March 2010


Grecian cat goddess cameo pendant

My Sketch for a Grecian Cat Cameo

My three followers are well-aware of my frustrations installing this Zen-Cart; I seem to hit snags everywhere I turn. From enabling the SSL, which couldn’t be done from the cPanel apparently (I got fatal error messages, and finally succeeded by editing it offline and Filezilling* that Bad Boy) to the USPS’s failure to “authorize” my attempts to connect to their production server, to utilize my shipping calculator. …Still waiting for that to be resolved, and in the meantime, I’ve added some manual shipping options.
*I just coined the verb “Filezilling”… i.e. uploading files to a server using the Filezilla program. I predict it will catch on eventually – like Googling did – but you read it here first. 😉

Overall, however, I’m extremely impressed with the functionality of this all-inclusive e-commerce system. I don’t regret my decision to host my own store. Yet.
I could spend months testing all the gizmos and gadgets, oh wait, I already HAVE spent 1.5 months just tinkering with it, and right now I have ONE product in my shop – My Darcy Dominic. He’s been my beta product, so I could experiment with all the variables by adding 5, 10, or 20 of him into my cart.
Seriously, though, people spend 8-10 hours per day obsessing over their Etsy shops… their photographs, their tags and titles, their positions in the Almighty Category Search. They waste spend time chatting in the forums, in order to “be seen” (both on-site and in Google), and have their comments reflect positively on their expertise. They make Treasuries, join teams, and Twitter their fraking listings to death.
I am no marketing expert. Let’s just make that clear. 😉 I do believe, however, that all those hours would’ve been better spent on my own site, promoting just me.

Granted, Etsy is a giant shopping center, like the Mall of America… except more global… the Mall of Earth. They get an insane amount of traffic!
I received a couple of sales recently, even after I had virtually abandoned my shop there, being otherwise engaged in The Zen Drama. The odds of success on Etsy, however, are slim without constant promotion… and the downside to all that insane traffic, is how easily they can migrate out of your shop and into the arms of 200,000 other sellers who will offer items at half price with free shipping and tons of goodies thrown in.

Retailers in the most crowded malls are not faced with the obstacles that we Etsians take for granted:
Even in large malls, featuring 140+ shops, you will find a diverse group of storefronts which are strategically placed. Except for the Food Court, you won’t find an imbalanced clump of direct competitors, i.e. 10 bath-and-body sellers in a single section of one wing!

Let’s explore the massive mall in my extended neighborhood, for instance…
Tyson’s Corner Center is the 5th largest mall in the U.S. and has an interactive map which allows you to search for applicable shops by category:
A search for Children’s apparel brings up 19 retailers, 10 of which are on the main floor. A closer look at these shops reveals the different target groups – The Disney Store, The Washington Redskins Official Store, Kid’s Foot Locker, Republic of Couture, and Macy’s… to name five of them.
Would you expect to find the same (or nearly identical) products in each shop? I highly doubt it. 😉 They are also interspersed with bookshops, entertainment stores, jewelers, and sporting goods.
Each shop has a large glass frontage with which to make a killer first impression – showcasing their best lines, huge sales banners, and allowing customers to see their inviting interior designs.

On the other hand, at the time I write this, Etsy has 216,586 sellers (“with items in their shops” – in their words) lumped together on one website. Most customers visiting for the first time will do a keyword search, or look into a specific category. Children’s apparel has 4,444 pages to dig through. How do Etsy sellers get noticed?!
Well, that is where each owner spends their 8 hours daily… obsessing over those tiny thumbnail images and descriptive titles… “Blue Roaring Lion Baby Infant and Toddler Long Sleeved Light Grey T-shirt in 0-3 Months, 3-6 Months, 6-9 Months, 9-12 Months, 2T, 3T, 4T, 5T, Junior and Adult sizes You Can Wear This to Your Christening, Graduation, Wedding, and Funeral”
… You gotta make it cheap, and add “Free shipping” somewhere in that title for good measure, unless you’re on page 1,287 … in which case, you’re screwed unless you have the budget and time to sit there and spend 20¢ every 1-2 hours to bring your listings back to the top.
Customers will never even get the chance to see your shop, if you can’t reel them in with the best damn teensy-tiny photograph and catchy title you can create… unless you kiss lots of butt and get yourself featured.

