January 2nd was my 31st birthday. I’m officially “in my 30’s” now…. but no matter, I haven’t celebrated my own birth in years.
But would you believe my husband and oldest daughter completely forgot? 😛

happy birthday wishes on tara fly's facebook profile wall

My family forgot, but Facebook remembered my birthday!

The kids are too hung over from Christmas, Joe has typical absent-minded “Male Brain” and can’t remember which day it is, and I feel stupid making a fuss over myself.
Although I dropped a few hints yesterday about “feeling old”… comments which are always guaranteed to get an eye-roll and/or lecture from the man who is 21 years my senior.
Revenge was sweet, however, as Facebook reminded everyone to post well-wishes on my Wall. Thanks guys! Your thoughtful comments humbled my housemates. 😉

But Friday really was a significant day.

Firstly, Friday was the 31st… which is just like the 13th, except written backwards.
Does writing something backwards count as bad luck or good luck?

It shouldn’t matter to someone who lives with a half-black cat and refuses to eat her sauerkraut and black-eyed peas. I find superstitions simply curious.

Secondly, it marked the end of the year 2010. Although I didn’t pay attention to the clock, and realized it was midnight only when my Twitter feed lit up with “Happy New Year” written all over it…

Leave it to Twitter, because even this girl, who still can recall the license plate number to her high-school crush’s car, needs an occasional reminder as to which holiday we’re celebrating. 😉

happy birthday wishes continue on Tara Fly's Facebook wall

And the Birthday Wishes continue throughout the day... ((hugs))

But New Year’s = Resolution making.

Remember how grudgingly I caved to the popular practice of penning my business goals? I haven’t forgotten about it this year… I guess it’s time to take a closer look at how successful I’ve been, huh.

Lastly, and most memorably, I had bits of shredded cheese embedded between my keys which made typing gooey.

From Thursday’s shin-dig, no doubt, which I was unfortunately not invited to attend. I was told it was a rowdy affair, and the kitchen was ransacked – the contents strewn around the living-room like confetti.
I was engaged upstairs, ministering to a suicidal pile of CDs that had formed a group pact to jump from the tower, falling six feet onto the carpet.

There was one fatality – a Dave Matthews album I hadn’t listened to since high school. The funeral was closed to the public.

little girl playing in pile of CDs on floor

Mia was the sole witness to the tragedy.

After the events of this past week, I find it humorous to reflect on the goals I made for this past year.
When I sat down last January 1st and resolved “to create 4-5 new pieces each month, not including commissions”, I was being incredibly optimistic.
Unrealistic even.
But the dynamics of our household were very different then.

My 2 and 3-year-old have reached many physical and intellectual milestones this year, not least of which has been the mastery of overcoming barriers and outwitting child-proof doorknobs and cabinet locks. Their ability to cause mischief has increased tenfold, due to their “divide and conquer” method of splitting my attention between downstairs and upstairs messes. Now that we actually have an upstairs/downstairs in our home, not to mention an open floor plan.

They run positively wild here! LOL

“Let’s cause a disturbance in the kitchen that will occupy Mommy long enough for us to empty the contents of our dresser onto the floor.”

The spare bedroom which serves as my studio has been a godsend, in terms of keeping my art and supplies organized and out of danger, but doesn’t allow me to work while supervising the little devils. Unless I keep the door open and invite hell to come inside.

Needless to say, my productivity took a dip this year. In 2009, I was averaging a painting per week; in 2010, I managed to complete one per month (with a few side projects, like Cat Cameo necklaces).

Nor did I reach my ultimate sales goals for this year, although I did earn more overall in 2010 than the previous year. That my sales remained steady is a good thing, especially considering the slight increase in price needed to accurately reflect my expenses and give room for growth. 🙂

I’ve set my current prices so that I can work with wholesale orders and consignment shops, which is something I didn’t manage to do in 2010… but I’ve made initial contact with a couple of gallery shops, and have all the info necessary to submit my work for review in the next few weeks. I promise I will!

I’ve also done some research into three seasonal art festivals in the Washington D.C. area that I’d like to participate in this year. If I’m accepted, a hefty booth fee and inventory budget will need to be set aside.

