Dec 292016
 

The week the Christmas tree gets taken down always feels anticlimactic to me, especially after the excitement that precedes its decorating. Because our tree is decorated with both our own family’s ornaments and those of my late parents, each decoration marks a moment in time: our son’s birth, his earliest handmade ornaments, a favorite storybook character, family members’ hobbies, the first Christmas we visited our parents after being married, my father’s love of flying. It’s fun, too, to add new ornaments to the tree, especially when they are handmade, but also purchased ones that carry a special meaning.

Our own tree still stands in front of the living room window, and probably will stay up for another full week before we remove the ornaments and put the tree away. Where I work, however, the trees in the atrium are coming down every day this week. Yes, trees. Earlier this month, 10 groups of employees—mostly different departments—were represented in a Parade of Trees decorating competition that challenged employees’ creativity. Bottlebrush tree trophies were presented at the annual holiday party for the Most Unique Tree, Best Themed Tree, Best Traditional Tree and Best Overall Tree—and each one was special in its own way.

Although not officially part of the Parade of Trees, the corporate tree in the lounge near the main entrance of the building drew everyone’s eyes.

The atrium was lined with five trees on each side. You can see a Parade of Trees banner hanging from the walking bridge that crosses the atrium.

My department decided it would focus on a traditional-themed tree, so my contribution was handmade paper ornaments, some of which are shown below.

Although the awards have already been presented, at the end of this post you can vote for your favorite tree. Unofficially, I have nicknamed each one, so I hope that doesn’t sway your opinion one way or the other. Here we go!

Tree #1 – O Starry Night

Tree #2 – Naughty & Nice

Tree #3 – Protecting Livelihoods & Futures

Tree #4 – Cookies & Milk for Santa

Tree #5 – Surfin’ Santa

Tree #6 – Hot Toasty Fingers & Toes

Tree #7 – Better Homes & Gardens

Tree #8 – Football Fantasy

Tree #9 – True Heroes

Tree #10 – Santa’s Workshop

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite tree is.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Dec 182016
 

I’ve concluded that librarians, or at the very least, library clerks, are athletes in disguise. This weekend, as I was organizing my craft, needlework and sewing books, I rediscovered muscles I didn’t know I owned. Stacks of books moved from the floor to a bookcase, from the bottom shelf of one bookcase to the top shelf of an adjacent bookcase, and from left to right on one shelf after another. Needless to say, I knelt, stretched, stooped and lifted countless times. After swallowing some water and two Advil tablets, I promised myself once again not to let too many books collect in impressive stacks on the floor—or on any available horizontal surface—before returning them to their proper space on the bookshelf. Unfortunately, this is a promise I keep making and breaking. All I can say with certainty is that it’s a lot of work keeping a home library organized that probably rivals the collection at my local library.

As you look at the photo above, you may notice what appear to be dividers peeking out between groups of books. I got the idea at my local library, when I noticed they used plastic labeled dividers to subdivide some categories of books, making them easier to locate. I love this system. I labeled 8-1/2 x 11 sheets of white card stock and inserted them in clear sheet protectors, and it works great. No, I don’t use a Dewey Decimal system, although I seriously considered it at one point. Upon further consideration and the plea of “No, please don’t do that” from my husband, I came up with an alternate system that works for me. If you, too, are overwhelmed by the books in your collection, here are a few tips that may make your life easier.

Use a database

It isn’t enough, if you have a large collection of books, to keep them organized on shelves. Keep a list, whether you use a program like Microsoft Excel or iWork Numbers, or catalog your books using Library Thing or Goodreads.

For myself, I find it convenient to use an Excel workbook. This helps me track the books I own, and to some extent helps prevent me from purchasing duplicate titles if I remember to check my workbook before I go shopping. (This is a key point.) It also is a great way to determine actual book placement on my shelves. Within the workbook, individual worksheets are dedicated to each type of book. One of the columns contains an identifier that represents a subcategory, and these subcategories directly relate to the shelf dividers I use.

For each book, I enter the book’s title, author or editor, publisher, copyright date, main category, and subcategory. It sounds like a lot of work, I know, but you can enter a surprising amount of information while you enjoy a hot chocolate. What’s nice, too, is that you can sort this information according to your needs. I also find that it’s a good way to weed out outdated titles, especially when you take a good, hard look at some of the copyright dates.

