June 2010

I’ll bet many of you subscribe to design blogs (DesignSponge or DesignTherapy), or like me, you still receive copies of Traditional Home and Country Living in the mail each month. Perhaps you are glued to HGTV in the evenings, watching the transformations of home staging and how far you can streeeetch a $60,000 budget for a kitchen make-over. 😛

I personally enjoy reading blog articles about the life and work balance of artsy folk… how a home-based business occupies the same space as their home-schooled children’s classroom and the functioning living area for an entire family. What I’m not surprised to find is a virtual tour of their homes, immaculate with clean lines, vintage furniture, and quirky OOAK accessories.

The appropriate staging has taken place – a brewed cup of coffee sits on the crumb-free counter, the dog poses restfully on the swept hardwood floor (squint hard, but I dare you to find a stray dog hair!), and you won’t find a basket of laundry or an overflowing trashcan in ANY shot. Not even in the fringes… I checked the shadows and blurred backgrounds, too.

Now, granted, if a crew of photographers were coming to my house to shoot an interview, I’d probably toss everything objectionable into the nearest closet, and bring
all my quirky, OOAK accessories out of storage to proudly display on tables and countertops. You know, the typical danger zones where nothing survives 10 minutes in the presence of cats and kids.

I know, I know, that people do not honestly live this way… in these pristine, clutter-free homes… with mom working diligently on her ceramic teapots, dad …doing… something equally productive, and the kids quietly entertained by the stack of art publications on the coffee table. I know that 5 minutes after the camera crew leaves, chaos ensues. The cat knocks over the ceramic masterpiece, the mother starts yelling at her children to stop tearing out pages from the hardcover copy of “French Country Hideaways”, the dog is chewing the vintage braided rug, and dad walks in – oblivious to it all – and demands to know where the remote control to their upstairs TV is.

What I would like to see on a design blog? A home that looks well-worn and lived in. How about an interview with a designer or artist who fights to maintain balance, and whose home is a reflection of that internal struggle… because I can’t be the only person on this planet who feels overwhelmed trying to keep up with Ms. Craftypuss and Mr. Artsypants, or am I??

the kids' messy play corner of our living room.

The kids' play corner of the livingroom... is hiding a carpet AND a bookcase, somewhere.

My typical day begins around 7:00AM, perhaps sooner, when the kids wake me up …and then go prancing downstairs to destroy the livingroom, while I dress and brush my teeth.

kitchen sink full of dishes

Breakfast dishes in the sink...

Then I cook their breakfast, and finish washing any pots or trays from yesterday’s dinner that were left overnight to soak. I serve their meal, watch as they toss bits on the floor and grind it into the table, while checking my e-mails … reading the meticulous design articles… and plotting a course for the day.

toaster pastry crumbs on the TV stand

Their after-breakfast snack... Crumb-Tarts.

When I jump into a project, they demand to play outside. We play in the backyard for an hour or two while the temperature is still cool. They finally get crabby, and want a popsicle, so we come in for lunch and air-conditioning.

a vacuum cleaner unplugged in the dining room

My vacuum cleaner never gets put away... it's always on guard.

I fix lunch, and they destroy what’s left of my house while I’m occupied in the kitchen. Then I come out and start tidying the room, throw a load of laundry in the machine, run the vacuum… they have finished mangling their lunches by this time, and decide to raid the kitchen for sweets since Mommy is busy elsewhere.

an empty laundry basket

My daily goal is to keep the basket empty... Hooray!

I usually find them covered in a sticky, gooey substance which can only be remedied by a bath… which was exactly their plan.

cat litter boxes on the back porch

The cats contribute to the state of confusion too!

After bathtime is over, there is generally more playing, havoc-wreaking, tidying up, laundry to fold, trash to dispose of, and litter boxes to clean… and yeah, whatever art project I started this morning.

the children's bedroom

There are monsters living in the toy box.. they bite the hand that cleans.

Once in a while, I’ll get lucky – and they’ll grow sleepy in unison, and I can carry them upstairs to their beds with minimal fuss. That gives me a couple blessed hours to do something… but what?

