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stuffedmice blog teaching

What I can’t teach you.

Can you teach me how to lose weight? – asked my friend right before we were about to have our late lunch.

She didn’t ask because I’m qualified to give her well-rehearsed answers. She just knows I’ve had few problems with staying slim. And she has a mind open enough to listen to my suggestions.

This isn’t anything unusual. I’m sure you get similar, if not the same, issues as a matter of pleas for help from people you know. When you do, what is your reaction?

You feel flattered?

Somebody thinks you’re special. That tiny little bit better. The wizard with all tricks up their sleeve.

You feel responsible?

After all, there are not only the good but also the bad and the ugly that can crop up as a result of your changing somebody’s way of living.

Or you feel at a loss?

Because the truth is, you don’t know the answers.

As a teenager, I enrolled in a teachers’ training college. I was not convinced by the idea of becoming one and so I dropped out. Some time later, I worked with people whose lives were in tatters. It never felt good to tell them what to do. It felt arrogant.

Just like you, I do happen to know a thing or two. And I’m willing and going to share whatever I know with you. But let’s make a distinction in the kind of knowledge I’m talking about.

I can speak from my experience and share whatever I’ve learnt from it. But I can’t preach or repeat trendy slogans as I feel I have no right to do so. And anyway, many things happen to me by chance. Certain lucky genes equipped me in better metabolism than that of my friend’s – for starters.

When we talk about teaching and learning I’m like a kid. I look beyond words. Won’t buy advice from somebody who doesn’t practice what they sell. What about you? Who or what do you learn from most?

StuffedMIce Stationery Handmade Paper Notepads Origami

Shop update: Origami notepads

It definitely looks like Asia will be inspiring my paper goods this year. Well, this is hardly surprising, considering what I’ve been reading and what trip I’ve been planning – in my head, for now – for the last couple of months. This time it’s about origami, clean lines and basic Japanese stab binding again. I wrote these words and started laughing because clean lines and Japanese aesthetics is nothing new to me really.

What notebooks / notepads / planners / diaries do you use? I look around me and I have four different kinds of notebooks on my desk right now – each for something different. I’ve tried going paperless, I do use Evernote but it turns out that I’m most productive when I use two simple things: a pen and some paper. And because I don’t like accumulating stuff or keeping too many to-do lists in too many different places, my favourite notebooks are those with either hole punched or perforated pages. I use them up page by page, enjoy while they last and then recycle whatever remains. This is my idea of impermanent, perfect imperfection of useful paper goods. I’m definitely not in the let’s-keep-these-forever camp. What about you?

There is a great thing I’ve learnt about imperfection quite recently. Back in 2012, I made my first notebook for a friend. Lately, she’s told me that she never used it because… it was too pretty. Would you believe it? What an utter disaster! I was striving for function and unintentionally created a piece of art? It was invaluable feedback and suffice to say I’ve decided to steer away from perfection since my friend shared it with me. Complicating things, even when dealing with paper goods, can end up intimidating their users. I think I should simplify this sentence and put it up on my wall.

Perfection guarantees rejection.

Sounds about right.

Oh, you can get your Origami Notepad here.

StuffedMIce Stationery Handmade Paper Notepads Origami

StuffedMice books - The Piano Teacher

2015 Reads – 3 – The Piano Teacher by Janice YK Lee

Not a single sentence to quote.

I read this book back in January and already had to pick it up again to remind myself what it was about.

It’s a typical page turner, with great characters and a fascinating glimpse into the 1940s and 1950s Hong Kong. Pre-war and post-war worlds that end up being partially woven together are meant to intrigue and grab readers’ attention. And they do.

This is a story about transformation. Feeling ready or not to let go of certain memories, hopes and assumptions.

But the end… The end disappointed and left me in disbelief.

I experienced exactly the same reaction while watching I Am Love with Tilda Swinton. All nice and pretty but the story seemed too bold for its heros. She wouldn’t have done it – I kept thinking. There was not enough love between I and you. The whole affair seemed utterly implausible.

Then again, maybe I was looking for a conclusion – but not necessarily a happy ending – which Lee failed to offer?

StuffedMice books - The Piano Teacher

StuffedMIce London People SE Sewater

Strangers in London – South East

We’re sitting in a local bistro. Before visiting a bookshop, after chatting about health, families, movies, books and jobs.

A woman who spent some time drinking coffee and talking to her kids nearby:

– I think I designed your sweater. It’s from XY, isn’t it?

I confirm.

– Yes, I remember the side stitch. I worked for XY for ten years, now I make recycled knitwear. It looks good on you!