Birthday Wishes from Tara Fly's Facebook friends

Still feeling the love from awesome peeps. And even a poopy litter cake!

I did, however, manage to update my blog each week (Or thereabouts), and I added a few functional items to my shop (namely note cards). Joe and I have lots of product ideas cooking!

2011 will be an exciting time spent experimenting with wood and cloth. Psst, he has been talking for months about purchasing a sewing machine for me – as a BIRTHDAY present, no less! – which means I’ll be cursing and stitching my fingers to assorted fabrics in an effort to create some stuffed animals for my shop. 😉

Furthermore, I began working on my cat adaptation of Pride and Prejudice… even though I must have been under the influence of some strong cold medicine when I gave myself a 4 month deadline to have an entire book written and illustrated. I deeply apologize to anyone who believed I could accomplish that.
Nevertheless, the characters are coming to life one by one. Check out Mr. Bennet Cat, Mrs. Bennet Cat, and the Gossip Girls (Kitty and Lydia).

I might not have accomplished everything I set out to do, business-wise, however I’ve been blessed in so many ways this year:
We have a lovely home, with quiet neighbors…
Our own backyard … (free from cigarette butts and empty beer bottles, hooray!)
Three bright young children who greet me each morning in Chinese … (thanks to Nickelodeon – “Ni-hao!”)
A man who supports my decision to stay home and doesn’t gripe about our lack of money (too often)…
A wonderfully supportive online community of Facebook/Twitter/blog friends…
And a passionate small group of customers who love my artwork and gush about having a framed picture of Mr Darcy Cat on their desks. 😀

More Happy Birthday greetings from Facebook friends

Oh, look! More folks took a few moments to wish me well.

So to welcome the new year, and everything it may bring to me, I will set forth my goals as follows:

1. To *ahem* increase my blog posts to 2 posts weekly… and keep them fairly relevant/on-topic.

2. To list a new item in my Etsy shop each day, instead of renewing over and over.

Even if that just means a “new” size, matted option, sets, etc. Since I won’t have new artwork to reveal everyday, unfortunately.

3. To continue producing *at least* one new piece of artwork each month. Hopefully more.

4. To get my Zazzle shop up to speed.

Many purchases are made through Zazzle, even though it’s been terribly neglected. I just realized over the holidays that Christmas ornaments have been available for sale. But I didn’t add any to my shop. Ooops!

5. To create more functional stuff (like, um… Christmas ornaments!) and that wood and fabric I was hinting about earlier. 😉

6. To make my website more marketing-friendly, i.e. adding a press kit, and better navigation.

I might even make the transition to a WordPress premium theme to run my entire site, although I know absolutely nothing about WP coding and I loathe giving up all my hard work… hehe, we’ll see.

7. To finally get my work into a retail shop and/or gallery.

8. To participate in a craft fair and/or art show.

9. To become fearless in my self-promotion off-line, and get those freaking business cards created!

I have two whole boxes of free Vista Print cards featuring Fire-Breathing Dommie on them, but my branding has taken a 180-degree turn, so new materials are needed to showcase Monsieur Darcy. 😉

10. To keep in mind, and continually work towards, my ultimate goal – to grow this career into a full-time family operated business… so Joe can kiss the soul-devouring, mass-crap-producing Retail Giant good-bye. 😉

More Birthday Wishes from friends

Do you think my husband gets the message yet? LOL ... Don't forget next year.

Of course, I have a few personal goals as well that aren’t worth sharing. But mainly to become a more compassionate and patient person.
And to whine less about my lot in life. I genuinely have too much to be thankful for to waste my time (and your time) complaining about my lack of time! 😉

Although an occasional rant may still escape if I feel it’s worth sharing. hehe 😉

So grab a glass of kraut juice, and let’s toast to the New Year 2011: To Less Complaining + More Art Sharing!

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…


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.

homemade cheese bread loaf for garlic bread toast

Delicious Homemade Cheese Bread that tastes great with garlic sprinkle and butter!

I must be having a breakdown of some kind. And I think everyone else in my family has realized it before I finally did. I’ve been acting completely out of character to the point of being unrecognizable to those who know me best.

Usually when I’m under stress, I escape into a creative zone and avoid anything work related. That includes a boycott on domestic chores in favor of a good novel, a melodramatic mini-series on BBC, or an afternoon spent painting and “crafting”.