I don’t mean to knock Etsy; they have created a fabulous site, and the more time I spend creating this little corner shop of mine, the more I appreciate the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. They have provided 216,586 sellers (oops, I think it’s 216,587 sellers now) with the opportunity to be seen by bazillions of potential customers, provided they list their products at the magical time of day/night when everyone gets “the most views”.
I don’t anticipate receiving a fraction of my Etsy shop’s traffic, although I do hope to cut down on my bounce rate… as I seriously doubt thousands will be just passing through my shop on their way to buy a one-size-fits-cradle-to-grave Roaring Lion Tee.

I fully intend to post a few links and banners from my site, to those shops and blogs owned by friends… like Jessica and Lily… because they are awesome people and I like to watch them celebrate each fully deserved sale.
What is unfortunate about Etsy, is that you promote the hell out of your own shop, and occasionally the shops of friends, only to watch 70% of your viewers trail off into the vastness of Etsy-La-la-Land, to purchase something cheaper from a stranger or the most hated of all – the god-forsaken re-sellers, those liars who buy commercial goods and list them unaltered as “handmade” OOAK items.

Okay. I promise to stop complaining about Etsy. There.

My plan is to continue my Etsy shop, in a limited capacity, but in the next few days when this Zen Cart is fully equiped and ready for business… I’m gonna put all my blood, sweat, tears, and ripped-out hair into my own art shop… because isn’t it the goal of each and every self-employed person to be his/her own master? To stop lining the boss’s pockets while accepting a minimal wage for work that is worth 5X, 10X, even 20X more? I’m remembering that former bakery I worked for, baking and decorating wedding cakes worth over $500.00 for which I received $7.50 per hour…. that flour and powdered sugar certainly didn’t cost $470.00.

Stop spending $1.00-$3.00 each day to renew that Blue Lion T-shirt in the sea of lion tees, and invest in a dedicated domain, an SSL Certificate, and the free Zen Cart.. which “anyone with basic computer skills can install and set-up”. Also, download the $30 user’s manual, just in case your basic computer skills are inadequate. 😉
Alternately, you can purchase an island in Tyson’s Corner… Roaring Lion Tees would fill a much-needed niche between Macy’s and Abercrombie & Fitch.

There are 216,599 sellers on Etsy now, and I am going to bed. Goodnight, folks.

I headed to my favorite destination the other evening… the shopping center where the arts/crafts store A.C.Moore and Borders Books are located. I was hunting some cool new products to slather paint upon… terracotta flower pots, anyone? … and passed a clothing store hosting a clearance sale. Now normally I would keep walking. Although like most females, I rate clothes-shopping only two points higher on the Happy Meter than shoe-shopping.
Unlike most females, I rate shoe-shopping the same as a trip to the dentist. 😛

Lately, however, I’ve been attempting to view myself as an entrepreneur/business woman rather than a tired housewife who paints on occasion. Knowing that first impressions can make or break you, I want to take each opportunity to dress and act professionally in my rare public appearances. No more trips to the post office wearing a banana-stained T-shirt and wrinkled drawstring sweatpants. hehe

Immediately, I noticed the racks of “career” clothes.. the suit jackets, pleated pants and silky blouses, camisoles, and A-line skirts… and drooled, envious that my former job in retail management had excluded me from the white-collared suits and briefcase-toting population. My closet consists of khaki pants and polo shirts in navy and white, some of which even have embroidered store logos on them, keeping company with maternity outfits that were too expensive to give away, and my large collection of decade-old sweaters.

I knew it was time to “spring clean” my wardrobe, and what better excuse is there than a career change? I grabbed a handful of blouses and slacks, and one jacket (my first!), and told myself that “the clothes make the woman”. Perhaps my professional appearance will boost my confidence when I am forced to describe “what I do”. I’m not a Stay-at-Home mother who sells art as a hobby anymore; I am a full-fledged business owner of a sole-proprietorship, a company licensed and acknowledged by the government. I need to start dressing the part.

