December 2010


girl reading book, redcoat soldier cat art by tarafly

Mia giggling over Dominic dressed in his Red Coat uniform

I began typing this blog post at 5:30PM, after taking Mia’s birthday cake from the oven. It will be decorated as a castle, with little construction paper turrets (because Joe was too frugal to buy the plastic set from the store).

She and Jacob are taking a much-needed nap, after a day spent terrorizing cats, destroying their bedroom, digging food-stuff from the fridge to drip, spill, and smear across every surface within reach… and a host of other exasperating things to drive a mother wild. They’ve had one bath already, and may need another before the evening is over.

Thing One and Thing Two. The little whirlwind monsters from The Cat in the Hat… are the best visual description I can give of my two youngest children – who at 16 months apart – are almost identical twins in both looks and personality.
Actually, when Jake decides to wear his sister’s dress, they might fool anyone.

There are some days weeks when nothing gets accomplished in my studio or my website; those are “reactive” days, when it takes all my strength just to keep the house semi-under-control and tidy, and ensure they don’t injure or kill themselves.

Notice I didn’t say, it takes all my strength not to injure or kill them… violent thoughts would never cross my mind, however there are moments when I wish that I wasn’t a mother.

When I catch a few moments to sit at my desk, scan my e-mails and twitter updates, I’m bombarded with happy productive status updates:
“I’ve got a new piece to show you guys!” …
“More purses/pillows/scarfs/whatever-the-heck-I-make to list in my shop”…
“I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon painting” …

The majority of these super-ambitious hard-working folks do not have kids, or they are older kids than mine. Or perhaps they have great-grandma’s secret recipe that changes children into molasses syrup.

There are days when I envy those people, with a raw green jealousy which almost boils over into anger, as the giggles of my mischievous creatures echo down the hall from inside the bedroom closet. I get up from my chair and walk into the bedroom, to discover an entire dresser full of clean, folded laundry lying in a fabric-heap on the floor, with the kids merrily jumping in it. Their fingers are sticky…

Breathe….

They squeal and run from the room. I know that while I begin the task of re-folding clothes, sorting the girls’ from the boy’s, and discarding the sticky items into the hamper… they will be plotting their attack of the frozen Popsicles in the kitchen. I can hear the dining room chair scraping across the floor…

little girl with a mischievous grin

I did something naughty and Mommy doesn't know... yet

God bless them. I love them dearly, but sometimes I wish they weren’t around. Sometimes I just want the house to myself, to sit and write a blog, or paint my new Madonna Cat, or re-design my website. Even to procrastinate in my pajamas, watching BBC period dramas..
In peace.

But I am a mother. I can vividly remember each nuance of my three pregnancies, and each trip to the hospital to deliver them… the last two labors were very short, in fact Jake arrived 20 minutes after we did!
Mia’s birth on December 24th kept us hostage at City Hospital until after Christmas, because there were no scheduled office staff on the 25th to sign our release papers.
Lydia was very upset that she couldn’t take her baby sister home for Christmas.

I grow tired of whining to my family, and to my readers, about my struggles to maintain this business and a wild herd of children all by myself.
My complaints fall on deaf ears… my own. I hate excuses.
I’ve heard so many of them over the years, from associates and superiors, from husbands and friends… that I can’t seem to shake this inner-judge who wants to scold and reprimand.

“Get some focus. Learn some time-management skills. Brush up on your parenting skills, too.”

But as I look back on this past year, and take personal inventory of my successes and failures, I know that my time will always be unevenly divided… until the little darlings are in school at least.

Home-schooling?! Bwahahaha Not on your life! I’m counting the hours until that big yellow bus beckons to carry them away. ;)

little blond boy playing on swing

What mischief is Jake plotting behind those innocent eyes?

But until then, I’ve decided – after much consideration – to begin referring to myself as a “part-time working artist”.

If I’m honest with my customers, friends, and family about where my attention lies, perhaps people will be more understanding if things aren’t done quickly. Perhaps I’ll feel less guilty if I can’t keep pace with my peers. And if I do find a block of time to myself, and work feverishly to get a million things done, I can simply feel good about my accomplishments!

Instead of saying, “It’s about time! Now don’t fall off the horse.”

I hate to feed any inclination to slack-off, but I have to be realistic. A full-time worker puts in an average of 8-10 hours, 5 days a week. That isn’t possible for me, no matter how I try to slice the pie. At best, if I keep myself motivated, I can squeeze 5-6 hours out of my little bite-sized chucks.
Trying to “find more time” just causes me to resent the needs and demands of my family.

