January Rest?

January is usually a more "restful" month compared to December. It's time for inventory, planning and updating. In most years, new orders are not scheduled to start until February just so January can be all those things. This year is different because there are some earlier new order completion deadlines that must be met. The planning and updating is mostly happening in my head as I complete other tasks. Happy to be busy! Just still recovering in terms of sleep and rest from the wonderful Christmas season.
My sister commented on her FB page that she wishes she was a bear so she could pack on the pounds in the fall, hibernate all winter and be trim and well rested by spring. Sounds like heaven to me, but I'd settle for a day off with a 2 hour nap.


It's a long December

It's December. Bleary eyed and sleep deprived. Hands are itchy dry with fingers healing from cuts from errant blade strokes. The studio floor is covered with sticky lumps of raw clay melded with slivery shards of shavings that cling to shoes and leave tracks for ever surprisingly long distances. The usual ban on caffeine is lifted and now Pepsi Throwback cans litter every shelf and table. Wait, didn't I just empty the garbage yesterday?

Yet, I can't think of any other place I would want to be. The snow is falling. I've managed to string some lights- big, awesome, vintage looking, red LED bulbs- on a shaggy long needled pine. The archives of This American Life are streaming from the laptop. And I get to create little clay houses that I pretend are for the Little Family from Captain Kangaroo.

No, that I get to create little clay houses for the most wonderful clients in the world is why I love my days. Because I get emails like this from sweet Katie:

"Hi C.J.!
I received the package last week and THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! It is just perfect and my mom, (and I'm sure my whole family for that matter) is going to freak out! I am making my mom, dad and brothers come from Fort Worth to spend Christmas in Houston/Galveston this year so that she can open it with her family. So she will be opening it with her 2 brothers and their wives, all my cousins, and my grandmother as well - so everyone can see it and appreciate it! When I opened it I held it for about 30 minutes and just could not stop staring at it and all of the details - it really is a job well done and it's hard to believe that this idea finally came to life!"

And large packages from Pennsylvania containing this

and this

from sweet Pam.

And emails like this: "We used the piece in our Christmas village this year and at our annual holiday party, we received a ton of comments! Everyone was amazed by the detail and one of our friends asked for your website. Just wanted to thank you again- 9 months later and we still love our house!"

from sweet Kristen.

And, now, back to work. The DEADLINE looms. Love ya December 25, but love December 26 even more.


Come to Cheese Days

Recovering from Cheese Days in Monroe. http://cheesedays.com/

I'm more exhausted and aching after 2 1/2 days of festivities than when I hiked the hills of Effigy Mounds 3 days in row. Cheese Days if chock full of family fun. There were so many children's activities this year and we hit them all. I love the local flavor of this event. I am very proud of the town and the county I live in. I may not have been born here, but I've been here long enough to know someone working in each tent and belonging to a Cheese Days volunteer committee and Swiss Singers and Cheese Days Kings and Queens and Cheese Days Ambassadors. This is a huge event and local people do it all from set up to performance.

It feels good to combine celebrating this quirky Swiss heritage and cheese-themed event with being able to buy local. We checked all the requisites off our list: 1)Listened to yodeling 2)Watched men in suede shorts blow alphorns 4)Ate grilled AppleJack cheese sandwiches from the Farm Bureau, the famous fried cheese curds from the Optimists, cream puffs from the AgChest and veal brauts from Turner Hall, 5)Sampled world famous award winning cheeses in the cheese tent (Who knew German Brick was even more pungent than Limburger?) and 6) Watched the 3-hour Cheese Days Parade which was especially excellent this year. Of course we also helped the economy by giving money to the out-of-towners too. We rode the carnival rides and bought my son's first corn dog, apple dumpling and caramel apple from those carny-like food trucks that are at least based in Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

There was also the craft fair which received a make-over this year to reflect the changes in customers' tastes. There was no cover charge and no fences and so people felt free to browse. There are two large fields of grass divided by a street. The crafters were set up on one side and, new this year, booths with an arts focus were set up on the other. While I admired the amount of work the crafters put into their products and bought some hand made soaps as easy little gifts, I found the arts area more interesting. There definitely is room for more vendors there, but I loved the pottery, wood sculpture and paintings. I bought a clay leaf pin for myself and a larger clay leaf with a beautiful green glaze as a Christmas present for a friend I knew would appreciate it. I'm a nature freak, so I could have bought several more pieces in that booth with imprints of leaves and flora combined with rustic forms and gorgeous glazes. I'm kind of kicking myself today for not picking up a vase, but I have such a hard time spending money on myself. Nature's Earthenware by Nathan Kohlman http://www.incomelinks.biz/projects2.htm

I have thought about setting up a booth at Cheese Days for years. 10s of thousands of people descend upon the town, so it would be great exposure for my business. The issue is all my pieces are custom made. I don't do ready-to-sell items. My pottery houses are always in one of two states: "In Progress" or "Shipped."

