April 2010

Jane Austen inspired regency portrait Love Letter

"The Letter" - a digital self-portrait of the artist.

I’ve always been fascinated by music and poetry depicting roads, paths, or traveling as a theme… Curiosity tempts me to learn the origin, the destination, and to uncover any experiences to be met along the way.

My grandmother introduced me to the writings of her favorite poet, Robert Frost, when I was still a child, too young to understand the meaning of his words. He has since become one of my favorite writers, as many of the most famous and profound poems regarding pathways and journeys are his own.
Who doesn’t feel a chill while reading “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, or can relate to choosing “The Road Not Taken”?

In fact, a quote from the latter serves as my e-mail signature, although it is NOT the infamous final sentence, which reads: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”

Yes, I do feel stirred by that line, as many people have… in fact, people completely unacquainted with the works of Frost will probably recognize that quote alone. It has become the anthem for creative free-thinkers, a battle-cry to reject conformity and established direction.

However, when I muse about my own life in quiet moments, retracing the individual steps I took.. those seemingly random, inconsequential choices, which when added together, have brought me to this specific place… I’m reminded of a different line in Frost’s poem.

As adventurous and impulsive as I may be, I sometimes find it difficult to commit to a particular course of action, because the finality of decisions burden me. There is no turning back and beginning again; life continually propels us forward like a stream of one-way rush hour traffic. Every choice we make moves us farther from our point of origin, so we will never experience those other paths the same way even if we stumble upon them later in our journey.

Whenever I place an idea on hold, which I often do, and attempt to convince myself that it can be revisited at some future point… part of me knows it will probably be buried instead. Time will keep pressing onward, and other circumstances will arise that require immediate action, and eventually those brief portals will collapse and disappear into an alternate universe.

Although these ramblings may sound regretful, I can assure you that I’m mostly satisfied with the choices I’ve made thus far. In fact, I consider myself blessed to have Joe’s hand to hold, as well as my adorable little monsters, and the various friends I’ve connected with who continually inspire me to dream bigger each day. I wouldn’t trade any of them for the chance to alter a piece of history. 🙂

Once a decision is made, I refuse to pine over opportunities lost, and the roads which lie far behind me. Whichever path I ultimately choose, the trip will be worthwhile, as there is happiness to be found everywhere, here and now. I remind myself to live in the present, and look towards the future, which is just as exciting and full of possibility as it appeared at the onset of my journey.

As Frost states in my favorite passage:

“Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

small townhouse kitchen, double sink, wood floors

Welcome Home, a pie cooling in the window..

“It’s that time of year again”, my mother joked in her latest e-mail to me.
She was planning to send a belated Christmas package, and wanted to double-check to ensure we were still living in the same place.

Every spring, our lease expires, and the grand hunt for a new home begins… Why move every year? It could be that gypsy roaming runs in my blood, or possibly it’s another manifestation of my commitment phobia… most likely, it’s a lethal mixture of two-parts procrastination (which both of us suffer from) and one-part discontent (Joe’s impossibly high standards). We always seem to settle upon a place mere days before our lease ends, in a panicked compromise, after spending weeks condemning every townhouse and apartment in town.
Granted, last years’ selections were abysmal… except for that one cute townhouse which unfortunately was located beside a popular bar. As soon as we arrived, Joe scratched it off the potential list… I twisted his arm to “check out the inside”, since the realtor was already waiting for us.

standing in doorway, watching neighbors

Silently passing judgement upon our new neighbors.

Last spring, we signed the lease for our current residence one week before our deadline; it’s been a total nightmare living here… from the questionable neighbors (how many are there? 10? 20?) who apparently run a 24/7 laundry business in the basement, and occasionally throw pieces of furniture out the window during domestic fights… to the landlord himself, who is suffering from financial troubles, and is attempting to sell this dilapidated piece of property. It has lovely turn-of-the-century charm, but is in need of costly renovations – he’ll sell it to you for $250,000 😉

Living and Dining rooms of townhouse

The living room, and a glimpse beyond.

We’ve already had our water and gas shut-off on two separate occasions, (which were supposed to be covered according to our lease), due to the landlord’s inability to pay his bills; in the water instance, his credit card was declined, as we discovered when we contacted the city’s water dept. We paid his $65.00 past due balance with a $35.00 reconnection fee (after repeated attempts to contact him were unsuccessful).
Oh, did we mention we share our water supply with the 35 neighbors next door and their laundry business?

