Ice on the puddles

Today was the day I picked black oak acorn caps. I have no pictures of that event, because it’s all but winter here and my fingers were so frozen eventually, that I took great care as not to accidentally break them and shatter them by dropping them to the pavement. Seriously! Later, passing under some horse chestnut trees, on my way to a nearby shop to warm myself up, I had to wade through layers of huge chestnut leaves, because with a cold coming in all the chestnuts had dropped most of their foliage at once. Big, beautiful, fresh leaves. What a luxury to walk through it all. Last year they threw all of their glory down on fresh snow and it was a wondrous sight to have piles of golden leaves on white. This year the leaves are mostly green or brown, though.

So, now I have small boxes of black oak acorn caps at home, carefully washed with water and soapy water, placed to dry on radiators (thankfully hot now, as it’s cold outside). I’ll list some at the shop too, in the near future. Although, there seems to be no shortage of black oak acorn caps supplied on Etsy … I’ve still got no pictures to show you – it’s dark and most of my family is asleep already. Not a good time for photo-sessions in our tiny apartment!

I wonder where has all the time gone. The day seeps away like rain into the desert (or maybe into the sea would make a better metaphor?). This Autumn has flown by like on the wings of geese, they should be in Africa by now (if that is where their wintertime summer-cottages are). There were so many things to craft before the Holiday season. There were several Halloween ideas even, but no making of these now. I feel old. Planning is now the counting of years, and the years are … numbered.  It’s easier to count days, it’s so much better to live in a world were days are THE thing. Counting years sucks. But it can’t be helped either, because I know that the Halloween will come round again soon enough and I might as well draw a few cards and come up with a spooky ornament or two. Maybe it would be a good time to start posting Easter items, before it is too late. The nature seems to agree with me on this one too – I have pair of willow pussies on my desk. They broke off of a tiny twig I brought home from the woods today. (Still no pictures).

I wonder if anyone guessed, that I was going to write about customer relations in this post. How being on the other side of the counter (even if in a really small way) has brought a completely new dimension into the way I perceive customer relations. I know there are some people with “the customer is king” attitude, criticizing, demanding and non-forgiving. I myself have never really believed in the customer-is-the-king concept anyway – it’s not like we really get anything for free anywhere. I really like the mutual partnership way of looking at things so much better. Of course, it gets more complicated with anything big. How to be “partners” with a multi billion dollar company? It’s more straightforward with small and tiny businesses. If you like it and can afford it – make an effort to support it, communicate your needs and concerns, provide feedback. This is a winning recipe for a customer.

Then again, communicating the needs is often part of the service or product. Because it’s so hard to figure out what we need. It’s even complicated to voice what we want, and we so often want random things we don’t even need. Successful businesses (successful as in making loads of money) quite often either figure out what people need or want, or present themselves as something very desirable, hence creating the ‘need’. There is soooo much of what we buy out there that is not really any good. And we all know it. However, we don’t know what exactly is bad and what is good and why, so it’s really very hard to make informed decisions about anything.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around that “buying ideas” thing. What I mean by that is buying packaging, images created with ads, buying things we have seen other people have/wear/consume in certain situations, etc. I know I sometimes (quite often, actually) make myself a cup of coffee I absolutely don’t need, but I like the IDEA of drinking coffee just right now. And quite often I look at ad-s or beautiful packaging and have to consciously remind myself that I know what’s inside and I didn’t really like it, so there’s no point in buying it. Not that that ideas thing is all bad. It’s a little bit like reading a book, only 3D. You buy a new sleek smart-phone with super functions you never use and feel like a spy with hi-tec gadgets in pockets. Life’s so exciting if you feel like you’re a first class spy, no?

Going back to customer relations (never got too far with the subject, did I) – What I most wanted to say is that every interaction with anyone ordering our things from Etsy has been a total pleasure so far! My sister got the kindest appreciative note with her last order (about how beautiful her things are and how creative she is and how much this is appreciated). She beamed after that for days (at least over the internet, we haven’t actually met, in the mean time). And every positive feedback we’ve got has made the day SO much brighter. On our end, we do our best to pay it forward (or keep up the mutual appreciation, if it’s a return customer). Whenever I make, list and send out something I always want it to be a POSITIVE surprise. I don’t just want to sell an item, I want to be able to pack some joy and true enjoyment with it. So the first and most important step is to portray it as truthfully as possible on pictures. I’d never want an actual not to live up to expectations. When I make things I always picture myself using them or giving as presents, face to face with someone who’s opinion I really care about. If the item does not pass that mental test – needs more work. And then there’s packing – there will be another post with pictures about that. In a nutshell – I tend to pack as if sending a present, because what’s inside is precious, to me because I made it and to that other person because they want it. And precious things should be handled with care.