TaraFly's son, Jacob, sleeping on a pile of clean laundry

Piles of clean laundry are waiting to be put away...

There is always another load of laundry, a few stray dishes to clean, more crumbs to vacuum… I could take a shower, shave my legs, or weed the garden.

coleus growing among the weeds

My bulbs are beginning to grow among the weeds.

Or I could retreat to my studio and work on a painting, a digital portrait, adding more listings to my website or Etsy shop, or write a blog (which is what I’m doing now – because I was late getting it published this week).

Various art projects unfinished on the drafting table

Projects in progress in my studio, including Joe's belated Father's Day gift.

Sometime in the middle of a task, the dreaded noises grow louder upstairs and alert me to the fact that my beasts are awake, with their batteries recharged for more destruction.
And then Joe walks in the door, home from work… looking worn-out and hungry.

I’ll cook dinner while crossing my fingers that he entertains the kids long enough to keep them from invading my space. Something simple like opening an oven door to check the temperature of chicken breasts, is make more difficult when little hands are grabbing at you. Or how about when my hands are covered with dough paste, and they decide to go fishing inside the trashcan?
Their squealing, giggling, and chatter is enough to send Joe upstairs for “peace and quiet” until dinner is ready, and then … more dishes, more tidying up, and on and on it goes….

TaraFly's regency cat digital painting in progress

Digital painting of Jane Austen cat characters, I've been messing with for weeks.

In the late evenings, once I’ve tossed the kids into their rooms for the night, I can finally sit down and do something… but there are so many things to finish, and so many more things in the planning stages that might never see the light of day… when every hour is a juggling act, my work gets pushed farther and farther behind, and deadlines that once seemed very lenient are now looming just around the corner.

I didn’t mean to turn this virtual tour into another session to rant and complain. Because, in all honesty, I do love my family… and the career sacrifices that I make are justified by the time I spend engaging their little minds… okay, warping their minds, I’ll admit.

I could hire a nanny and lock myself away in the studio for 14 hours every day, and eventually make tons of money, but where would I be without a family that needed me? And who would I be, if I always put myself first? My life would be a decorative wrapper, but empty inside.

No matter how many pieces I sell, or how popular I become, the greatest thrill in my day is getting a big, cheesy smile from my son, and hearing my daughters laugh when I make silly voices for storybook characters.
Then Mia takes the book from me, sits on the couch, and reads it to herself… while trying to imitate me. She recites each sentence with my inflection and emphasis.

Tara Fly's two-year-old daughter reading a book

Mia is reading "The 3 Little Pigs" in her best Mommy impression. 🙂

This is the story I’d like to see in print somewhere: A family bonding together, a zen garden in the midst of a disorderly mess.

Just in case the reporters come calling, though, I might use the spilled maple syrup to super-glue some pottery to my bookshelves. I’ll throw a knitted afghan over that stain, and cover these cracks in the coffee table with a stack of National Geographic magazines.

Okay. Home staging is all done! I’m ready for my close up. 😉

woman standing on wooden bridge over water

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters...

I had many ideas stewing for a new blog post, and perhaps my deadline tardiness is due in part to indecision… however one reoccurring theme in my married life rose to the surface, and I figured it would be appropriate for Father’s Day, although it pertains to “days” spent with men in general.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time in recent months re-evaluating how I view my partnership and my role as a wife, and I’ve made a profound personal breakthrough.

I wouldn’t normally blog about a personal matter like this, but because my last personal blog about domestic violence was helpful to other women, I felt these ruminations needed to be shared as well.
Because many, many couples are suffering from the same issues – I hear the complaints all the time – but the answers are seldom clear.

I titled this, “Things I Wish We’d Learned in Marriage Class”, although Joe and I never attended one. My first ex-husband and I did, as a pre-requisite for having the ceremony performed by my family’s Methodist pastor.
The only lesson I recall was the importance of being in agreement on key issues, like disciplining children and saving money. However, it’s relatively simple to discuss your position on things, and even to agree with each other on paper… but putting words into practice is another story altogether. And what happens when your responsibilities shift unexpectedly?