The solution is to find some interesting homes, take some great photos, sculpt replicas of these houses and keep these houses as display pieces for just such events. However, these pieces take many, many, many hours to create. Things are usually so busy here, that every year, I must refuse a certain number or orders. I also am not certain that this is the best use of such a great deal of time. Not only in terms of creating the display items, but in preparing for and attending these type of fairs. I work nearly every week-end as it is. Judging success would also be a challenge. With having no actual items for sale, there would be no tally of receipts. The purpose would be marketing and future sales and tracking these dividends over time would be at least possible, but difficult.

Another solution, would be to have ready-to-buy products in addition to information on my custom replicas. And then we go back to the issue of whether I feel ready or willing to expand my product lines. It would be quite an investment of time and effort when I'm nearly content with how things are right now. If it weren't for all these pesky ideas floating around in my head.


A House and A Rock In a Box In a Box.

The deciding factor to retread this blog was a package from a client. A couple years ago, I created a 'My House' replica of PJ's Deli and Catering in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. http://pjbakery.com/ P.J. was so fun to work with and she even let me get my Creative on. In my opinion, the large commercial windows would have looked rather stark and empty on the finished piece, so she allowed me to create replicas of the most popular items on the deli lunch menu- a sub sandwich, burger with fries and chocolate cookies- and place them inside the windows. Those details not only provided that extra bit of fun and gave the piece distinctive character, but also reflected P.J. well.

P.J. recently updated the exterior of her deli and wanted her 'My House' replica to reflect those changes- new color scheme, rock walls and the addition of grandmother's old cupola. Of course, I jumped at the chance to work with her again. And it did run through my mind to consider possible payment in the form of the Deli's famous Nut Rolls-- only baked from October through December (with a waiting list.)

So this week, a giant box arrived on my door step. It was one of the more entertaining boxes I have ever opened. The outer box was huge and filled with enough packing peanuts for me to recycle and reuse in other shipments for the next year. Inside the big box was a smaller box and inside that was the 'My House' wrapped and wrapped and wrapped again in a black garbage bag that provided enough Hefty cuddling of the piece to keep it safe.

But wait, what was in the white paper shopping bag included? Oh, paint chips of the new color palette. But what in the world were those heavy chunks in the bottom? It briefly occurred to me that they might be nut rolls, but since the bag was as heavy as lead brick, I hoped they weren't. Turned out they were rocks, real rocks. Samples of the new rock wall. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a rock eliminates the need for any mere verbal description.

I was so happy that someone would send me a rock. Too funny. It absolutely made my week.

just a little to say

For several weeks, I have been thinking about restarting this blog. And so, for several weeks, I've been questioning my sanity. This is RDG's busiest time of year. The Christmas season is already in full swing before the leaves in Wisconsin have barely begun their fall color show. The idea of snow has not yet transitioned from distant memory to upcoming event. Yet here I am singing Fa-La-La-La-La, La, La, La, Laaaaa and creating Christmas gifts for clients around the country.

Yes, it is a stressful time of year, but just as fun and exciting. After almost 8 years in creating my little houses, it still feels novel and amazing to me that people all around the U.S. and Canada search, find and contact me and all those people, or their family member, or their friend, has something I touched and created sitting there inside their home. As completely corny and sentimental as this sounds, it makes me feel welcomed as a small part of that family's life.

Someday, I would like to travel the country making stops at each of these homes to visit my clients and my pottery houses and remember how we worked together and how each piece was created. The Nostalgia Tour. Okay, this sounds a little strange now, but how cool would it be if my future grandchildren or greatgrandchildren went on such journey to learn about me and see my work.

I get especially jazzed about my work this time of year, so I guess feeling like blogging about it makes some sense. When I started this blog in January, I wasn't sure I would have enough to say about my little business-- or enough interesting things to say. And so, the posts morphed into being more personal accounts of my life than business. Those old posts are now nicely tucked away into a very entertaining personal blog. And this blog can get back to business. A place to jot down ideas, goals, struggles, but most of all how fun it is to work with my clients.

Not entertainment for the masses, but a nice little record for me and RDG.