Recycle magazines

Many craft magazines cost as much as the books you buy, and thus deserve a neat method of storage for the time you keep them. I don’t keep my magazines forever, mind you. I keep about two years’ worth of magazines, then remove the articles I find especially useful by slicing them out and scanning them. These digitized copies are, of course, for my personal use, and never get shared. I keep some of the illustrations to make bookmarks or gift tags that become giveaways. Then I put what’s left of the magazines in a recycle bin, and that’s the end of that. Some magazines do get passed on to other people or organizations for their enjoyment. But while I am storing the magazines, I keep them in magazine racks you can purchase from your local office supply store.

Cull the herd

As a writer, bookaholic, avid reader, and—yes, I admit it—once upon a time English major, I know how hard it is to get rid of books. But if you don’t, you simply won’t have space for new ones. We don’t want that to happen, do we? Your home is only so large. I have 14 bookcases that stand six feet tall—many more shelves of space than the average person, I know—but I continually run out of book space. And some of those bookcases are used not for books, but for craft supplies. These days, I don’t add many hardcover fiction books to my shelves, unless they are part of a series I have already begun in that fashion, or if they are such long novels that I have to page back to earlier chapters to look up some details. The rest of my new fiction novels are in digital form. I save a lot of bookshelf space by utilizing book apps on both my iPhone and iPad—among them iBooks, Nook, Kindle, Kobo, Free Books by Digital Press Publishing, and Bluefire Reader.

You can donate books to your local library, which will often sell them and use the monies to purchase new books. You can also donate books to senior communities, nursing homes, schools and thrift stores. You can sell some books to a bookstore—I use Half Price books, for example—or you can sell books on Amazon. You can exchange your read books for new titles via a book swap service—I use Paperback Swap, for instance.

Say goodbye to old encyclopedias

I finally thought with my head more than my heart, and decided to get rid of a set of World Book encyclopedias dating back to 1969. The white leather-bound, gold-edged volumes have long held a special place in my heart and on my shelves because I won them during junior high when I sent in a question to the “Ask Andy” column in the Milwaukee Journal. At that time school children were routinely invited to send in their seriously considered questions. Each week one question would be selected and answered by “Andy,” and the student received a complete set of “Aristocrat” World Book encyclopedias. I asked what the real job of a nurse was—a career I considered at one point but decided against. My question was selected, and I received a set of encyclopedias. It was a great prize, but in 2016 these encyclopedias are seriously outdated. Anything I want to know of a general nature can be found online in spades. Time to donate! The space I recover will be used for my books about writing, to which I refer far more often than the World Book encyclopedias that are moving on.

Leave room for expansion

I cannot state strongly enough how important it is to leave breathing room on your shelves for new books. If you’ve ever looked at home decorating magazines, you’ll notice that expansion space is provided with decorative bookends, vases, knickknacks and photo frames. That being said, I have no room for anything but books on my shelves. I love the decorator look, but need to think about functionality more than home dec because of the sheer volume of books I own. I do, however, take care not to squeeze books in so tightly that you can’t add a few new ones. If your cuticles begin bleeding when you insert or remove books, that’s a sure sign you’ve squeezed in too many titles.

Locate sturdy shelves

Locate the sturdiest shelves you can find, or make them yourself. A poorly made bookcase typically has shelves that bow as you add books. Ideally, bookshelves should measure at least one inch thick. Bookcases don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to be strong. If you’re fortunate enough to live near an IKEA store, you can purchase a set of sturdy, functional shelves you can assemble yourself. I don’t live near an IKEA store, so I ordered bookcases through my office supply store’s catalog service. They shipped the shelves directly to my home, and my husband assembled them.

If you have additional suggestions for organizing your home library, I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, I will return to my own library and finish organizing its contents.

Full disclosure: Yes, I have worked in a library, and I seriously considered going into library science.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Oct 232016
 

It’s that time of year again when, despite all of the preparations I have made for upcoming fall craft fairs, I find myself blogging less and creating more. One week ago my husband and I packed our car with folding tables and chairs, cloth bags of crocheted accessories, boxes of handmade books, and an assortment of display racks, signage and other items. I’m always surprised that everything fits in one vehicle, as well as grateful that my husband designs and executes the loading plan.