Joe and I were great friends who also shared a mutual attraction for each other… the fact that our relationship and our marriage has lasted longer than any previous relationship of mine speaks volumes about our “agreeableness”, as I’ve been told countless times that I’m a “difficult” person to live with. heh.

I know that I’m moody, sarcastic, and apparently selfish; I recognize these failings in myself. I can also be extremely loving and lavish attention on others, which only makes the extreme reverse – my cold shoulder days – even more difficult for people to bear.
But Joe is like a cactus, able to soak up the attention when he receives it and go for weeks without complaint when I take his presence for granted…. to the point where he gives me a puzzled look,
“You take me for granted? I haven’t noticed.” when I attempt to apologize.
Like the cactus viewing the watering can… “Is it that time again?”

We never fight, rarely disagree, and I feel confident that he’d do anything I asked… however, for the past few months, I’ve been the one feeling neglected and under-appreciated – due to the fact that he rarely helps out around the house unless I request specific help.
Which I hate to do, as it feels like nagging, even when I’m being patient.

Without going into any boring details, rest assured he wasn’t always the type who spent 14 hours of each workday sleeping and vegetating in front of the TV.
When we both worked full-time outside the house, he would clean, do laundry, and cook like a champ, and I always encouraged him with compliments (because he cleaned very thoroughly, like those commercials where the room “sparkles” with special-effects lighting). Hmmmm, perhaps it was special-effects lighting that he installed into our former apartment… 😉

When I was pregnant and suffering from all-day sickness, he even took over my share of chores and kept a careful record of the foods and smells that disagreed with me. Knowing I craved pumpkin pie, he learned to bake it and stocked the cupboards with pie mix, as well as pumpkin bread and pumpkin flavored ice-cream. Fortunately, Mia was born during the pumpkin season, so Joe really “hooked me up”. 🙂

Things took a dramatic turn when I made the decision to stay home and care for our family. Suddenly “the house” was my territory and he left it completely in my capable hands.
I had been hoping to moonlight as an artist, but that dream became a literal reality as the kids grew older (and their napping schedules shifted)… I was forced to work on my projects “after hours” and would drag myself to bed at 2:00-3:00AM, only to be roused again at 6:30-7:00AM to start the day again. As Joe blissfully snored in bed, until the clock told him that any further procrastination would make him late for work.

In the last few months, I haven’t been able to find large blocks of time during the day to work on my business… and my 8-year-old makes an ineffective babysitter, although she tries her best. Bless her heart, but I wind up cleaning up Her messes as often as the younger kids’.

So I mentioned my frustrations to him, but in a general way, and his sympathetic response was this:
“They have to understand – [they, meaning, my customers and fans] – that with a family care for, you don’t have as much time on your hands as single people do.”

Um… that totally misses the real point, which is – if I can’t keep this thing afloat, I might as well hand my customers over to the competitors who CAN handle it. What I really wanted was for him to acknowledge that what I do is important, and chipping in with household chores in the evening would allow me to focus on my work.

I began to hold a grudge whenever he escaped to our room in the evenings to watch a Netflix movie (“in peace and quiet”) while I washed the dinner dishes, with kids squealing at my feet….
When he slept in late each morning, even on his days off, while I dragged myself out of bed groggily, because the kids were downstairs wrecking the living room – their batteries fully charged.
I brewed the coffee and told myself, “At least I’ll get a head start on e-mails.” Yeah. I wanted to push him out of bed and hog the pillows for myself.
So, if the kids ran upstairs – screaming and laughing – and pounced upon Daddy’s head, did I stop them?
Did I say, “Let Daddy sleep. He’s tired.” ??
Bwahahaha! Of course not! I relished it when he grumbled and pulled on a shirt.

These little “paybacks” turned into a series of small snowballs, being thrown back and forth, as we tried to sabotage each other’s efforts to escape from the burden.
He would walk away from a pile of dishes in the sink… and I’d leave his clothes damp in the washing machine… and he would leave the gas tank on empty (when I needed the car next)… and I would forget the milk on my grocery trip and make him run out and buy some, and he ignored this … and I refused to do that… and so on and so forth. Waging silent warfare that neither of us would ever admit to participating in. Not consciously.

