Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Flash Fiction

Oblivious footsteps creak from the kitchen above.

The basement's dampness has affixed a smell, like liquor from the bottom of an ash tray, to all that abide therein. Dim lights in the moist darkness dance across walls dressed in metallic flocked wallpaper. The shadow of our reflection lies deep within the smoked mirrored tiles behind the bar. On a cold pleather sofa we exchange a first kiss.

The first of many.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Staying Current With Squidoo

I have been writing for many years for Squidoo. They make it super easy to build a webpage on just about any subject without the necessity of any real HTML knowledge. Of course, if you know HTML, you can jazz things up a bit, but they really supply all you need.

The "problem" with Squidoo is that they work very hard to stay current with the best practices for the web. That's good, because it keeps up the general health of the site nicely. It's also a pain in the a** because they will change their best practices and suddenly you find yourself saddled with a load of webpages you need to bring up to their new standards, or risk getting them locked.

They went through one of these purges back around the first of the year, locking and deleting 40+ of my pages. I was warned, but at the time I was working 2 jobs and dealing with my husband's ongoing cancer issues, so updating a bunch of webpages was just not going to make my to-do list. What are you going to do?

One of the pages they deleted was a page called Food Posters, whose subject is fairly self explanatory. It had made me good money in the past by getting me referral sales to AllPosters. Of course, those sales don't do anything for Squidoo, which makes its money off of ads and the portion they take from Amazon referrals, so I imagine it didn't hurt their feelings any to delete my page.

At about the same time, Amazon came to its senses and decided to let North Carolinians become affiliates again, which is great news for me. So I decided to make my own website, Kitchen Food Posters, which could feature the same products I had on my Squidoo page, only expanded. Now that I am back to working only one job - hallelujah - I was able to knock this website out in fairly short order.

I will be interested to see how the site does. If you have time, please do stop by. It's a no-frills, no bells and whistles kind of site, and still a work in progress, but I'd enjoy knowing what you think.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

I Wear My Grandad's Clothes

My grandmother died recently; she was 96. She was my last remaining grandparent, my father's stepmother. Arrangements were made to have us all meet at her home on the morning of the funeral to read the will and divide up a few things. It sounded like the tedious sort of thing you would normally equate with preparing one's taxes or having a colonoscopy. But it's all part of the life cycle.

My daughter was away at college, but I got my son and husband, and pep-talked them into getting on board with this activity. We found a pair of pants my husband could get on over all the bandage/drainage stuff that wasn't a pair of sweats, and my son coaxed his dad into a red bow tie from TJ Maxx as compensation for having to endure a day of funerary festivities.

We made it to the house with seconds to spare. We all exchanged the normal niceties and enjoyed coffee, Danishes, and grapes, courtesy of the assisted living folks who really just wanted us to get everything out so they could rent her house to someone else.

Now, I had never actually been to a "reading of the will" event, and had no idea what to expect. And really, I wasn't expecting anything beyond a free lunch and the opportunity to visit with a couple of cousins I had not seen in decades. The will was read. Some paintings and photographs were divided up with the key players getting to make a choice according to the numbers they had drawn. Then, we were introduced to "the bags." Take a bag, fill it with whatever was left. Put it in your car. Get another bag. Do the same. Basically, it all had to go.

The will calls this stuff "residue." If I were to die now, the amount of residue would be insane, but my grandparents had a very manageable amount. So everyone started to go through their stuff. And that's where the fun began.

I went to my grandmother's closet, and we pulled out hats and scarves and handbags galore. At the amusing suggestion of my aunt, all the women picked a hat, and we wore her hats to the funeral. I think she would have been amused. But it was not until we dug into my grandfather's closet that I found this gem: a circa 1976 textured polyester coat in a patriotic red, white, and blue pattern. How cool is that? I think it was the find of the day, personally.

The real find of the day, however, was the laughter we were able to enjoy. It turned out to not be weepy, or tense, or morbid. It was fun, and perhaps even a bit healing. My grandfather and I had not had any relationship for the last decade of so of his life because of his refusal to accept my decision to adopt a child of color. So I wonder how he feels, looking from beyond the grave at my son, lounging in the satin pajamas of a grandfather he never knew. Or at me, strutting about in my grandad's clothes like a hip hop star?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Fun With Anthropomorphics

I actually engaged in a little art therapy a couple of weeks ago, which resulted in this indifferent little harpy. She started with a digital collage, then a drawing with a sharpie that was scanned and reworked in Photoshop. I liked her so much I used her for some fun products that will never sell on Zazzle.