So what will we miss exactly when we move? The cats enjoy these wide windowsills to nap in. I’ll miss the french doors, the built-in glass hutch, and….. I guess…. Nope, that’s about it.

townhouse kitchen with wood floors

Our sunny little kitchen

However, I didn’t intend to write a blog chronicling the trials and tribulations we’ve faced while living on busy Franklin street. In fact, I’m excited to announce that we settled upon a new townhouse, after viewing three promising locations. This recession has really opened up the market, and there were some beautiful choices this year. It was a tough decision, as I fell in love with two distinctly different houses. If only this were reality TV, and the home audience could decide for us!

In the end, we had to keep our primary goals in mind. At the top of my list was a private, fenced yard for the children to safely play. “Private”, meaning: we aren’t required to share our yard with anyone else (i.e. the cocaine peddling, ex-convicts next door) 😛
In addition to the fenced yard, we wanted at least 3 bedrooms (with a special space for my art studio), either an attic or basement, and very importantly – a quiet neighborhood. No more incessant traffic.
No more drunken fights on the sidewalk. No more teenagers armed with guns being chased by cops. No more recently released criminals knocking on my door, enquiring whether I’ve received any of their mail.

small, fenced townhouse backyard with tree

Our own fenced yard, with a tree!

The second home we toured was large and modern, but lacked character and unfortunately was situated on an extremely busy road near Halfway Blvd. and Valley Mall. It also had a shared yard, no fence, and a large banking institution occupying the next lot. For me, that hinted at rushed, mid-day traffic…
I went crazy over the 3rd house we saw, at first. The interior was gorgeous, spacious, almost opulent – loaded with architectural details, a full basement, converted attic (spare room), brand new kitchen, and central AC – however, the outdoor space was sadly lacking. Not only did the yard not have a fence, and was also located on a busy road (blocks from City Hospital), but the entire land was steeply graded. There wasn’t a place flat enough for toddlers to easily play, let alone install a swing-set we’d promised them.

We were worried that we wouldn’t find our perfect place, and were beginning this year’s hunt with reserved attitudes. Last year was a huge disappointment … buying armfuls of newspapers and scouring Craig’s list for weeks, and not finding a single place that excited us. We braced ourselves for another lengthy search.

covered back porch, wood paneling, closet

Our covered back porch, with its storage

Ironically, the first place we saw… a modest townhouse sporting a retro 60’s feel, with wood paneling, actually fit ALL the requirements we were looking for. Nestled in a small subdivision, in a quiet neighborhood, the only traffic encountered on Bethlehem Court are your neighbors. The backyard is fenced, the rooms are average size, the master has a large walk-in closet… in fact, storage abounds in this place. There are closets everywhere, including a storage room built into the covered porch.
Even the cheesy wood paneling, accented in the livingroom and porch, are reminiscent of my childhood home on Foxhill Lane, in Bowie; a Colonial Levitt-built home from the 1960’s.

I felt a sense of peace and belonging here, and although we eventually would like a detached house with more acreage (for even greater privacy)… I knew we could be happy here for some time. The owner is even willing to offer a “rent to own” option, with help financing, in case we reeeeally like this place. LOL I hope this will be our last move for a while. 🙂

As a testament to my commitment, on the day we signed our lease, I purchased $40 worth of bulbs to plant in my planned garden. Now we need to stick around to watch them grow!

Neighborhood of older townhomes

Our new neighbors

I’ve included a few images from our initial investigation of the house. The entire album of new townhouse pictures can be browsed here on Flickr. 🙂

Black Cat flipping the furry finger

Dominic giving Paypal the furry finger...

This month, I’ve released my new website – TaraFlyArt.com – and my own Art Shop to the world (although I’m still adding items and making revisions, because I’ll never be satisfied to leave things alone). I’ve officially announced my plan to pen an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring cats, and my casting call for principal characters is successfully underway. I’ve gained 19 new fans this week, increased my page views almost 100%, and received sales for my Mr. Darcy Cat from brand new customers.

So Paypal takes this prime opportunity to temporarily suspend my account, pending a review.

So what the heck happened?!

It stems back to a very large business-related purchase I made in December, that Paypal royally screwed up. ….I haven’t blogged about it before now because I hate to whine and victimize myself.
People who parade around portraying themselves as perpetual victims really perturb me. LOL You know the types; they constantly have drama in their lives, and usually complain that nobody respects them, and everyone is trying to “get” them (i.e. sabotage their efforts). They value your friendship as something rare and priceless… until you disappoint them or betray them. Yeah. Screw those people.