TaraFly standing at the window

Modeling the new jacket

 

I stepped into the fitting room, and was shocked to find that my waist no longer fit loosely into a Size 4 and my blouses were stretched a bit too tightly across the chest. I returned to the salesfloor and exchanged them for the next size up. … Another realization, this day was full of discoveries! I am officially a Size 6 in Misses apparel. Now most people would feel disheartened to see their body growing larger, but I can proudly say that I am NOT one of them. This growth represents maturity to me; I am finally an adult woman!

I know I’m odd. LOL I turned 30 this year… but I’ve always been a petite and rather curveless creature, even after my first daughter’s birth. As puberty blessed everyone except me, I’ve suffered the torment of my peers … all the time telling myself, “They’re just jealous” and “I’m lucky to have such a high metabolism: look at all the ice-cream I can eat!” but my assurances sounded hollow when I stared at my twig-like figure in the mirror. I wore push-up bras and flared skirts to give myself the appearance of a real body. LOL
Even my friends called me “Skinny Minny”, “Hey, Scrawny”, and Patrick’s observation – after I announced my fleeting desire to attend Minnesota University – that I was “flat and cold, just like Minnesota”.
A former boss of mine made an inappropriate comment, several years ago, about my lack of endowments. Fortunately for him, I liked his dry sense of humor and didn’t report him for harassment.

As a divorced woman in her mid-twenties, I was physically mistaken for an unwed teenage mother on several occasions… and my supervisory role didn’t help to boost my self-esteem. Heck, after I stepped down, they hired an 18-year-old boy to replace me! Since “Experts” say that your closet is a reflection of self-perception, that “you are how you dress”, it would explain why I feel so insecure in the adult world… I’m still clinging onto clothing that I wore in high-school, defending that it’s wasteful to part with garments in fair condition that still fit. But who will take me seriously, when I look and dress like an adolescent?

TaraFly modeling the new suit jacket

This picture was Joe's favorite... I wonder why?

Although having three children has made me feel like a responsible parent, it wasn’t until I experienced the literal transformation of my body – in the dressing-room, trying on attire from the women’s dept. – that I felt like a true Grown-Up! And I was ecstatic!
I wanted to prance down the street, singing “I have hips! And boobs! Real ones, that sag and everything! Isn’t it great?!”

And people would have jumped out of my way, and whispered “Lunatic” to each other. But at least they wouldn’t call me a Scrawny Lunatic!

I’ll look forward to signing up for local business seminars, shaking hands with other suit-wearing adults in the bank lobby, pretending to hold teleconferences on Joe’s Blackberry, and anticipating the first grey hairs which will mark my wisdom. Hmmm, if I dip a few strands in bleach….
But you won’t catch me making any appointments for shoe fittings in the near future… c’mon, those black pumps I bought for Homecoming ’94 still fit!!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the anniversary of my first marriage, and most importantly to ME, it’s two days past the deadline that I set for having my new shop up and running. 

Everything was slowly rolling along for a while… I installed the Zen-Cart without any problems, trudged my way through zone settings, getting special authorizations from PayPal and the USPS (for quick checkout and shipping calculators, respectively), upgraded to a SSL secure site for future credit-card accepting, and an onslaught of behind-the-scenes administrative crap that visitors will NEVER see… all the while, the default Zen store-front invited customers to purchase $120 worth of “test” buttons and a $35.99 DVD of “Bug’s Life” that you can order in multiple sizes and colors. 

You think I’m joking? 

Bug's Life according to Zen Cart

"A Bug's Life" DVD comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors!

I think they really ought to explain to cave-people like myself, who assumed DVDs came in only one size, which is considered “Standard” for most players. Are the various sizes comparable to the golden-age of records; does the small disc only play highlights? What are the advantages to paying the additional $.40 to get a blue one, and why do certain colors weigh more? 😛 

Test Feature on Zen Cart $120 Buttons

$120 unless you want large red buttons, gift-wrapped. No sales!