As the beasts devour a 2-layer frosted cake in 5.8 seconds, I will stand guard calmly with the wet towels and vacuum cleaner, even though I’ve cleaned this room twice already today. I’ll try not to consider my earlier attempts as time wasted. Or that I should’ve been clocking studio time rather than re-washing a sticky pair of jeans.

I need my children in my life, and they need me too.

So Merry Christmas to all of you!
And Happy 3rd Birthday, Mia!

…you’re getting a nicer Mommy this year.

Mrs Bennet Regency Cat Thank You Card by TaraFly Art

Mrs Bennet says "Thank You", from The Crazy Cat Family

One week until Christmas – and I’ll bet your tree is up AND decorated! Your gifts are probably tucked away inside the closet, attic, trunk of your car, or else they’re in route with guaranteed delivery.   (Forgive me if I chuckle a bit over those dubious postal deadlines – it’s an old inside joke shared by the secret cult of online merchants).

Most likely, you have – this very evening – returned from the grocery store to stockpile your pantry with yams and cranberry sauce. If you live in the Northeastern United States… that includes 10 gallons of milk, a case of sparkling kiwi-strawberry or peach flavored water, 12 loaves of sandwich bread, some deli meat, and enough toilet paper to keep you in comfort in case the snow buries your house up to its shingles.
And you’re forced to dig air holes in your chimney.

And naturally, I’ve done none of the above. As in years past, we’re keeping Christmas (and Mia’s birthday next Friday) relatively conservative and quiet.
No guest list, huge table spreads, or mountains of gifts. I’ll send the cats out in a sled team if we need anything.

But despite the fact that I didn’t quite reach my sales goals for this year, and wasn’t able to splurge on fancy toys and gadgets for the kids, I’m extremely satisfied and appreciative of the support we’ve received from my loyal fans and new customers. :)

Purchases made from my two shops (and Zazzle, too) are meaningful, because they directly contribute to my family’s welfare, in addition to the small percentage I’m donating to sponsor a cat from BestFriends.org… an animal sanctuary, which is akin to tithing to a church owned by cats.

You’ll hear this all the time, especially in recent years – that helping the small business owner is also helping the community … but it’s the simple truth.
Each sale is important because it puts food on our table and diapers on our children, and enables a stay-at-home mother to live above the poverty line and not seek help from government welfare.
And you know me, I’d rather cut off my hand than beg.

When I began writing this post, I was reminded of an interview I’d read, which was published back in the late 80’s. One of my favorite actors, Michael J. Fox, was talking about the importance of his fans, and he said,
“My attitude is that this one paid my rent, that one bought my car, and that one paid for the hockey tickets.”

Essentially recognizing each fan as having made a direct contribution to his quality of life, and acknowledging his gratefulness for them….
it sums up exactly how I feel right now.
Of course, most Hollywood big-shots will thank “the little people” out of obligation, but the wise ones understand the truth: We created those celebrities ourselves, and purchased the crystal palaces in which they live, by spending the money required to make their films and franchises a hit.
Or not.

Mr Darcy Cat by TaraFly Regency Cat Portrait in Frame

Mr Darcy Cat handsomely framed in the hallway

Although sales of Mr Darcy Cat aren’t paying my rent yet, I was able to help alleviate my husband’s monthly financial concerns …here and there, by paying a utility bill, keeping the car filled with gas, and making a trip to the grocery store without using our shared debit card. ;)

The last few weeks leading up to Christmas have been blessed with fresh attention and excitement over my artwork, and I have a few prospects lined up for the New Year, including venturing offline and into an actual gift shop. Shhhh… fingers and whiskers crossed.

Even more importantly, to me, is the shift in Joe’s attitude towards the time I spend online and upstairs in my studio. My recent sales were steady enough to carry us through each week.   He has been more appreciative and positive-minded, even going so far as to plan an expansion with new products.   His lofty dreams involve chopping and sanding fallen logs…. which will, of course, have cats painted on them. ;)
I’m beginning to feel that encouraging sense of team camaraderie that has long been eluding me… and I have you, dear readers and fans, to thank for it!

Without you, I would be just another mom of half-feral, young children, who sits at her computer… blogging about pipe-dreams and doing nothing to fulfill them.

But this journal is more than just my mindless ranting. It is also an account of my beginning – the cold-hearted retail cocoon that I’ve emerged from, the obstacles and inner struggles I face as a growing artist (and mom), and the career roadmap that I’ve lightly sketched onto a ketchup-stained napkin.
I don’t exactly know where I’ll be 10 years from today, but I am determined to reach my ultimate goal of a self-employed, family run business.