It’s no secret that I’ve never been domestically inclined to begin with; both my previous husbands would looove to attest to it. Neither was I content to live in complete and utter squalor, so I would find the strength to occasionally vacuum the carpet or throw a few loads of laundry into the machine.

I loved to bake, and hated to cook.
I didn’t mind folding clothes, but loathed putting them away.
Don’t get me started on ironing… what’s the point?
And dishes would be stubbornly left to sit for days in the sink.

Having worked in a variety of retail/food service/housekeeping jobs where mopping floors, washing and sanitizing dishes, and scrubbing surfaces were a huge portion of my daily requirements… it made coming home to more dishes and grungy floors a depressing inevitability.

Last year, significant and profound things began happening to me.
Well, obviously, I gave birth to Jacob in April (2009)… but my role shifted from being a full-time, workaholic retail grocery manager who also happened to be a mom, to being a “homemaker” and nurturing caregiver.

A few short years ago, I would’ve scoffed at the notion of being a stay-at-home mother. Not that I devalue what it represents, as some of my earliest role
models were primarily homemakers with creative side outlets (like my grandmother, the published poet).
But as I admitted initially, I wasn’t cut from the same cloth… or so I thought.
I avoided those dreaded high school Home Economics courses like the Black Plague. I got itchy hives even thinking about quilting and crocheting.

Although, when I could no longer identify myself by a professional job title, it dawned on me that I needed to take ownership of my own home.
That is why I’ve jumped into this domesticity deal with both feet, plunged in up to my thighs.

I feel a new sense of pride and accomplishment from seeing an empty laundry hamper, a recently mopped kitchen floor, and squeaky clean children munching on their tuna fish sandwiches.. just as much as I felt after setting Thanksgiving salesfloor displays, printing 480 price signs, and straightening out inventory discrepancies.

homemade pancakes with maple syrup and butter

Our usual breakfast, made from scratch with love and lots of syrup

The idea to sell my paintings and become an entrepreneur came about as a result of identity crisis, needing to find a creative expression with which to
motivate me beyond the dirty diapers and piles of dishes… I had always wanted to run my own retail business, and had done some research awhile ago when I
couldn’t decide between opening a bakery, an arts/crafts supply store, a bookstore, a cat-themed gift shop, or some bizarre combination of food, art, books, and cats.

Ironically, now that my artwork is beginning to find its market and sales have increased, what was once an outlet to escape from work has now become the work. I have difficulty staying focused as pressure demands that I prepare for the holidays, create new lines… (everyone has their calendars designed and printed except me), advertise, apply for winter shows, and so forth.

I find myself embracing the domestic lifestyle even more, and mundane housechores have become my new retreat.
The stress manifests itself as a sparking house. I convince myself that laundry, dishes, and vacuuming are vital, when in fact, it’s just another form of

Last week, I had an unconscious breakdown while starting my Jane Bennet portrait… suddenly, I developed an urge to create a line of stuffed animals based upon my Regency Cats. Instead of putting this cute but unfeasible notion on the back-burner, I dropped everything to scour the internet for doll patterns.

One thing to remember: I don’t sew. And I can’t follow a pattern to save my life. I think in finished terms.. I envision a piece fully completed, and then dissect it
to figure out how it was constructed. If I were an architect, I would draw a house. Not a blueprint.
Blueprints and dress patterns are written in Greek… no wait, I can actually read bits of Greek, so they might as well be written in Mandarin Chinese.

sketches for a stuffed cat doll in regency dress

See, aren't my patterns easy to understand? 😉

I sketched this design for a doll, and this drawing make perfect sense to me. No fancy terms required. I dug into my bag of never-to-be-worn-again-but-too-sentimental-to-discard clothing, and pulled out a sweater and a tank top. The sweater was cut into cat pieces, and the tank top will become her dress when I’m done.

Right now, she’s lacking ears, a face, hair, and missing her skirt… oh, she needs more cotton to stuff her tummy and head.

handsewn stuffed cat in process

My semi-stuffed cat (and chocolate pillow by TwoStrayCats)

I’m doing this completely by hand, and it’s taking forever (well, over a week so far)… because I still have a deathly fear of sewing machines and needles
that move faster than my blinking eye.