Zazzle is great to work with, and I have over 60,000 products there. Sadly, it doesn't come close to making me a living, which is why I also work at the Christian place and the Big Box. It is like a giant vortex, sucking the life out of me. Meh.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Quiet Face of Cancer

I did a drawing of my husband recently, which is not really unusual. I've been drawing pictures of him for the last 20 years we've been married. He is one of those rare people that, seriously, never changes. Until this time.

It was only going to be a little sketch, drawn on the inside of a discarded library book. A face I had seen for so long. Something, somehow, had changed this time. It was almost imperceptible. His lips were not as full. His look was a little harder. Very quiet differences.

I would probably never have noticed the changes had I not studied his face so many times before. I remarked to him, almost quizzically, that he had suddenly become old. Now, I am thinking it wasn't the old that I was seeing. Now I think it was the cancer.

I think it would be interesting to have a morning selfie every day for 10, 20, even 50 years, to see the differences. Would you pick up on the changes? Would it be possible to see cancer coming, like an early warning system?

I dunno.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

And I Think It's Gonna Be a Long Long Time...

Yes, it's been a long time since I blogged. I'm sorry about that. The past year has not been overly kind to me, and this year is not shaping up all that well so far, but I am determined to get back on track at least a little.

I was asked back in the fall to do a show of drawings for a gallery at a small local college, which actually got me to drawing again, only to have the show abruptly cancelled because they "didn't have time to do the publicity right," and could I maybe do the show next year.

Huh?

As it was, I had been drawing all these people I work with down at the Big Box Store, and had promised them their portraits once the show was over with. So I just gave the drawings away and moved on. Here's my favorite from the group, Veretta, a cashier at the Pro Services desk. I think she looks like a modern day Mona Lisa.

You can see a selected collection of the drawings from the show that wasn't here online at Crooked Smile. I am still working on them, especially since I no longer have a deadline, and also since my life has gotten a little bit sidetracked by my husband's cancer diagnosis and because I work 2 jobs now trying to make ends meet. Art has sort of by necessity had to take a back seat as it is not really a great way to make a living. I wish it were different. And if wishes were rocket ships, we could all visit the stars.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Too Much Tequila


I did some collages for the Christmas show at the Center for Visual Arts in Greensboro, NC. They had some funny little sayings on them. I had scanned them before I added the sayings, so I could go into a program like Zazzle and add or change the sayings and type. This is one I did called Too Much Tequila. It seemed right for this darling debutante.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Painting a Black & White Skateboard Deck with a Sharpie

The Center for Visual Arts in Greensboro, NC, is planning an exhibition on skateboarding related art, and I want to enter some pieces. I have created a few skateboards for Zazzle, but they were never very successful, and I sort of shelved the idea until the CVA show announcement. I decided to revisit the challenge of doing skateboards, so I ordered some skateboard decks from Amazon. I chose the old school shape because, let's face it, 25 is a long way back in the rear view mirror.

I started with a blank deck that was finished in a solid white. I used a 2B pencil and a kneaded eraser to lay out the design. The 2B is soft enough to erase easily, so editing was easy.

I used a dual tip sharpie [actually, a couple of them] to do the entire design. The dual tip Sharpies have a wide tip on one end and an ultra fine tip on the other end. After I had outlined the main elements with the ultra fine tip, I used the kneaded eraser to remove the remaining graphite.

A couple of thoughts on using a Sharpie...
First, if you press too hard, you will tend to dissolve a little of the white paint on the deck, which can cause your tip to clog. Have a scrap piece of paper available to doodle on to clear the tip. Second, try to use a very light touch with the Sharpie, so the ink flows evenly. Once the ink dries, it is remarkably permanent, so you don't have to worry about smudges.