I’m too stunned to say anything. To ask anything. So I just mumble some incoherent I-like-it-a-lot. My friend is naturally impressed. She knows this is pretty cool and confidently lets the woman hear about it.

Not sure why but I keep thinking that I got the sweater from a charity shop. It cost me a fiver. This makes me feel apologetic. As if I had been responsible for its previously diminished value.

StuffedMIce London People SE Sewater

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Etsy wishlist – tablewares

Shopping local is important, quality is important and so are makers. When I started learning calligraphy and bookbinding, I truly understood how much time and, I know it sounds corny but there is no better way to describe it, love goes into everything handmade. This year, I will support artists whose work, to me, is outstanding, and also promote them by linking to their products and shops (no, I don’t get any commission from doing it).

Yes, Etsy! I’m probably the last to the party but finally started putting together my lists of favourites. Most of the stuff I like is produced in Europe, almost nothing comes from North America as it clearly, and naturally, dominates the Etsy marketplace. The smaller items I choose are mainly produced in England. And yes, everything is handmade. Cheap alternatives from South Korea? No, thank you.

Let’s start with something I seem to have never enough of – tablewares! Some of my current favourites:

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CERAMIC BOWL from ONE AND MANY,
Israel

This is just one of many items I could easily see in my kitchen from Ya’ara Landau-Katz’s design studio. “It’s important to us to work on research processes in different materials side by side with daily products when both processes have a strong elements of aesthetics and usability.” Or in plain English: we care about looks and functionality. Needless to say, I love this approach. No nonsense? Yes, please.

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GRAY PORCELAIN PLATES SET by GOLDEN BISCOTTI,
Switzerland

Matt porcelain plates in various shades of grey definitely rock my boat. So do the super sleek chopping boards from Golden Biscotti (love the name, by the way, don’t you?) but this is another matter. How do the Swiss always get it right?

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SET OF TWO PORCELAIN COFFEE CUPS from THESEUSCLAY,
Hungary

Can you have too many mugs? Yes. Can you have too many cups? Not yet. The way these cups break, reflect and let light shine through is mesmerising. The size is cortado-perfect. It’s like taking coffee snobbery to another level.

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PORCELAIN JUGS from CHITOKURODA,
England

I don’t need more jugs for milk. But if I did, they’d be my first choice. So pretty!

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Support local. Support small. Or not?

It’s hard.

How many times have I heard this from different small business owners? More than I remember.

It was hard for a photographer I knew. The big chains came and took the customers away. The digital age came and stole if not the tricks of the trade, then definitely its value.

It’s hard for a local hairdresser although the salon has existed for a long time. They need to look at online beauty directories to seek more customers.

Not easy to be a bookstore owner. Everybody knows this one.

Rather hard to be a small digital design agency – I was told time after time. “It’s more to do with keeping your head above water” than running a business.

It used to be easier to run a cafe, too. Now the competition makes it almost impossible.

This is one side of the story.

It was easy to have an unheated extension as a toilet – and say sorry, with a joke, to every customer who needed to pee. For over fifteen years.

How many trainings do a local hairdresser attend compared to one who works for a chain? Easy to guess. How many times a local hairdresser asks if they can text you with a reminder of your next appointment?

No strategy, no time to seek new clients and no money / energy to redesign your own website. Not hard to figure out which business relies on these easy excuses.

It’s easy to ignore the fact your coffee sucks. And even if you get a decent roast, you never invest in getting a proper coffee machine or training – you leave these to the “fancy hipster places” instead.

I know it’s hard. I grew up in a family who changed their small business to another small business from one decade to another. Because times change, markets change. I truly understand lack of money, lack of time but what I usually notice is ever-present lack of effort.

I visited my local hairdresser the other day. Not a biggie. Booked online, miscalculated the distance between my home and the salon and ended up being late – my fault entirely. The appointment was back to back so I was told that we’d skip the blow dry. No worries, I can hardly stand sitting still and avoiding looking at my reflection for over thirty minutes. There was a kind “are you Marta or Martha” question and I solemnly affirmed the former. There was some small talk when I confessed that I usually don’t keep regular appointments until I make them in advance (hint, hint). Yes, some water was running down my neck when I had my hair washed because she didn’t put me in the right position. But my hair was cut the way I asked for so who cares. No expert suggestions surfaced during the whole process but that’s fine, maybe the hairdresser trusted I knew what I wanted. By the end of my visit, with the next customer waiting, I was given a card and heard “you can book your next appointment online, Martha”. My hair was still wet when I was leaving and no ginger and Paracetamol could stop a cold from its winter 2015 second coming.