My family is in utter shock that I am sewing at all. I vowed never to sew… but Lydia is excited about the possibility of wearing custom dresses.
We actually went shopping for patterns. I grabbed a couple that were marked “For Beginners”, and realized after perusing them at home, that I must be in a category ranking beneath a beginner. What is that anyway? Are there Sewing for Dummy patterns?

Apparently, beginners should already understand phrases like: “stay-stitch bodice front and back neck edges..” (the very first step!), know how to “clip curves” and “baste armholes”.

Does that mean to keep your armholes moist in their own juices…
ya know, like basting chicken? Ewwwww.
What’s up with the long, confusing paragraph describing how to apply the zipper?!  How hard could it possibly be… but… what in heaven’s name  is zipper tape?
How about I just tape the whole crappy thing together… I’d use fusible web for that, right?

My cat doll doesn’t have a pattern or instructions; I just cut the cloth freestyle, and can’t tell you whether I’m basting or stay-stitching anything.
But they are meticulously tiny, thanks to a few attempts at cross-stitch (hey, I do know the meaning of that!), I’ve learned to make even rows of little 1/8″ stitches.

I’m not sure how well this project will turn out.. I’m using nylon upholstery thread and will let the children test-drive the finished doll for durability…
but hopefully the sheer primitiveness of hand-sewing a toy will cure me of this procrastination, and I can return to doing what I know well.

And then my family will be forced to eat TV dinners again, and wear the same pair of pants for three days in a row. 😉

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. 😉

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?

1950's House Wife Cat painting

Who is this woman, capable of "doing it all"?

I logged into my MSN Hotmail account, to check my messages for the umpteenth time, and came across this entertaining blurb in the sidebar:

“10 Things Women Do That Drive Guys Crazy” posted in the Lifestyle section by Glamour magazine.  Being curious, I deviated from the boring task of checking spam and reading Facebook updates, and clicked on the link to discover how men “really feel” about the women in their lives.  I always find these articles amusing because I tend to agree with the men on most issues, and have since realized that I must not be a typical female… if jealousy, clinginess, and obsession with commitment are truly “female” traits.  I’ve met some guys who would test that assumption.

This article, however, made me laugh for an entirely different reason. With each declaration, I felt myself dying to point out the similarities between the Pot and the Kettle. (Psst, they are both black)   

So here are my thoughts on your Top 10 Pet peeves, guys:

1. “Hair. In. The. Tub.” – Andrew, 31

Okay, so what about men’s shaving facial hair in the sink?! There is nothing grosser than walking into the bathroom to brush your teeth, and finding a layer of beard stubble clinging to the sides of the sink. Or how about men who cut their own hair using those electric razors, and then leaving the clumps on the bathroom floor, for us to sweep up.

2. “Examining multiple cans of soup” – Dave, 37

Yeah, this one gets me too. Everyone is so obsessed with reading the soup labels, looking for that evil MSG, sodium, and trans-fat, perhaps they should start making their soups from scratch and forget preserved canned food altogether. But I personally like how men can blow $100 on groceries and come home with nothing except snacks. 😉

3. “My girlfriend makes fun of me for laughing at my own jokes” – Chris, 37

Hmmm, I’ve had men make fun at me while I put on my make-up or fix my hair, because I guess they found my primping routine silly. And yet – surprisingly, they suddenly decide I’m more attractive once I’m “all dolled up”.  Go figure.
Do you want the steamy girlfriend/wife, or the girl in sweatpants and a ponytail?  If you answered ,”Steamy, baby!”, then close the bathroom door and live in ignorance while I apply this foundation and cover my dark circles.

4. “Disorganized loading of the dishwasher” – Chad, 27

Actually, that was MY pet-peeve towards certain male counterparts… nothing was getting washed thoroughly. Fortunately, I do all the dishes by hand now. 😉

5. She washes the bathtub before dinner guests arrive – Dennis, 31

Give her props! She wants a nice, clean bathroom that will not gross people out when they use the toilet.  If you don’t have a shower curtain to disguise the mess, they might walk past the tub and go, “Eeew, gross! Look at all your wife’s hair in the drain!” 😉

I personally wouldn’t scrub the tub for guests; it’s one of those chores I loathe to tackle, because it reminds me of that stint working part-time as a housekeeper at a Bed-and-Breakfast. Nasty stuff!