It’s shallow and cowardly, and worse, the snowball fight escalates until both partners can no longer remember how it started… but both are left feeling neglected and under-appreciated.

Our selfish nature naturally wants to cast blame on the other partner – “They started it!” – We want to be the innocent victims.
You hear it all the time from co-workers and friends, and many divorces have been based upon less:
“My wife doesn’t do anything at all; the house is a wreck, and she’s watching TV.”
“My husband is a complete idiot; if you give him $100 for groceries, he’ll come home with junk food and nothing for dinner.”
“He doesn’t know how to operate a dryer.”
“She can’t cook to save her life… if it can’t be heated for 3 minutes on High.”

The key ingredient behind the majority of marital complaints, however, is self-absorption. John F. Kennedy’s famed speech “Ask not what your country can do for you…” applies equally well in a partnership.
It isn’t about you; it’s about your partner. And yes, I know how much this concept utterly smacks of religious doctrine “Submitting to your husband” and all that jazz… but if both partners are equally commited to putting each other first, just imagine how strong their relationship would grow.

Please don’t ever begin a heart-to-heart talk with, “When you do such-and-such, it really makes me feel unloved…” even if a quack counselor told you to “focus on your feelings”.
This is a typical approach for passive people, but it is accusatory nonetheless. Your partner, backed into an emotional corner, will have no choice but to become defensive and make excuses. Or withdraw.

Instead, simply step into your partner’s shoes first. Feel what they are feeling, and ask yourself, “What do they need, or want, in order to be happy here at home.” It goes much deeper than an afternoon of watching Oprah, although relaxation and quiet time will probably factor high on their list.

We need to discover what our partners really want and need from us.

I read an interesting book a few years ago, called “The Five Love Languages” that discusses how each person views acts of love differently. Our duty is to love our partners the way they want to be loved, which is not necessarily the way we would like to be loved ourselves.
Some people place a higher value on time spent together, some on household chores (making life easier), some are looking for flowery words and compliments, and still others crave tangible gifts. If we aren’t displaying the kind of love that speaks to our partners, all the romantic words and poetic gestures in the world will be lost on them.
Over time these values will also change; when I first read the book, “quality time together” and physical intimacy ranked high for me – that was before Mia and Jake were born, and now I’d much rather have Joe take the kids outside to play for a couple of hours, so I can catch a break from family drama and work on personal projects.

I highly recommend the book, although be forewarned that its author – Gary Chapman – is a pastor, so there are many spiritual references as well. If you assume it won’t be your style, it can’t hurt to give it a try anyway, because the real meat of his book (the way in which we communicate to our spouse) is so enriching…. you can always skim over the preaching passages.

It’s true that marriage is a team, and the attitudes of both partners play an equal role in the success or failure of the relationship, but since you can only improve your own behaviour… become the considerate and attentive person who makes your partner happy. Instead of throwing snowballs, throw hugballs (or “loveballs” if you have a pervy sense of humor) … and you’ll find that a positive attitude is even more infectious than a negative one. When we aren’t fighting for our personal space, we are more willing to give it, and when we’re in a good humor, we are more likely to get involved.

So I’ll let him sleep in, undisturbed… and when the Netflix discs arrive, I’ll pop him some corn, pour him an iced tea, and usher him upstairs for a front row seat.
Fluff the pillows.
Rub his feet.

He’ll return the favor. Someday. 😉

Transfer Darcy Cat onto my navy shirt.

Mr. Darcy on the front; scripted logo on the back...

A few weeks ago, Lily from TwoStrayCats introduced a line of printed pillows that got my mind whirring… I approached her about the possibility of collaborating with me on a series of pillows featuring my artwork, because I’d like to expand myself but can’t sew a lick.
Wait, that didn’t make sense… can anyone sew a lick? If there was a way to sew your tongue to the fabric, I would probably find it. 😛  

Anyway… instead of jumping at the chance to make extra work for herself, she suggested that I use heat transfer paper with my fancy printer to create my own fabric line. It sounded like a wonderful idea… except that I would still need to purchase pillows ready-made for the experiment, and it felt like cheating. Well, to me it does. 
It got me thinking about my old idea to add my artwork to T-shirts, whether to sell or simply to wear around the neighborhood as a form of quiet self-promotion. Lord knows I need some help in that department; I have a tendency to shoot myself in the feet every time the opportunity arises to market myself.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was out in public.. (yes really, I was OUT in public!).. and I had a handmade notebook with me to jot down some notes for my last blog about picture-hoarding. I had designed the notebook cover to display a print of my work, and was feeling pleased with myself for the shameless plug. 