It’s hard. I know. Customer service in England is rubbish – I know. But if not small business owners, then who should know better?

And so my question is – am I expected to support local and / or small business because of its quality or simply because it’s there?

StuffedMice Blog anniversary

Anniversary

Like many couples I know, we were not sure when our relationship started. Certainly not when we were in college together (I was dating somebody else) although Karol would often return my overdue books to a local library and we found similar joy in ridiculing our college’s teaching methods. Certainly not when we met a few times after (we both were dating other people) – we were going through changes and I found him super annoying, if not worse. Whenever we tell somebody how we met I mention this period as me considering Karol a total arsehole.

We were out of touch for years until one day, when trying to withdraw some money from a cash machine, in pouring rain, my phone rang displaying an unknown Polish number.
– Guess who’s calling – said the male voice on the other end.
– Yyyy, Adam?
– No.
– Yyyy, Michal?
– No
This exchange lasted a bit as I had no idea it was Karol. He finally introduced himself and told me he was sitting in a vegetarian restaurant we both knew and remembered it was near my workplace so decided to call me. I didn’t work nearby and I had no interest in talking (rain! raaaain!) but it was good to hear from him and we exchanged emails from then on.

We met a couple of times and once, back in 2006, I invited Karol and his girlfriend at the time to visit me in London. They split up soon afterwards. The girl most probably still thinks that it was my crafty plan to get rid of her. But it wasn’t, I had no bad intentions. In fact, I had no intentions at all.

So summer 2006 could be when it all started.

Or maybe when Karol decided to travel to Argentina with me later that year… Except that we both went back to our miles-miles-apart-lives afterwards and didn’t believe in long distance relationships anymore.

Then when?

In February 2007 we moved in together. And so it happened. This year we agreed to celebrate in February our somehow vague beginning which took place the year before.

On Saturday Karol came home with cheesecake and flowers. In the evening we went out for a meal (if you’re ever after delicious Chinese, I can fully recommend this restaurant in South Kensington). How many years have been together? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t say anything about our relationship. It doesn’t guarantee anything for the future. But it felt good to celebrate the good and bad times together. Now.

StuffedMice Blog anniversary

Paper Notebooks Weekly Plummers

Shop update: Weekly Plummers Collection

Making paper notebooks has been the best way to keep away the thought of February. There is a new small collection in the shop. These four can be used separately or together – they will give enough paper space to every serious and not too serious note taker. Watercolour, cream pages, Japanese stab binding – I had fun using them all. Ready for shipping.
How’s your Thursday?

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StuffedMice February Trees

### Rule: never complain on your blog

February, the month I never liked, arrived. Most people dread Januaries but I find them filled with organizing, arranging and cleaning – things I don’t mind in the least. But February… even though it’s short, it’s long enough to make me feel bad. Make all things pointless. Question this and doubt that. It’s like one of those long, miserable days that you just want to end so spend, whenever possible, in bed.

The fact there’s no snow doesn’t help. Of course.

I feel that I need a proper plan for survival. Gym (blah), long walks, friends around, work, good food, even better books and movies – from the usual suspects. A movie night with friends, an anniversary dinner with Karol, an exhibition about Chinese migrants in the UK – from the more unusual ones.

And candles. Lots of lots of candles.

How are you taking February? And do you have any survival tips for somebody who’s being miserable?

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StuffedMice February Trees

StuffedMice books - My Struggle 1

2015 Reads – 2 – A Death In The Family, My Struggle: 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård

“I filled the bucket with water, took a bottle of Klorin, a bottle of green soap and a bottle of Jif scouring cream and started on the banisters, which could not have been washed for a good five years. There was all sorts of filth between the stair rods, disintegrated leaves, pebbles, dried-up insects, old spider webs. The banisters themselves were dark, in some places almost completely black, here and there sticky. I sprayed Jif, wrung the cloth and scrubbed every centimetre thoroughly. Once a section was clean and had regained something of its old dark-golden colour I dunked another cloth in Klorin and the sight of the blue bottle took me back to the 1970s, to be more precise, to the cupboard under the kitchen sink where the detergents were kept. Jif didn’t exist then. Ajax washing powder did though, in a cardboard container: red, white and blue. There was green soap. There was Klorin; the design of the blue plastic bottle with the fluted childproof top had not changed since then. There was also a brand called Omo. And there was a packet of washing powder with a picture of a child holding an identical packet, and on that, of course, there was a picture of the same boy holding the same packet, and so on, and so on. Was it called Blenda? Whatever it was called, I often racked my brains over regression, which in principle of course was endless and also existed elsewhere, such as in the bathroom mirror by holding a mirror behind your head so that images of the mirrors were projected to and fro while going further and further back and becoming smaller and smaller as far as the eye could see. But what happened behind what the eye could see? Did the images carry on getting smaller and smaller?”