I guess my male equivalent to this mixed blessing would be not picking up after oneself. Men tend to shed their jackets, clothes, shoes and whatnot everywhere, and we walk behind them and toss everything into the laundry hamper.  Except the shoes.  And, hours later, they’re wandering aimlessly, asking
“Where are my jeans? I thought I left them over here.”
“Oh, you mean those dirty ones you’ve worn for 3 days? They’re being washed…. Sorry.”

6. “Women call and have nothing to talk about” – Chuck, 22

Oh, Chuck! Fortunately you have never met my ex-boyfriend! He was King of Calling for Absolutely No Reason… except to tell me that he loved me for the millionth time, because THAT was supposedly reason enough to interrupt the blessed few hours of peace I had.  He would also get very upset if I didn’t want to stay on the phone and talk about how much I loved him in return… indefinitely… or until his train arrived.

But seriously… that calling and chatting about nothing WILL end once you’re in a committed relationship (i.e. you’re living together). Pretty soon, she’ll get sick of seeing your face, and hearing all about your boring day at the office, and will welcome that bit of free time to herself.  She might not even answer the phone when you call. hehehe

7. Taking too long choosing from the menu – Ricardo, 39

My smart-ass side wants to reply, “Take her to a restaurant with a reputation for nasty food, so she’ll be forced to choose the only edible thing on the menu” …Or more rationally, “Stop taking her to NEW restaurants.” 
I’m sure she has an established “Gimme the Usual” repertoire of dishes at your favorite date places.

I liken this to the Great Mystery of Life – “DirectTV VS Dish Network”… raise your hand if you know a man who has obsessed for DAYS over that decision.

8. Talking while driving; being distracted – Glenn, 39

Hah! So we miss available left-hand turns… men, however, like to cut in front of people and flick the finger at the annoyed drivers beeping their horns behind us.
They also enjoy lane-jumping, to pass every creature on the highway in manuevers that should be reserved for a NASCAR track.. in some primeval urge to be the leader of the pack.  Not to mention the dangerous joys of spontaneous drag-race competitions with the fellow in the neighboring lane.  Pull over in front of this Taco Bell, and let me out! I’ll walk home.
9. Thermostat Wars – Charlie, 32

Yes! Finally, a point that I’m guilty of engaging in! I like my house warm and toasty, and most of my partners have preferred a slightly chilled room.
There is no right or wrong here… you can’t argue with personal comfort.  We averaged our desired temperatures together and found a median that serves us well.
Although I admit to playing upon his guilty conscience occasionally, by wearing an extra layer or two, like a sweater and coat. 😉

10. “The endless ‘Honey-can-you-do-this?’ list” – Shane, 30

Tired of the never-ending pile of chores? Awwww, poor baby. Hah! Welcome to adulthood!
Okay fine, switch roles for one week:
She can pay the bills, caulk around the tub, and repaint the deck… if you do all the cooking, cleaning, and baby-sitting. But don’t expect her to come running when junior takes off his diaper and smears himself and the walls with its contents. Remember, you’re the Mommy now! And that doesn’t mean letting the toddler run the vacuum while you play video games. 😉

Let’s face it, we humans have our flaws… and choosing a partner means taking their unique quirks into consideration.  Men: Is her disorganization something you can live with, considering how fantastic she is otherwise?  If the answer is yes, than don’t gripe about it! You have plenty of imperfections that she wisely chose to pardon.

I laugh at dating commercials, with their abstract ideals of “true compatibility”, because most long-term relationships are either bolstered or destroyed by mundane acts like this.  Many of my friends are divorced, and none of them confessed, “I’m a walk-along-the-beach-at-sunset type of person, and he wanted to spend his evenings at the bowling alley.”

So, in addition to asking how often a person feels satisfied in their career, and whether they consider themselves religious or spiritual.. they should include
such important issues as “How long on average does it take you to merge onto the freeway?” … and ….“How would you rate the amount of hair you leave in the tub?”

On a sliding scale: from (1) I rarely shed, to (5) I’m cultivating a rainforest.

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