And I’ll confess, the whole incident has been embarrassing to me. At every turn, I felt ashamed… as if this issue were somehow my fault.. and I didn’t want to draw too much attention to it for fear of ruining my “professional image”. Well, screw my image. It’s within my rights to vent a little; PP has ticked me off, and I think Pee-Pee is an appropriate abbreviation for them. 😉

I used to hear horror stories about PeePee tampering with people’s accounts, but I disregarded them because my interactions with PeePee had always been convenient, pleasant, and professional.
It truly IS the preferred method of payment online; safe and secure… from scrupulous sellers wishing to steal your account info, or take your payments and disappear.
So what happens when you make a rather expensive purchase from an online shop (we’ll call it “The Canvas Co.” an assumed name to protect their innocence); you complete the transaction, receive a receipt, greet the UPS guy at your door 5 days later… only to discover, weeks later, a second charge has been initiated by PeePee for the same transaction, and is pending withdrawal from your bank account?

Well, when I logged into my bank account in January to view my statement, and found this pending charge via my bank’s card for an item I’d received around Christmas, I immediately called my bank to inquire. They politely assured me that it hadn’t been processed yet, and could still easily be cancelled on PeePee’s side.

My PeePee account, however, showed the money had already been processed (on their end) and had been forwarded to The Canvas Co. who had rejected it, as their records showed the transaction had been completed.

There my money sat… PeePee was keeping it in my online account, instead of refunding it back to the bank where it belonged… where it needed to cover the automatic, recurring bills scheduled to be paid soon.

A call to the PeePee Customer Service landed me in an argument with a woman who obviously had her nose buried in a script. I explained how the transfer was “still pending” at the bank, and to please cancel the transaction. But she apparently couldn’t do that.
She asked me to read the tracking number from my Christmas package 3 times, to confirm it was, indeed, the same order, and after putting me on the customary 45 minute hold, she eventually suggested that I could wire the money back into my bank account, which would take approximately 3-5 business days.
She would send me a detailed e-mail giving me the instructions. How nice. Thank you.
Lady, I’m only slightly stupid. I do know about the button at the top of my account page, which says “Send Money”, and gives me the option of wiring funds to a bank account. I’ve used it, and am well aware of how the process works.
I wanted her to STOP the payment altogether, or else immediately return the money which they immediately removed without my authorization. We disagreed on that score.

For added ammunition, I called The Canvas Co. to inquire whether they had sent PeePee a second invoice: No. They had not.
They acknowledged prior problems with PeePee’s unfortunate customers being double-billed for Canvas’ products, but the rep had never heard of an instance like mine. According to her, whenever The Canvas Co. rejected these additional payments, PeePee refunded the money to its original funding source – the customer’s credit card or bank account.

I called the bank again, and explained my dilemma regarding PeePee’s refusal to replace the funds, and their insistence that I simply wire the money back myself. The bank suggested that I file a fraudulent charge dispute against PeePee, so any overdraft fees or issues that might arise as a result of my funds hanging in limbo, would be reimbursed. I mean, this order from The Canvas Co. wasn’t a measly $10, $50, or even $100 purchase. It cost hundreds of dollars, which I had acquired specifically to make the purchase… I didn’t have a bottomless well of funds to cover this second unauthorized deduction.

The bank filed the dispute, the money was refunded back into my account, my bills were paid, and I moved on with my life….

Cut to: One week ago.

 A.C.Moore was hosting a huge sale, and my favorite brand of acrylics were discounted among other things. I went shopping to replenish (and stock pile) on art supplies, and wound up with almost $100 worth in my cart. 🙂 The sale was popular, the lines were long, and only two of the six registers were open. I actually knew a couple of the customers waiting in line with me.
The cashier rang up my order, I paid with my business card, and it was declined. We tried again, and of course, she announced out loud that it was rejected again. “You should call your bank to find out why they’ve denied access.” blah, blah, blah…
as the blood ran into my ears, and I blushed at this huge embarrassment. Fortunately, I also had checks, which were accepted.

I went home and called the bank. My funds were intact, but they had cancelled the card and issued me a brand new one, with a new number.
Why? “Because we noticed suspicious, unauthorized activity on your card”, and they felt its security had been compromised.
It all pointed back to PeePee’s charge from February. Someone at the bank’s Dispute Center HQ had taken a second look at the incident, and decided to block PeePee’s access to my account, via my bank card, by issuing me a new card. *sigh*
I wish they would’ve saved me the humiliation by sending a warning e-mail to the effect – “We will be closing this card account. Please do not attempt to make purchases until your new card arrives.” But, mmmm okay… a minor setback.

Then today I logged into Paypal, to discover a notice saying my PP account had been suspended, due to their “investigation” of an unauthorized charge accusation against them. The bank had restricted them from using my card, and their response was to shut down my account (blocking all ability to send and receive money from customers) until they “reviewed the case”.