It will be interesting, and probably amusing, to look back and read this first-person narrative of my progress over the years. And someday, you and I will be able to reminisce and say:
“Remember when…?”

You’ll make some obscure reference, we’ll both laugh, and my future hardcore fans will shake their perplexed heads.
Because it is our little inside joke.

Should we create a secret club, with hand signals and passwords, too? ;)

Dominic the tuxedo cat looking out window at snow

Dominic was disappointed by the snowfall this morning.

Being a working artist, whether self-supporting or struggling, is a mixed bag of delight and disappointment. I can’t paint a rosy picture for you, and if I could, I’d sell it for a billion dollars because everyone wants one.

There is one thing about being an artist that totally rocks, however… and that is my social circle. I have the creme of the crop talent-wise at my fingertips, and not only do they inspire me daily with their imagination and ingenuity, but these kind-hearted creative folks are always willing to give me a few words of knowledgable advice or thoughtful encouragement.

2011 Calendar designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

A 2011 Calendar, designed and illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Jessica Doyle is one of the most talented artists/illustrators out there; she specializes in ink drawings, colored pencil and watercolor, although she can jump to acrylics or digital media effortlessly when the mood strikes.
If you aren’t already familiar with her work… you soon will be, but remember where you “discovered” her first. M-kay? ;)

I first found her while searching for a review on the Epson line of printers that Carrie Hawks, another awesome cat artist, recommended that I try. Carrie’s favorite model, the R2200, was discontinued … and a search for the next upgrade (the R2880) led me to Jess’s fabulous blog.
I devoured a year’s worth of posts in one afternoon, and one private goal of mine is to read the entire blog from beginning to end.

2011 calendar illustrated by Jessica Doyle

Printing and measuring the calendar

Following her on Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, WordPress, Buzz, and Flickr… eh, does that sound stalkerish? …over the last year and a half has been really meaningful for me, because she is full of insight and wisdom. And she doesn’t mind sharing it with us.

I’ve especially enjoyed watching her e-commerce baby being born… The Handmade Cloud, she calls it.
We both took the self-hosted webstore route, but her patience and dedication has paid off with a beautiful online retail shop to showcase her work, that she designed herself with some help from a coding expert.

Imagine how tickled and honored I was to be invited to test-drive a new feature! A select few lucky folks (hehe) were able to freely download a PDF copy of her very-much-in-demand 2011 calendar…

Cutting the Jessica Doyle calendar with X-acto blade

Trimming Jess' calendar with an X-acto knife

The calendar is available for purchase by everyone else here on Etsy, and on Handmade Cloud.

I didn’t yet have a calendar purchased for next year, so her gift was greatly appreciated. The other day, I organized the studio (again) and de-cluttered it, so today I enjoyed a bit of quiet time printing Jess’ calendar on – our – Epson printer… and assembling it under Merlin’s supervision.

Merlin the cat and Tara Fly in art studio

Merlin demands a chin scratch or else the printer gets it!

I guess he didn’t trust me with X-Acto knives. Funny thing, I’m scared to death of pricking myself with a sewing needle, but the real danger in slicing into one’s finger with a razor blade never occurred to me.
Did Sleeping Beauty traumatize me as a child?
I’ve ripped into hundreds upon thousands of cardboard boxes during my 12+ years working retail, that box cutters seem like a useful claw attached to my hand.

I did, however, encounter one particularly terrifying thing while printing this little calendar.

A scary nightmare alternate reality Jessica Doyle calendar

Mushrooms from my nightmares....

Mushrooms!

One of Jess’s paintings featured mushrooms… and I’ve been scared of toadstools and mushrooms since childhood.
Seriously.

Did I ever tell you about the evil mushrooms that hide in tall grass, waiting for young children?
They spring up and attack the innocent frolicking girls, and tear into their flesh with razor-sharp fangs… blood-thirsty toadstools can eat an entire child in a few grizzly hours.

As a five-year-old, I commanded my grandfather to hunt and kill all the toadstools in our yard before I would play in the grass. I stood fearfully on our brick patio and watched him scour the lawn, uprooting any he could find. He also fashioned a piece of twine into a lasso, as a weapon for me to use in self-defense. I practiced throwing it over their monstrous heads from a safe distance.

Yeah… don’t get too philosophical with me. I’m sure there’s a Freudian explanation buried in it somewhere. ;P

Jessica Doyle 2011 Calendar September and August artwork

Those paper mushrooms will not hurt me...