Here is the completed deck, signed ottoblotto at the tail end. I'm pretty pleased with how it came out. I have 4 more blanks: a red, a blue, a purple, and a natural wood. I'm going to try to do different techniques with each one, so I'll post them as they are done. At least 3 will get entered into the CVA show, but you are welcome to contact me if you are interested in buying one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Owling is a Hoot

I don't usually try to follow the hot trends for reasons that escape me currently. Anyway, I was blissfully unaware of the whole planking thing until my sixty-something neighbors asked me to come over and photograph them planking on their horses. Seriously? Then last night, my daugter pointed out that the new hot trend was now owling, which it seems may soon be taken over by batting, but that is a subject for another blog post. Since I'm not sleeping much, I decided to try doing some owling designs for those people who are into this sort of stuff, like my neighbors.
Owling is a Hoot shirt
Owling is a Hoot by TotallyRandom
Browse zazzle for a different shirt at zazzle
Of course, I think the whole idea of owling, planking, batting, whatever is a nice diversion, so designing this stuff was fun in as much as my life is fun at the moment.

Owler shirt
Owler by TotallyRandom
See more Owling T-Shirts
I think this would be a great idea for someone who is really into this stuff.

Owling? Seriously? T-Shirt shirt
Owling? Seriously? T-Shirt by TotallyRandom
View other Owling T-Shirts
This is more my speed on the whole owling thing. But if you are looking for owling attire and accessories, you can try my Zazzle shop Totally Random, which has these designs on a variety of amusing items.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Casey Anthony, Television, and the Death of Reasonable Doubt in America

I don't usually watch a lot of television, but occasionally circumstances, cosmic or otherwise, conspire to allow me to be swept into the vortex of an event like the Casey Anthony trial. I say an event, because there is really no other way to describe it. So the combination of renovating my kitchen in addition to the time consuming process of canning and preserving my gardening efforts has found me working long hours in the kitchen with the television providing a little background, and so the event began.

I had not followed the trial of "Tot Mom" really up to this point. I was only vaguely aware of some sketchy facts in the case, but since I couldn't quite find the fascination of following another season of The Real Housewives of Wherever, I started watching the trial. Fascinating. I'd like to share a few thoughts.

To me, it seemed obvious that Caylee was the victim of foul play. Had one of my children ever drowned in the backyard pool, it would never occur to me to wrap the child's head in duct tape and toss her body in the nearby woods hoping no one would notice the fact that my babysitting budget just got a lot lighter. I would think any reasonable person could recognize that.

Furthermore, Casey Anthony's sudden loss of the need to pick up a Happy Meal on the way to the tattoo parlor should have been a red flag that even the most reasonable person should find suspicious, but apparently not. Or perhaps it was just that the jury lacked to guts to step up to the plate and state the obvious; Caylee Anthony was murdered by her mother Casey without the involvement of other family members. Twenty years ago, that case would have lasted a week, the jury would have deliberated for 20 minutes, and everyone would have gotten to see the Fourth of July fireworks from the comfort of their own homes.

Enter here the world of Horatio Caine. Now I will admit, I love a good forensics show. Like the modern version of Sherlock Holmes, I am fascinated by how much can be proven with science, but the reality is we can't expect every trial to be a string of irrefutable scientific data neatly bundled with appropriate commercial breaks and concluded in an hour. Life is rarely that cut and dry, despite what CSI Des Moines would have us believe. What did people do before forensics? They used reason, something the jurors in this case were apparently unwilling to do. But really, does it stop with these 12 people?

I think people use forensics as an excuse to keep from having to go out on a limb and make a reasonable decision about a case. Has television brought us to a point that our expectation of proof is so astronomically high that we send child murderers or drug dealers or whomever out into the world to repeat their crimes because we no longer feel adequate to use our own abilities to see the facts, form an opinion, and act accordingly? Apparently, that was the case with the jury here. Those jurors that expressed an opinion afterward seemed to indicate that they thought Casey Anthony was guilty, but that the state had not met the burden of proof with regard to the way Caylee Anthony died. Seriously?

Equally fascinating are the ravings of the talking heads who are there to recap every minute detail of the trial even as it is happening. I realize in this economy that creating job security is important, but sometimes their rants get so over the top that it is little wonder there were throngs of people outside the courthouse whipped up into a froth of righteous indignation. In their own ways, they are as out of touch as the jury in this case seemed to be.