The destination was Clarinda Craft Carnival—my third time—at the Page County Fairgrounds in southwest Iowa, where Edi Royer—one of my Blogging Business Artisans teammates—also sells. This fair is typically pretty busy, so while we don’t have much time to visit during the event itself, we do meet up afterward for dinner. This year Edi, her parents, my husband and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at a local restaurant, as well as conversation that never flagged. I realized afterward that we completely forgot to take photos of each other, but you can see Edi’s basic booth setup on her blog from a previous show, and my tables are shown below.

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Of the two craft shows where I sell each year, the Clarinda one is more successful, but I learn something new at every venue. Whether you have lots of sales or not, it’s always a good idea to take stock of went well and what could be improved. With three weeks to go until my next show at Beaverdale Holiday Boutique in Des Moines, below is the learning I’ll take with me, going forward.

What went well

  1. Aim for a small footprint while transporting your goods. Using pretty lidded boxes to both store and display handmade books works well, as does using cloth bags to store and transport crocheted goods. Both types of items take up a relatively small footprint in our car for transport, and are easy to carry into the exhibit hall.
  1. Use an SKU (stock keeping unit) system for merchandise. Attaching SKU tags to my crocheted goods helps to track what colors and items are popular, and identifies quickly what items need to be restocked for the next show. I use a letter code that pinpoints the type of item (such as gloves, head warmers, neck warmers, or scarflettes) plus a numeric code that represents the yarn brand and color.
  1. Be prepared to do credit card transactions the old-fashioned way. I always bring a paper method as a back-up for handling credit card transactions. Although I prefer to use a Square credit card reader at craft shows, sometimes the building where I sell doesn’t have an adequate Internet connection. That’s the case in Clarinda, where my iPhone read “No Service” for the duration of the show.
  1. Simplicity can be the best booth layout. The booth size in Clarinda is only 8 feet wide by 5 feet deep, so a straight-line table display is what worked best for me. When you only have 18 inches behind your tables, that narrows your layout options. I also needed to have a way to enter and exit my space, as there were booths on either side of me, as well as behind me. To achieve this, I brought 4-foot, 5-foot and 6-foot tables—the shortest table for my books, and the longer tables for my crocheted goods, with 12 inches between the two types of tables for entry and exit.
  1. Aim for eye-level display. To go vertical, I used spinning racks that I purchased from Achieve Display for crocheted items, a combination of decorative boxes (from Jo-Ann Fabrics) and tiered acrylic racks (also from Achieve Display), and wooden plate racks (from Hobby Lobby) to display my books.
  1. Focus on popular colors. I focus on popular colors for crocheted goods based on the previous year’s sales, but I also pay attention to current apparel colors in local department stores. This year, I was pleased to discover I hit my target colors particularly well. No one asked for colors that weren’t already available.

Where I could improve

  1. Allow enough time for new product development. I’m overdue for offering a few new categories of crocheted accessories, such as boot cuffs, flower lariats, and maybe jewelry bags or clutches with crocheted accents. Buyers like to see new items, but I simply ran out of time this year—due to medical issues—to develop something new. I need to dedicate time to developing new products instead of leaving this to chance.
  1. Bring the right merchandise. Crocheted scarflettes do not sell as well as neck warmers. Unfortunately for me, I brought more of the former than the latter. Go figure!
  1. Bring more merchandise than you think you will need. Despite the fact that I brought more crocheted merchandise than in previous years, there were still a few hooks on my display racks that looked skimpy. The solution, of course, is to manage my time better so that I’ll have more items to display.
  1. Identify what your shopper wants. What customers want or need changes all the time, so you need to pay attention to their discussions with other shoppers, and really listen to their questions and suggestions. Sometimes a poll on a social network like Facebook or a blog can be helpful. Right now I’m still trying to pinpoint which of my handmade books are most appropriate for a craft fair venue. The answer might be a type of book I haven’t yet created.

During the next three weeks, I will have limited time to implement changes and improvements, but you can bet that at the next show, I’ll be paying attention to my buyers’ comments, and jotting them down in a notebook or on my Notes app on my iPhone. What learning have you taken away from your last craft show?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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