So… anyway… I might just cut August’s page in half and reuse that artwork for September. ;)

Jessica Doyle 2011 calendar with ribbon tie

Tying the pages together with a scrap of ribbon.

A bit of leftover ribbon that was too short for any other purpose was perfect to hang it from the wall, in place of my ugly, utilitarian calendar. It was still displaying the month of June…

My goal for the new year is to actually make some long-range plans, to set deadlines for myself, and to create my own calendar (and some Christmas ornaments, too) for next fall.
If the world is going to end in 2012, I can’t procrastinate too long, huh? :P

Jessica Doyle calendar on wall with stink bugs and computer

I discovered two stink bugs while hanging her calendar...

When I took the current calendar down (hey, it was June, for crying out loud! I doubt it’ll be missed) I found two stink bugs hiding underneath it. Everyone following my updates on Facebook or Twitter knows about the obsession I had with our infestation of stink bugs this summer. (They taste like cinnamon!)

At one point, I actually followed a group of them around, documenting their every move with my camera… with the intention to write a dramatic dialogue for them. No need to worry if you don’t recall reading it, because I didn’t post it anywhere. LOL

two stink bugs on wall

A Few Days of Our Lives, starring Annie Bugstede and Taylor Stinkler

I took this romantic interlude as a good sign. I am slowly surrounding myself, and my workspace, with positive vibes from dear friends. With Jess’s artwork now hanging on the wall, and Merlin the cat cuddling with me, and the stink bug couple dreaming their dreams and building a nest…

The life of an artist is pretty fulfilling, sometimes scary, always colorful, and slightly cinnamon flavored.

cat dressed for communion with Jesus portrait

My cat Flicker all dressed for Communion ... (circa 1991)

I’ve been involved with every Protestant religion known to man or God at some point, and dabbled in a few earth-based religions as well, before deciding that the Universe and I would never agree. Not that my opinion holds much weight in the face of a Black Hole.

But for some reason, Catholicism has escaped me. Or rather, I’ve never set foot inside a Catholic church except to attend my cousin’s high school graduation.
(She went to one of those all-girls’ schools – St. Something-or-other – operated by nuns)

That isn’t to say that I haven’t done some homework on the subject however, especially with my love of ancient history and British literature. I also seemed to gravitate towards Catholic friends, unconsciously, and even married one. Although he was one of those wayward-types who doesn’t attend mass anymore.
But the mysteries and protocols surrounding their practice provide me with hours of curiosity…
And too many questions.

Take confessionals, for example. Simply put, you step into a phonebooth-style closet and discuss your sins with the priest behind the curtain, who as God’s appointed earthly emissary has been given the holy power of absolution… so he forgives you, and then requires that you repent with x-amount of prayers performed on a beaded necklace.   (My mother gave me a rosary as a child, but never taught me to use it).

What would happen if I suddenly decided to confess… would I be bound to recall every sin I’d committed in the last 25 years?  I’m almost 31 years old, but apparently the first 5 years don’t count against me. ;)
….Or is the age of reason seven years?   (I’m afraid to Google it and become sidetracked for 3 hours reading articles on Thomas Paine)

Lord, there have been so many regrets and bad decisions made in the last 10 years alone… it would be a very daunting task indeed to list them all, and just imagine, I’d probably be praying on beads for the next 30 years.

When I was studying Latin, I got a kick out of watching the Catholic TV channel. It was a fun challenge to keep pace with the sermons, and every time I could successfully translate phrases like “tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis”   I would squeal with excitement.
I imagined the priest and I had our own secret language.

[Lord, the spell-check had serious issues with that phrase! Perhaps I should program my Latin dictionary into WordPress.  Or is there a widget?]

But I also remember watching the nuns reciting their “Hail Marys” – over and over and over and over – and how truly forlorn and tired they appeared.  I couldn’t help but wonder what the Once-Virgin Mary thought about all these depressing rituals… I mean, if you’re going to say “Blessed art thou amongst women!” you could try to sound joyful about it, or the point is being lost.
Isn’t it?

A former co-worker of mine was sitting in the lunch room, reading an inspirational book written for Catholics… although it’s been 10 years and I can’t remember its title or author (too many sins clogging my mind), she left it lying on the table where it sat until she left, and then I opened it to the page she’d bookmarked.

It was discussing the damnation of Protestants having forsaken “The True Religion”… now there is a phrase that would send icy chills down the spine of many Dark Age prisoners. People were beheaded for simply refusing to accept The True Religion, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
If their souls were damned, why not at least let them live until a ripe old age before sentencing them to burn in Hell?
One of the biggest complaints against the Church is why everyone is so Hell-bent on damning everybody else.
You’re a Methodist, therefore you’re going to Hell.
You Mormons and Lutherans will burn too.

