for my niece. But it ties in with my thoughts about the growth of the store and all that I've been able to accomplish. I feel really grateful for all the people that came before me and all the work that they've done, specifically my own personal role models who have taught me so much about believing in my strengths and following my dreams. There's so much that I have been able to accomplish that I never would have been able to do 40 years ago, and I really don't believe those things can be undone. Not that there aren't plenty of battles still to be fought, and battles that were never particularly won but I think the younger generations have a level of (all) human rights awareness that really changes the ground that we stand on. In a good way.

But that did give me one last kick in the pants to get back to button making. We have our state Supreme Court election coming up in May and it would be really nice if the incumbent who has accepted money from the pro-school voucher WalMart family would lose. I really don't have anything against private schools, nor finding ways for low-income families to access education, but if you are going to use taxpayer money then you should be as accountable for spending it as public schools are. Writing blank checks to people does not, in my opinion, ever end well.  The Governor would also remove income caps on school vouchers which basically means taxpayer money going to send wealthy children to private school. And I still think that public schools deserve our public support. And then there's the matter of rolling back environmental quality standards and endangering our outdoor recreation industry so that an out-of-state mining company can create some jobs for some out-of-state miners... and pretty no end to all the other issues. Sachi is really close to moving to a more solidly blue state and I occasionally revisit my fantasy of having Anthology branches in several locations so I can just move wherever the conditions are nicest at the moment.

Friday 008

On Monday, I mostly focused on little tasks. Like stamping our bags with our new bag stamp.


As I mentioned, I haven't been crafting too much this week, though I did work on my cupcake garlands. I saw these on Pinterest and thought they'd be a fun project for our craft table and also decoration for our birthday window. I did my usual thing of getting totally carried away with the gathering of supplies for the project, including two trips to Vanilla Bean (which is fabulous if you need any cake-decorating or party supplies. I went a little crazy getting sprinkles for the girl) and an order from one of our wholesalers. Then I sat down and created little kits and had fun dispersing the various colors of wrappers. And THEN I actually started stringing together the wrappers. It was pretty much a total Pinterest Fail (just Google that phrase and you'll see I'm not alone). I had already spent time and money on the project and was feeling a little deflated. But I kept going - because my general approach when things aren't working out, craft-wise, is just to keep adding more. I think most of the problem will be resolved as I add more wrappers and maybe diversify the color assortment just a little bit more.  I think I'll end up using about 150 wrappers per garland - it' IS all about quantitiy.

 Friday 002Friday 001

On Tuesday I had plans to install our birthday window. Those plans were supposed to include the cupcake wrapper garlands but those will have to be added in next week. We are loving the new chalkboard cards and signs from Curly Girl so I have been saving those for the main focus.

Friday 003

As always, I only had a vague idea of what the window was going to look like - I don't really know until I start adding product.  It was feeling a little hodgepode so I thought maybe it would be interesting to keep everything black and white, at least for the front plane of the window. Let me tell you, that is a lot harder than it sounds.  But I managed, even though all the color of the rest of the window minimizes the effect of the front plane. Nonetheless, I sold some items that first day - I do love the instant gratification and power of a window!

On Wednesday, the snow that was supposed to come on Tuesday arrived. Sachi and I had plans to take the whole day off and go to Galena to visit the inspiration of Vintaj. Instead we scaled back and went to Mineral Point. Unfortunately, I didn't think about the off season and we were disappointed to find many of our favorite places were not open. At least we got to the Johnston Gallery which is always lovely. There were many items there that overlapped with my old days at Little Luxuries so it was a fun trip down memory lane. The trip wasn't a total bust because I did get a great black wrap dress from the Bargain Book. The tags are cut off but I believe it is a Land's End second - for $12. The Bargain Nook also had this really clever signage running along the top of the wall. It spells out "Welcome to the Bargain Nook" with mostly one letter per frame. I REALLY liked that! I might be copying that idea one of these days.

Friday 004 On Thursday, I was still lazy even though Sachi was busy making more cameo necklaces, button picture frames and bird nest necklaces. Sheesh, it's hard to keep up with that pace! I unpacked more lovely cut metal pieces from Haiti. And thought about Easter.

Friday 006Friday 007

And now it is Friday. When I came to work this morning, this was sitting on the desk. So that was a lovely way to start the day. I'm pacing myself but the cinnamon roll was very tasty. Thanks, Baker's Window!
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