You can also purchase these plastic buttons for $120.00 … or wait, is it $40.00 for small buttons… or $160.00 total? Are the red buttons an extra $100.00?! How many buttons do you receive for $220.00 anyhow? Apparently 2,500 square feet worth, judging by the gift wrapping cost. Gee, it would sure help to offer a special or sale on this product… but alas. 

I’ve left the store-front alone for now, because I didn’t want to spend time uploading merchandise before the system was in place to process potential orders.
After customizing the color scheme and adding my banner, which should be a relatively minor edit, I somehow lost my sidebars. I’ve compared the two CSS stylesheets and can’t figure out what is missing from mine. I rather like it better without the junky side menus, but they do serve to navigate the site quickly…. 

Promising to solve that riddle later, I moved onto the seemingly fun task of personalizing text files… everything from the auto-generated e-mail notices and gift coupon text, to the welcome page, checkout page, shipping policies, the trickier return/exchange policy, and the thought-provoking Almighty Privacy Policy. I spent an entire day researching the privacy policies of various companies, large and small, to determine which aspects I needed. 

I spent roughly a week sifting through the PHP files, from A-Z, or more accurately from account.php to whos_online.php (no XYZ’s).. even taking the time to add “please” and “thank you” to the impersonal and somewhat rude error messages. I reached the end of the list and uploaded them, excitedly logging into my store to view my masterpiece. 

And was struck blind by the white page on the screen. My entire store-front had disappeared! Not a single trace remained, not a single line of code when I clicked View Source. Where did everything go?? 

A frantic search on the Zen-Cart forums revealed that the “dreaded White Page” was a common issue, usually occurring after some newbie like myself made changes to PHP files. There were countless ways to diagnose the problem, and everyone had an opinion to share. I knew that my only changes had been in the Define_Text; I hadn’t touched the programming code. Although I didn’t find the answer to my question in the forum, I recalled a side comment made in the original Zen Tutorial:

 “For PHP code, text with a single quote (‘) or double quotes (“) that appear between other quotes may need to be escaped with a preceding backslash (\) character. The rules governing the use of these special characters can be quite complex so interested readers are advised to turn to http://www.php.net/types.string for more information.”  

Using the index.php as a guinea-pig, I added backslashes with my apostrophes and quotation marks… but nothing happened. Looking at the coding again, I noticed there were other characters embedded in the code. Perhaps the program was getting confused by my usage of dollar signs, question marks, exclamation points, and the like. Perhaps, in computer logic, I was trying to type a series of commands… broken ones.
After all, I was typing my paragraphs inside a line of code …(DEFINE_TEXT:) .. not simply writing text inside the “Body” or “Div” of a document.
Sometimes we gotta play by the book.

So I dusted off ye olde HTML Character Codebook and cracked it open. Well, clicked the tab in my Favorites column. Everyone has probably encountered the computer’s annoying habit of translating our sentences into mangled messes of ampersands and semi-colons. Sometimes when I cut-n-paste an HTML into a text editor, or switch my post default from HTML to text (or vise versa, I can’t remember which) in the WordPress dashboard… I’ll wind up with a quote "that looks like this".
Note: WordPress automatically translated it back into quotes… making me look like the blathering idiot who Twittered “I hate typing & instead of &” until I actually typed “amp;” … I swear to choke something. 😉

Oh, by the way, smileys are  : ) and winky faces are &#59;) …. don’t forget to take your finger off the Shift button, or you’ll wind up with this: &#$!; which translates into absolutely nothing. Except my frustration unleashed on whomever designed HTML coding in the first place. &#$!; you! 

There might be an easier way to accomplish this, but since my skills are green enough to be mistaken for moss.. I did it MY way. I changed every blasted character in my text except for the periods and commas. For some reason, they are overlooked. Do you realize how often we use punctuation marks? We take all those dashes and dots for granted, and abuse them liberally. I was paying the price for my enthusiastic exclamation points (Wow! Neat!) and my tendency to type each pause (Wait – hold on – hmm.)
I had to read the file backward, forward, and upside-down, but I finally captured each stray and transformed my page into incomprehensible gibberish. 