And so, Casey Anthony is free from jail for the moment. Will she follow in the footsteps of OJ? Will she be forever hounded by the press? Or will time allow the seeds of doubt to grow and choke out reason? I guess we will have to wait for next season's episodes to find out.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Currently Harvesting



Fried squash blossoms stuffed with soft cheese and minced onions. Yum! Currently, I am harvesting sugar snap peas, snow peas, yellow and zucchini squash, cherry and grape tomatoes, black raspberries, blueberries, lettuce, chard, onions, nasturtium greens and mint. Asparagus and cherries are now eaten or preserved.

You can read more about cooking with squash blossoms on my squidoo page.

Super Simple Solar Tea

Here's my super simple solar tea setup.
I use a patio chair, and fold up a windshield reflector into it. I put sugar, water, and tea in a large glass pickle jar and let the sun take over. Of course, you can just leave a large glass jar and fixings in the sun, but the reflector works well to concentrate the sun's rays and helps heat up the water super quickly.

Thanks go out to Dr. Todd Dickerson in Phoenix, AZ for the windshield reflector.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fun With New Art Dolls

I made some new art dolls; a Maid Marian doll, a Hoochie Mama doll, and a Flower Child doll. They are made from shoe stretchers, collage, and a variety of hardware and kitchen items I picked up from yard sales and the local Habitat ReStore.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Repurposing Salvaged TV Antennas


In the attic of my house there were two TV antennas thoughtfully left behind by the previous owners. I was reacquainted with them this week while working on some insulation issues in the attic. I decided it was time they got repurposed.

I mounted the more complete one on top of a 4x4, and used parts from the other one around the base. All around the poles I planted some pole beans. I'll post some pictures once the beans have climbed on it. Hopefully the birds will like it as well as a place to watch for bugs on the pond, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gifts of Inspiration from The Field Lab

I have this friend - John - whom I knew from my college days. John lives somewhere near Terlingua, Texas, which in translation means "out in the middle of nowhere." I aspire to be the east coast version of John.

John has a sizable off-the-grid spread that is truly enviable, despite its lack of vegetation. Longhorn cows wander in and out, there are lovely wildflowers, and a host of smaller critters. It's much the same here, just substitute deer for longhorns and add a hefty dose of green. Of course, I don't live off the grid, but I'm working on it.

I have spent the last couple of months building some raised garden beds beside the house to catch the water running down the hill before it reaches the house. They are built from a variety of concrete blocks, tires, and slate roofing shingles, and have been planted with lettuce, spinach, onions, tomatoes, basil, chard, peas, eggplant, peppers, radishes, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, beans, watermelon, sunflowers, squash, blueberries, and nasturtiums. I am looking forward to some good food this summer.

John sent me this cool Field Lab t-shirt. The Field Lab is John's home out in Texas; he has a blog you should really check out. He has recently been building solar ovens and fryers; very interesting stuff. When I grow up, I want to be just like John, without the beard.

First Fruits

I am getting my first vegetables from the new garden beds I have been building - some beautiful Romaine lettuce. I planted a bunch of it under one of my light fixture cloches, and now I am eating it as I thin it out.

Also coming in is some wonderful asparagus from the asparagus bed that was already here. Since I eat asparagus almost every day, it helps my budget considerably to not have to buy it for a few weeks.

This is a grilled asparagus and romaine salad with blue brie. Very good eating.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Illustration Friday: Ahead

I've done these Library People drawings for years, and I've always sold them on eBay, but I've decided not to auction them anymore. Since everyone is suffering through the Great Recession, I think it is unlikely I'll get decent bids, so I am going to move ahead and just sell them on my website. Sure, my website gets a hit once in awhile at best, but I remain hopeful that things will pick up. This is Library People 126, and she is for sale at the aforementioned website, ottoblotto.com.

I also sell my work now in my Zazzle store, Incomplete Thoughts. Yes, it's reproductions. I have to make a living somehow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lighting Fixture Garden Cloches

I have these new garden cloches, which are roughly akin to large plastic breasts or alien pods. I am expecting alien life to try to contact us any day now.