Well here’s the case, Paypal….
you took money from my account without my permission.
The transaction was already paid for, and was received into my house.
“The Canvas Co.” did NOT bill you another invoice weeks later, and they rejected your second attempt to pay them with my money.
But you held onto my money in an online account,
instead of reimbursing my bank card as you should have done.
(My bills are paid automatically via my bank account, not my PP account. Having hundreds of dollars sitting in that account does NOT help me).

• Please leave my money in my bank account unless I instruct you otherwise.
• Please “review” your mistake quickly and remove the limitations on my account, so that I can resume doing business online, since sales are indeed picking up (and everyone has been brainwashed into using PP).

I’ve enjoyed doing business with you.

Romantic Mr. Darcy Cat portrait ©TaraFly

Dominic dressed as Mr. Darcy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a regency cat artist obsessed with one of the world’s greatest works of literature, must make an adaptation starring cats!
The idea of penning a series of children’s books (tentatively geared towards 8-12 year olds), based upon Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has been a goal of mine for quite some time… after beginning the Regency Cats series last summer, and seeing the warm reception of Mr. Darcy Cat, I’ve decided upon an entirely feline cast.
I had been putting off this project because of the huge number of characters required to be painted and brought to life, and the various two-legged limits upon my time. 😉 Digital art, however, is something that can be tackled while juggling baths, brownies, and pre-nap breakdowns. It doesn’t require a table loaded with finger-tempting paint and fancy paper. It can be quickly saved, and easily salvaged if a stray hand smacks the keyboard… which they often do. hehe

Committing to this project, I’m going digital with the illustrations and I also intend to hire Darcy Dominic to play himself. I’m leaning towards my calico Lizzy, as well, although I’d like to study additional calicos and perhaps change her facial markings a bit.

I’ve broken the novel into eight sections, and will be writing a “mini-series” centered around key plot-points; for example, the opening introductions and the Meryton Ball – where Lizzy and Darcy first cross paths – will serve as “Book One”. Jane’s fateful trip to Netherfield, and Lizzy’s subsequent arrival to lend assistance, will be “Book Two”. Mr. Collins will star in “Book Three”… and so forth. My stories will feature dialogue adapted for a younger audience, and will balance the large chunks of conversation with more descriptive actions and settings.

Breaking down the lengthy story into a bite-sized series will make it kid-friendly, and also enable me to make each story available to my audience upon completion.
Also, it will allow me to delay the burden of designing so many characters at once, since a few are not introduced until later in the series (i.e. Lady Catherine and Georgiana).

Still, however, there are many key characters that need to be created at the beginning… and my mind is starting to whirl at the prospect of casting such a large number of cats. Therefore, I’ve decided to host the first of several contests on my facebook fanpage.

I’d like to invite everyone who is a fan, and anyone who would like to join, to share your favorite photos of your cat(s) on my fanpage… they can be cute, humorous, scary, angry… I want to see expressive cat faces! I will create a special folder for fans to upload their cat images, and you are invited to vote for your favorites by Clicking “Like” and commenting on which character you think they ought to portray.

Merlin the grey tabby cat

Merlin attempting his best love-sick expression

For example, if you liked this photograph, and you think he’d make an adorable Mr. Bingley… Click Like and Comment! 😀

Those of you who aren’t familiar with the cast of P&P, that’s okay! You can still comment on your faves, and I will also provide a reference sheet outlining each character’s main profile which might help you.

The deadline for entering the first photo contest, and for voting, will be Saturday, May 15th (midnight, EST); the winners whose cats are chosen to appear in the series will each receive a free photo portrait of their cat in character, signed on the back by myself. They will also receive a mention in the book’s credits.

The first casting contest will focus on these principal characters from “Book One”: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth’s four sisters – Jane, Lydia, Mary, and Kitty, Mr. Bingley, and Charlotte Lucas. (I’m hoping to downplay Bingley’s sisters at first, and introduce them officially in “Book Two”.. but we’ll see)

I plan to self-publish using Blurb.com, in softcovers and jacket hardcovers, until an interested publisher can be found. “Book One” is slated to be complete and available for purchase by August.

I can speak and write in Portuguese!

Cartão romântico do gato de Lizzy Bennett

Cartão romântico do gato de Lizzy Bennett (Cat postcards)

Not really. Although I took 3 years worth of high-school Latin, I can now barely read the inscriptions on government buildings, much less the passages I copied and translated from Homer 13 years ago.
Thanks to Google, however, my artwork is being promoted all across the world in many languages.
This piece, a kitty portrait of Elizabeth Bennett, was created for Valentine’s Day… and is being sold on greeting and note cards, stickers, and T-shirts. Here you can purchase (8) postcards for R$34,72 with “Descontos de R$ 0,21 em cada!” (a discount of 21¢ per card). Pretty nifty, huh?