The end result, my dear followers three, is that my page uploaded perfectly… my store-front was restored and my own words welcomed me:
“Would you like to log-in?” Or should I say, "Would you like to log-in?"

fine art prints, supplies, in the storage closet

Main shelf in the storage closet. Prints. Supplies. Yep.

I went shopping for groceries yesterday, and found a plastic crate and a file organizer, which inspired me to tidy up the art studio.  The supply-slash-storage closet anyhow.

The file holder works fabulously for my finished prints, and I’m storing the remainder of my acrylic stretched canvases inside the crate… along with a couple blank canvases unearthed while cleaning! Yay!

stretched canvas acrylic paintings, art paper

My canvas paintings and packs of art paper.

They are being stored inside acid-free cellophane bags, which – in addition to the varnish – will hopefully protect them from dust or stray moisture… you know,  just in case my closet is actually a portal to some alternate fantasy world covered in snow.  With pipe-playing fawns and talking badgers.

greeting cards, paper, canvas, art supplies

Greeting cards, yarn, glue gun... oh yeah.

This may not look tidy to most neat-freaks, but it’s the best it can possibly be… without help from a professional. 😉
One of my Resolutions for 2010 was to “thoroughly organize my studio”, so I’ve managed to complete 1/10th of my goals by March! lol Not too shabby for someone who generally scoffs at this New Year tradition.

It was a huge undertaking for me, however, as I’m an accomplished pack-rat and extremely disorganized… my brain thinks in messy terms, where clutter is the native language.  It remains to be seen whether I can function now in this space.

my art table, acrylic paints, palette, black cat tail

I cleared everyone's junk off MY art table! Dominic can stay.

While I still have a few ounces of this cleanliness-inducing chemical (figuratively) coursing through my veins, I should take the opportunity to update my shopping venues (Etsy, Artfire, 1000 Markets)… because once the mood passes, it might take months.
  Yes, I’m taking a break from the aggravating website overhaul – which needs to be completed no later than next Friday.
And, yes, I have at least 3 art projects – Ballet Cats, The Swing (working title), and my 16×20 Venus acrylic – that are patiently waiting  for me to finish them.  None of these are commissioned, by the way.  If a customer places an order, I upgrade them to top priority… which is another extension of my procrastinating, scatter-brained nature.  Deadlines need to be clearly fixed.
 Don’t ever say, “There’s no rush… take your time”, unless you aren’t expecting to receive it for six months, because I’ll take you literally. 😉

 To understand the way my mind works, one need only read through these posts… it’s haphazard, easily distracted, follows every tangent, and gets lost in thought, until finally winding its way back to the original point.  Similar to a cat’s famed short-term memory.
…Leading me on yet another tangent, I Googled “cat’s memory” and (barring all the references to Lloyd Webber, haha) came across this interesting article in Wikipedia relating to cat brains: the physical similarities to human brains, and studies in cat intelligence.  Ever curious to learn oddball bits of information, I’m constantly Googling and reading articles online… the internet is very distracting for me in a professional capacity.

My fellow artist, Jessica Doyle, justifiably prides herself on a well-kept blog… its success, she claims, is partially due to being organized in her writing and keeping to certain topics.   As inspiring as that goal is, I realize it will never happen for me.  If I waited until my thoughts coalesced into a “suitable” blog topic, my writing would be even more sparse than last year’s contributions!  I write whenever I feel moved to write, paint when I’m inspired to paint, and drudge through CSS coding the rest of the time because it needs to be done also, hehe. 
  My blog will always be an extension of whatever thoughts and ideas have captured my attention, although I can attempt to mold them into a particular theme… the theme will ultimately be “Who is TaraFly?”
  Perhaps writing these blog posts is just another form of procrastination… to avoid undertaking the dreaded profile summary.

Now what was it exactly that I planned to do next?