I found an old container full of these light fixtures in the yard at DH Griffin Salvage in Greensboro, NC. I'm not sure what the intended application was for the lights originally, but their huge plastic diffusers make awesome garden cloches. They are the perfect size for a squash hill, and I have gotten some fabulous lettuce started under another. My son is using two to start cantaloupes and watermelon. They are weighty enough that they won't blow over like milk jugs do and they are large enough to allow things to get fair sized. Being plastic, they are not too heavy, and they stack nicely. I am totally pleased with this find.

New Uses for Old Golf Clubs

I don't golf. I don't even follow the sordid details of Tiger Woods' life apart from what I read in line at the grocery store. So it comes as no real surprise that I have no real need for a set of golf clubs. However, I have managed to collect a slew of them from various places. Habitat for Humanity stores are a great place to go if you have need of such things. I really needed a way to put them to work in the garden, and trellising looked like just the right spot. I used old golf clubs and mason's line in some raised beds next to a chain link fence to make this excellent support for my sugar snap peas to grow on. Their weight makes them very stable with the addition of some rock anchors. I'm going to look for some other ways to make use of the remainder of my club collection. If you have pictures of some other uses for old golf clubs, post the links in the comments.

Repurposing Vintage Postcards

I've won a number of awards on Zazzle, which is nice. Really nice. Yesterday I got two awards; a TBA [Today's Best Award] for the stamp you see here, and a Zazzle Artist Award [my first] for this postcard design I Photoshopped together from an old postcard.

The Zazzle Artist Award gets me a feature on the front page of vintage - postcards. I'm not sure how much attention it will attract. I do like taking old postcards and repurposing them with the magic of Photoshop. That's what I did with the Save the Date postage stamp. I don't think Save the Date cards were even around back when I got married, so surely they weren't around at the time of these designs. There is, of course, a matching card to go with the postage. Check out my Vintage Greetings Store for other repurposed vintage cards, thank you's, and invitations. Great stuff from vintage wallpapers, too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cafepress vs Zazzle Revisited

It's been a long time since I wrote a review of my Cafepress and Zazzle experiences, as an anonymous blogger pointed out just yesterday. Since I achieved ProSeller status on Zazzle yesterday as well, I thought maybe they were right, so let me share my more recent experiences.

I have done very little work on Cafepress over the last year, having concentrated primarily on Zazzle. The reason for this is pretty simple: Zazzle stores are free. Bottom line: FREE. [Cafepress, are you listening?] Furthermore, I can set my price at anything I please on Zazzle, and that's the price it is everywhere on Zazzle. Not so on Cafepress, which no longer links back to your store that you spent so much time building, and where you control the prices. Unless you spend a lot of time getting people directly to your store, you will end up with all your sales coming from the price controlled Cafepress marketplace. It's pretty good business, but not great since I am still paying for the privilege of having the store, which also has limits on how many sections you can build. No limits with Zazzle.

Zazzle allows you to build as many stores as you like, so you can have small, very focused shops. I find that putting up a big shop full of every design idea that spills from my head is a little like walking into WalMart. When a do a focused shop like Social Butterflies, which only sells butterfly designs, I get fewer visitors, but I have a higher purchase per visitor result. The bottom line being, if they come to look at butterfly designs, then they are more likely to stay and ultimately buy something since that is all the shop carries.

I now have 17 shops on Zazzle, with no shop fees eating into my profits. Because I can gang them all together for volume bonuses and such, that makes Zazzle a good deal. At this time, I make a little more on Zazzle per month than I do on Cafepress, but because I pay no shop fees, a lot more of it ends up in my pocket. Also, since I can decide what my markup can be, I can control how much I make.

The good news overall is that the economy is picking up ever so slowly, so sales are slowly improving on both sites. And I will probably keep doing business with both sites since I do make a profit on both, but my loyalty has definitely shifted somewhat to Zazzle, because free is still a very good thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adam and Eve and the Children of Eden

My kids were recently in a production of Children of Eden, a musical of questionable theology set roughly in the book of Genesis. Aside from the names of the characters, there is little that refers accurately to anything Biblical, but if you like theatrical interpretation, you may really enjoy it. Or not.