We are all reading the same Scriptures, except for those “lost” passages that might explain everything, and yet there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of groups professing wildly different interpretations. But we’re willing to condemn and kill people to maintain that we are right. Right?

I wonder what cats think about religion? See, cats supposedly do not have souls at all, and therefore do not have to worry about Hell and confessing mortal sins.
It is accepted that animals don’t even commit sins… although we cat owners would beg to differ.
Spitefulness is a sin, is it not? And my cats will puke in my shoe just to spite me.

Grace Christian church day school in Bowie Maryland

My kindergarten class at Grace Baptist School (1985)

I’ve been arguing the point of animism (animals having souls) since childhood, and the clergy have been adamant against the idea. Although if you talk with ghost hunters, they’ll admit to running across animal spirits occasionally. Hmmm.
One of the reasons I studied paganism for awhile, was because it seems implausible to think that human beings are the only creatures worthy of possessing a soul. Every living thing shares energy that cannot be destroyed. If you’re tempted to quote Genesis 1:26-28, don’t bother…

In fact, I just read the first two chapters of Genesis last week, when Mia grabbed a Bible off the shelf under the assumption it was a bedtime story. Fortunately, she drifted off to sleep before I reached Chapter 4, where Cain bludgeoned his brother to death with a rock. I didn’t want to give her any nightmares… or any ideas. ;)

There are very few Old Testament stories appropriate for children, including Noah’s Art, which is a popular nursery theme…. WHY?! For Heaven’s sake… people and animals drowned due to God’s rage, but their bodies aren’t painted floating in the pastel waters underneath the pretty rainbow.

(Daniel and the Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, Shadrach and the Furnace… they are gruesome and violent enough for Hollywood to prey upon for plotlines)

But if animals do have souls, did Jesus die for them as well?
If we could translate Scripture into a language understood by our furred friends, would they accept their salvation?

For awhile now, I’ve envisioned doing a series of paintings surrounding Biblical stories recreated with cats. Even Joe read my mind recently, and suggested I paint the Birth of Christ – depicting the holy family as a mother cat with her litter.  Which one would be Jesus?  It might confuse the wise men, eh?
Perhaps all the kittens were saviours…. now that would be an interesting twist.

My grandmother was a huge proponent of Christmas celebrations.  Every year, the extended family would travel hundreds of miles to our Bowie home for the holidays.   She was the glue that held everyone together – the reason for our season – and the feasts and parties were such a large part of my childhood that one wonders why I shun them now.
I guess my holiday phobias stem partly from the degeneration of our family after her passing.
Anyway…

December was a flurry of UPS packages arriving daily and trunks of decorations migrating down from the attic. She was an avid collector of knickknacks, and for Christmas, her enormous collection of Nativity scenes would appear on bookcases, end tables, windowsills, and inside glass hutches.

One year, I sculpted her a gift from oven-baked clay – a feline Nativity, and she praised its creativity and placed it alongside the others, without any mention of the potential blasphemy of portraying Jesus and family as cats.

Blasphemy.

There are so many paintings that I’d love to create, but that word scares me into pushing them aside.
But why?

I’m not interested in shock-value… it’s never been my intention to create disturbing or derogatory artwork. Honestly, I’m not trying to put down anyone’s faith.

Looking back, I see that sculpture as my way of reaching out to God to make peace.   Cats and Christianity have been themes in my art for some time … Medieval Priest Cat and Church Choir Cats are two recent examples … because it reflects the conflicted position I find myself in.

Reject the religion of my childhood, or those beliefs which have always felt honest to me. And who would I be, if not part cat in a human skin?

Child playing with cat

Flicker and I caught playing with cat-toys...

Cats are fascinating because they live outside our rules and don’t abide by religious dogma (hehe, and why should they? It’s merely Dog-ma after all)… yet they seem to be fully in tune with their purpose and what life is all about. Cats attend to their basic needs, for shelter, food, procreation, and company.
They provide for their young, defend their homes, and seek out relationships with humans and other animals.

I don’t see them consulting Dead Sea Scrolls, constructing marble temples, or embarking on Holy Crusades.
They don’t question which Truth you believe. They don’t even ask you to confess.

I wonder, if you did manage to drag a cat into the booth, and he admitted that the stinky pile of poop behind the sofa was his… (and those paw prints in the pumpkin pie), would the penitence be divided by seven to accommodate his shorter lifespan?

Otherwise he might be praying on rosaries for the next 2.5 lives.

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