Now, here’s the picture of this post. If you read this far you have definitely deserved one! The Winter may be coming (no literary reference intended(probably)), but the Spring is not that far either.

tõrutibud
-Maarja

A short one on good advice

Have you ever asked for an honest opinion while actually wanting to hear only positive feedback, because you really don’t want to work any more with the thing you’ve already spent so much time with and you want someone to tell you that it is okay as it is, despite you yourself knowing that it still could use a lot of more work?

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I know I have. I’m just lazy as that.
And that’s one aspect where putting things I make up for the whole word to see in the hopes of another person actually spending their hard earned money on acquiring said item, has taught me a real good lesson about persistence, hard work and not refusing to see the obvious if the obvious does not suit you.
Attempting to draw things while not being good at it at all, is a good way to learn about persistence and taking advice too.
A friend or a family member who is willing to take a good critical look at what you do and give their honest opinion is an incredibly valuable asset. Have you got anyone like that in your life? Please, ask their advice about things that are important, listen to it gratefully and then meticulously work on taking the aforementioned advice.

The funny thing with good advice is, that quite often it is not so hard to get it. The hard part is to hear it and to take it.
I have noticed that quite often, if I don’t have anyone to advise me, I can give some pretty spectacular advice myself too. I just have to pretend that I’m a friend of mine and then describe my situation and problems to myself and then I can give some pretty good suggestions. Sometimes I have written monologues with self. (It’s called journalling. I think I’m one of those persons who think with fingers on keyboard. I’m pretty useless with a pen or a mouth). Now all I need to do is to actually listen to what I just said and things will get moving. You should try it, if you haven’t already.

Btw, the paragraph above is a nice example of good advice being readily available everywhere. This technique of removing oneself from a situation and looking at it from a more objective angle is definitely not something I just came up with to change the world. The notion has been everywhere for ages. But how often people do that, really? How often it is that I remember to advise myself? It’s more often that I feel sorry for myself, confused or disheartened. It’s like writing down things you should not forget – no use, if you forget to check the list in the first place.

So, this year has helped me to develop a new fresh approach to life – pick up good advice and use it! It will take a lifetime, but what else is there to do? 😉 At least the Zen-cat seems to have life worked out pretty nicely!

-Maarja

The first year on Etsy

Today exactly a year has passed from the moment my sister made the final clicks with her mouse to open our shop on Etsy. ISE Paper And Craft. These are some of the first products to have been listed and sold last season. The designs are still every bit as lovely and gorgeous as they were a year ago, and they are up again, for their second season at the shop with many many new things.
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It has been a fun year and we have learned many things. But I still feel like a total beginner. Funny that.

I remember the time when having a one page full of listings was a goal that seemed to come by so hard and slow. Now we have filled 3 pages without barely noticing when THAT happened. A year ago I would have thought that we’d be kind of more settled in by now. Knowing exactly what we do and having developed a clientèle of sorts. But I must admit that we are still experimenting, growing, searching ourselves. And we are still looking for the right people too – I once naively believed that all it takes to just open up a shop and curious people will flock to the page to check it out. I know better now! Nevertheless – we are so very grateful to everyone who has made a purchase from our shop this first year. There have been 31 sales, 11 feedback ratings (all full stars !!!) and 22 people who have made that part happen (Thank you all, once more!). It is also worth noting, that since starting up with Etsy there have been some family and friends stepping in and making an order or two straight from the maker, and we are every bit as grateful to them!