But I didn’t intend to market myself today… I just stumbled across the Portuguese Zazzle page and thought it was funny.
Actually, I wanted to share my initial thoughts on a new book I picked up from Border’s last week. I went there to search for manuals on CSS coding, website design for business, things of that nature… and I did find one interesting book written by Lori Culwell, called Million Dollar Website, which I’m reading side-by-side with my Gem for today, and will probably discuss in a later blog.

Initially, I had to force myself to step away from listing items on my website, and tinkering with Photoshop, to sit down and begin reading this book… I began this morning, read 50 pages, and was so excited by the fascinating discoveries, I simply had to share with you!

I encourage everyone… and I mean, everyone (sellers and consumers alike) to run to your local bookstore, library, or computer desk… and purchase a copy of Buy•ology – The Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, written by marketing genius Martin Lindstrom.
…And I don’t take the term genius lightly. Although his credentials as a marketing consultant are quite impressive, this book deals with his $7-million dollar, global lab-experiment to uncover the psychology of how our brains are affected by advertisements, logos, warning labels, and the like. His experiments involved, among other devices, a $4 million dollar fMRI machine that can accurately map brain activity down to a millimeter!

Cool sci-fi stuff is right up my alley! 😀
But this is real…

He jumps right into the meat and potatoes of the matter, so to speak. He keeps you engaged by revealing his findings early on… although he promises to dig deeper as the book progresses.

For example, he begins the book by sharing the series of tests he performed on smokers. Why do people continue to smoke, when it’s clear to everyone that smoking will destroy your health and possibly kill you? It’s a questions that everyone asks, and nobody seems to have an answer.
They tested whether smokers are affected by the warning labels on cigarette packs, i.e. “Smoking Kills” and images of rotten livers. Their studies found that, although participants consciously declared the warnings bothered them and made them aware of the health risks, the brain scan showed a heightened sense of arousal/craving from people who viewed the warnings. The warnings actually caused them to desire a cigarette even more! So billions of dollars spent by governments around the world to enforce anti-smoking labels have turned into a huge marketing golden egg for the tobacco company.

In the first couple chapters, he has also touched on car manufacturers and soda companies… the decades-long “Coke VS Pepsi” debate was put to the ultimate test.

I purchased the book partly to understand what drives people to buy things, especially in a tough economy where every dollar counts. Additionally, I’m curious about the mind-games that advertising companies try to pull on consumers like myself… I laugh at the obvious failed attempts, but often wonder at the successful ones.

I found it interesting that people repeatedly contradicted themselves in his tests… they answered the questionnaires truthfully, as they perceived themselves, and yet their sub-conscious minds painted a different portrait of who they really were. It really makes you stop and think, “Do you truly know yourself?”?
If you claim not to be swayed by material possessions or social status, if you believe you are an “enlightened, environmentally conscious” person… are you really?
What would your brain activity reveal about you?

On a lesser note, I also enjoy reading his dry humor, which closely resembles my own… I found myself chuckling through every page, and thinking,
“I would totally say that!” Except he is funnier than I am. 😉

Martin has a killer combination as an author: boatloads of experience and knowledge to keep you thinking, a fast-paced delivery that keeps you reading, and plenty of sarcasm that keeps you laughing.

Here are just a few of the reviews for Buy•ology:

“Shatters conventional wisdom”

“Lindstrom…has an original, inquisitive mind…His new book is a fascinating look at how consumers perceive logos, ads, commercials, brands, and products.”

“Move over Tipping Point and Made to Stick because there’s a new book in town: Buyology. This book lights the way for smart marketers and entrepreneurs.”
-Guy Kawasaki, Author of The Art of the Start (- which I rented from Bookswim.com last year)

“Martin Lindstrom is one of branding’s most original thinkers”
-Robert A. Eckert, CEO & Chairman, Mattel, Inc.

I purchased my softcover from Border’s for $15.00 as an impulse buy…. hmmmm, no mind-games there, huh? 😉
Amazon.com is selling new hardcover copies for around $11.00, in addition to plenty of used copies.

If anyone has read this entire book yet, and would like to share your thoughts… please do! As for me, I plan to do something totally uncharacteristic… the kids are napping simultaneously, and usually this is MY time to paint, work on web-coding, do laundry, and tackle those other pages of To-Do’s. Not today!
I’m going to take advantage of the silence, by snuggling on the couch with a cold drink and my copy of Buy•ology
… I can’t wait to read what comes next!