Too many. Far, far too many quotes from Karl Ove’s book I could cut out and stick on my wall (mental note: now here’s an idea for the walls in the studio!). There are some so-called life truths and utter rubbish. All happens just like in the quote above – in between, during, meanwhile. Cleaning a house, having a cigarette, walking to a corner shop. Thoughts follow thoughts and you read the story as if somebody recorded and transcribed them.

Apparently there’s a hype and Karl Ove’s in its epicentre. I wouldn’t know. But this is what people tell me.

“I read about a guy brushing his teeth. It’s fascinating. I read on and discover that he’s been brushing his teeth for more than fifty pages” – said a girl I used to work with in the same office. I got the book from a library last year and had to return it before I managed to reach its end – there was a queue.

A simple story. In simple words. Without a bang on the last page but more of an is-that-really-it conclusion. A good novel, a great novel but intense enough for me to have a break from for a while.

2015 Books My Struggle

/Image credit: Politiken.dk/

StuffedMice Studio

Studio lately

Mess, random objects and work in progress – this is what’s been happening here lately. I finished a new set of notebooks and it feels great, especially now, when my tax return is screaming for attention. These days I wish I could stretch time. Everything takes too long.

When I look at this room in the pictures I know that something has to be done about it. The only three things on the walls? A calendar full of Aboriginal art – a gift from my friend Aga who dragged it all the way from Australia. An insert from one of the Stack magazines with a quote that, unlike most “wise quotes”, doesn’t make me feel sick. And a piece of paper I took from the Lego room in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk museum – again, with a sentence that I happened to like. I’m sure there must be more that I’d love to see when I look up from my desk. But what?

We’ve already had an argument with Karol about putting a huge poster of Kate Bush up on one of the walls in our living room. Karol finds posters of singers who are still alive – sorry, Kate – creepy. “What if she visited and saw it, wouldn’t that be just too weird?” he asks. I seem to miss his point entirely and negotiate a triptych: Bush, Wagner and Bowie. All in smaller than huge sizes. All side by side. The evidently dead Wagner as an attempt to balance things up a bit. We both like him and surely, unlike Kate and David, he will never pay us a visit.

But we’re yet to reach an agreement. And I can already tell that deciding about the studio walls will be just as easy.

StuffedMice Studio

StuffedMice Studio

StuffedMice Studio

StuffedMice Studio

StuffedMice Studio

Quick Fix Covered Windows

Quick fix: covered windows

The studio is the saddest room in the house at the moment. With random furniture and usually biggest mess. Although the mess actually livens it up a little. But yes, still very sad-looking. When I work from home or stay at home, I spend most of my day here. Which really only adds to my, and possibly yours now, disbelief in how tolerant I’d been of this view:

Quick Fix Covered Windows

Cringe, cringe, cringe… The curtains! Aren’t they the ugliest thing you could choose for torturing your windows? We inherited them from the previous owners and never had enough time / courage / energy to burn them. And they were useful. For the times when I looked from behind my computer only to see a neighbour having a cigarette and staring at me from the opposite side of the street. Or for the times when we had guests staying over (which is often).

Enough was enough and I needed a quick fix. Something that didn’t need screws, hammers, drilling walls or what not.

Quick Fix Covered Windows

Right before Christmas, inspired by other neighbours’ bedroom windows, I bought some static film on Amazon to put on the glass but got to use it only last week. It came in 67.5cm wide by 1.5 metres long rolls. What’s perfect is that there’a a grid printed on the back of the film, together with instructions in at least 12 languages, so it’s very easy to use.

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When I had my pieces of foil ready (my pieces are only 50cm long as I wanted to let as much unaltered light in as possible ), I sprayed the window panes and stuck the film onto them. I left about 1cm gap between the foil and window frames. Some squeegee work to remove the air bubbles next and it was finished.

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Done! I used up one roll of film and quite like the effect it has (this one is frost but there are also others). Now I have clean, hospital-looking windows, lots of natural light, lots of nicely diffused light, privacy and no curtains! Naturally I did the impossible and measured one of the pieces incorrectly. The grid wasn’t foolproof by the looks of it. But I was so pleased with the newly found light that I left it as it is. Next: kitchen and bedroom windows!