Opening up an Etsy shop (or some other form of on-line business) is a common second or third step (as I understand) for many artisans and crafters. First you make things because you enjoy it, then you make some for friends and family, then you might find a craft shop willing to sell your work or attend some fairs. Then you’ll get more serious and build up an online presence as well. With us, it kind of all begun with Etsy. Of course there was the making of beautiful nature/flower photographs (my sisters hand-made photo card series) for years and years before. The habit of picking up little trinkets: acorns, chestnuts, twigs, moss, pebbles – you name it, has been with me as long as I can remember. I just never had a real purpose for it all. Making gift-wrappings, flower bouquets and postcards for our own purposes has been a pretty common concept as well. But never before had we thought of trying to sell any of it. The we stumbled upon Etsy. My sister got creative and I was infected. Soon there were postcards, acorns and pine cones up at the shop and we’ve been exploring new ways to channel things that come to us naturally in a way that becomes meaningful to other people.

saak  (Last post was about my sore throat and whether I should go acorn picking or not. The picture above is half of the answer to that question. The other half is the fact that my throat is STILL sore. Worth it? Yes? No? Who knows.)

Our shop got first sales during and after the Christmas season. Then there were comatose months of springs when nothing happened. At some point I decided to try out some ‘destash’ listings of my acorn and acorn cap supplies, as it seems that I wouldn’t be making any more acorn ornaments this year. That’s how I found out that there is actually a demand of sorts for acorn caps. I would have never thought of it a year ago. So I guess it was worth it to pick the acorns and caps pictured above after all – there’s part of me that is really delighted to collect this adorable plant material and ship it to people who know how to appreciate them and make use of them. (Stay tuned for new fresh 2014 listings).

This year has taught me how to appreciate entrepreneurs – especially the small ones. Not that we can really call ourselves that – ISE Paper and Craft is a tiny hobby venue and creative outlet, but it has offered us real business lessons and challenges. It has helped us to get better in touch with our creative and artistic sides. And it has totally broadened our horizons on the scope of human creativity, because thanks to having a shop we have seen so many unique and creative things from really talented artists and crafters on Etsy.

What will the next year bring? More lessons, I hope. And I definitely wouldn’t mind more sales either. 😉
Happy Birthday ISE Paper And Craft!
-Maarja

PS: There’s some special birthday love available to all of you – “birthday10” is the very coupon code you can use on checkout at Etsy to make use of our special 10% birthday discount. Can be used freely to purchase anything and as many times as you like. The code is valid until October 17th!

Winds, falling leaves and sore throats – it’s Autumn alright.

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Did you ever fake illness as a kid? Maybe held your thermometer against something hot to fake a fever or complained of aches you didn’t have? All that just to get some extra bit of attention and pampering, and to get away from obligations like school or chores. Being ill, although not without it’s unpleasant side, always used to have that fun holiday feel to it too. Just stay at home/ in bed, read books, watch TV, get treats and snacks and attention. I know I’ve done it, and I’ve found it kind of cool to be able to lay in bed all day and not HAVE TO do anything (except take medication and stay indoors). As a grown-up things have somewhat changed – you are the one who has to do the pampering and faking it usually doesn’t work.

I got down with a sore throat just recently and that made me realize how much my attitudes towards an occasional cold have changed. For one – there is just SO much to do, it felt such a total waste to sit indoors, drink tea, feel miserable and do nothing. I had already kept on going as normal with a sore throat for seve ral days, however, including much time spent in the windy outdoors on Saturday (it was all very fun, and I can’t be honest and say that I really regret my recklessness), before I ended up feeling really ill on Sunday with a throat even more sore. So I took some days off of everything. The hardest part was switching my mind towards focusing on simply enjoying myself in a leisurely way. I felt so bad whole Monday, not just because I was ill, but because I kept feeling that I should DO something useful, and that a whole day is going to waste. I was a bit better about it the next day, or it just might have been the fact that I actually did run some chores that day and didn’t feel entirely as useless. By the third day, though, I was beginning to really get into it. I watched movies for the best part of the day and enjoyed it greatly. A feeling of loss and regret came over me when I thought that I’m already feeling a little better and I should start doing things again tomorrow. I would have held my thermometer against a radiator, then, but unfortunately I hadn’t had a fever to begin with, I doubt I could have managed to deceive my conciousness that way, and the central heating won’t be turned on until tomorrow.

I shouldn’t even feel the need to fake a fever. My throat is still pretty sore and I’m feeling only a little better. If I were my own kid right now, there’d definitely be no kindergarten or playing outdoors for me yet, and warm socks would be firmly kept on my little toes at all times. I’m very good with the latter myself, I’m even diligently wrapped in a scarf, but things get more complicated with the giving myself rest part. I even thought of going acorn picking today, because the weather is great and acorns won’t wait (that rhymed, in case you didn’t notice). But I really shouldn’t, should I?