 So an older gentleman approaches me and inquires whether I’m a writer.
Immediately, my mouth opens and I say,
“No, I’m just making a few notes in my journal.”
And he shrugs and walks away. *kick, curse, kick* 

 It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to say,
“Why yes, I do write. I’m currently adapting Jane Austen and I also chronicle the experience of owning my own business and selling my artwork… see this journal cover? That’s an original of mine.”
Why is it that we always think of the appropriate thing to say 15 minutes after the moment passes?  

I got back in the car, and headed for home… driving is an excellent activity for brainstorming, although the state troopers would probably reprimand me for saying that, as it is technically distracted driving, and I’ve missed turns on more than one occasion when my mind was elsewhere engaged. 

 I began mulling over why I tend to unconsciously sabotage my own efforts. And I came to this realization… I must hate myself. No, seriously. I must have some deep self-loathing that seeks to punish itself for an imaginary offense. There is no other way to explain the situations I’ve found myself involved with, the bad relationships, the dead-end jobs, the constant put-downs… I tell myself I can’t sew. Have I ever really tried? Other than to mend a button or ripped sleeve, I haven’t attempted to follow a pattern since grade school, when I created Frankenstein’s nightgown and swore off sewing forever.  

 I should treat myself with respect, look after my best interests, and supportively work with myself as a team … all those management seminars and motivational speeches that retail associates are forced to endure came back to haunt me, and what I saw in the rearview mirror was a terrible employee. In fact, I wanted to fire myself, and hire someone with a Can-Do attitude. 

  I could very easily travel back in time and point the blame at my father, mother, teacher, or religious leader… somewhere along the line, someone probably failed to
respond to my emotional needs, and instilled this self-depreciating behaviour within me. However, “the devil made me do it” has never been in my repertoire, and neither
has “I had a rough childhood” or “everybody picked on me”. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we’re dealt a crappy hand, we still need to play them to our advantage
and make our lives work for us. I’m not a victim of circumstance; the only person holding me down is myself.  

 I dug into my closet the other day, and realized I didn’t own any plain cotton T-shirts for practicing with heat transfers. Everything was patterned, printed, ruffled,
and textured. So on my next grocery trip, I made a stop at the evil super center’s apparel dept. for some clearance love, and found a few plain tees marked down to $3 a piece… the perfect price for my experiment.
Of course, each time I walk through the automatic doors, I’m bombarded by well-meaning co-workers who inquire after my children’s growth and how I’m acclimating to “being a stay-at-home mom”. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned my art business to a few of them, but everyone seems to have forgotten that I do much more with my newfound “free time” than change diapers and watch cartoons.
The company would have sucked my soul and creative passion if I had continued down their “Pathway To Success”, and by no means did I regret the decision to align my career goals with my personal vision. So why did I keep an armful of old work uniforms hanging in the closet? Is it merely a visual reminder of where I came from, to keep me motivated, or is that self-destructive mentality taunting me… “You’ll need those uniforms eventually, when you FAIL.”
…Those navy blue, cotton T-shirts… hanging like lynched corpses… the wearers of whom have watched their dreams being executed for the sake of a steady-but-barely-scraping paycheck and group health insurance.  

 Plain navy. 

You know, my Darcy Cat would look awesome against a navy background. You take the cards you are dealt and make them work for you… including the remnants of a job that couldn’t confine my individuality. My inner voice was right – I will be wearing those old uniforms again. This time, however, when a shirt defines who I am, it will be a reflection of pride. 

Artist TaraFly wearing her custom Mr Darcy Cat t-shirt

Click to view the work-in-progress pics on Flickr! 🙂