I am of the impression that pretty much all plays and concerts are about 3 songs too long. Even with the relief of an intermission, they always seem to surpass my attention span by the aforementioned 3 songs, and Children of Eden is no exception.

Children of Eden starts in the first act with the creation story, and somewhere along the way we end up at Stonehenge. [Hello? How did we get from naming animals to a ring of giant stones?] In case you are not up on your Old Testament, Stonehenge does not appear in the Bible.

By midway through the second act, which is the story of Noah and the flood, I was ready to start pitching all the characters off the ark and begging God to please let the musical end. I make a lousy thespian, especially in light of the two theatre degrees I have collecting dust in a bookshelf somewhere. Let me be clear, though; the people who put on the play did an admirable job; it is the musical itself I find tedious.

My most recent trip to the Habitat Restore, however, yielded some very inspirational bits of hardware, so I decided that an Adam and Eve sculpture would be an amusing task. Since I had been a slave to my children's rehearsal schedule for the last few months, I must have a bad case of Genesis on the brain.

I hope you like my doll sculpture. It, like the play, is suggestive of the apple eating contest between Adam and Eve that resulted in their both catching cold from the sudden draftiness one frequently experiences when camping out. Or something like that. You can look it up.

This is Dolls; We're Not Making Construction

I watched a bit of that new show on HGTV called Tough as Nails. You've likely seen the ads where Cindy Stumpo snidely declares, "This is construction; we're not making dolls." Why would I want to spend my time watching someone revel in their ability to be rude and abrasive to everyone they meet? It's an easy show to turn off.

I, on the other hand, am making dolls. My supply of shoe stretchers is holding up, so I took out another heap of them yesterday and got to work on some much needed art therapy. I had been meaning to make a bovine inspired doll for my friend, John, whose stickam site is much more engaging than an evening with Cindy Stumpo. John lives off the grid in a desolate area of Texas, and has longhorn cows that wander in and out of the premises all day. Evidently, they aren't his cows, but he doesn't seem to mind, and has become pretty good friends with one named Benita, who now has her own Facebook page.

This pair of bovine beauties is made from two shoe stretchers. The legs are spindles from a local textile mill, the facial collage is from some women's magazines from the 50's and 60's, and the various other parts are scavenged from the Habitat ReStore here in Greensboro, NC. They include various cabinet hardwares, hooks, nails, brads, leather strips, and wooden spoons.

The people over at Habitat were beginning to get curious over my frequent purchases of piles of apparently unmatched hardware jetsom and flotsam. So I shared this blog address with them. I hope they will be pleased, but there is no telling what people will really think.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 4

This birdhouse is one I call The Meter House. This house uses side cuts and regular 1X lumber. I used old tin roofing for the roof. There is a large gas meter kind of randomly screwed to the side, because I really liked how it looked.

The opposite side has some ventilation holes covered with screening and a ceramic outlet cover. The perch is ceramic as well, with a silver toned beauty ring and a piece of rusted metal roofing.

The house is asymmetrical in design, but I figure the birds won't mind too much. Maybe they'll have creative offspring.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 3

This is another of my recycled materials birdhouses. I'm pretty fond of this one. It uses 1X lumber along with side cuts from some old logs.

There are some key ornaments, along with drawer hardware and a door stop that is doing duty as a perch. The side hole has screening in it to protect against anything getting in through the side, but it still offers some ventilation.

The roof is made from a piece of old tin roofing from a dismantled barn. I can't wait to get it up on a tree where I can watch for future tenants.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 2

I call this birdhouse the Arizona house, as it uses my no longer needed Arizona license plate, among other things.

We found an awesome metal scrapyard the other day. They had all these bins of old brass junk, much of which I have used on this house. It includes three different styles of drawer pulls, along with escutcheon plates, beauty rings, a key, a dog tag, and a plastic outlet cover.

My favorite part is the unusual top ornament. I just hope it doesn't act as a lightning rod.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses

For the last few days I have been doing some birdhouses. We have had an unusually cold winter, and I have been trying hard to keep all the neighborhood birds fed. Since spring is on the way, I figured birdhouses would be a good idea for my little feathered friends.

My husband and I spent the better part of a day collecting some birdhouse inspirations. We got some very cool items at the local Habitat Home Re-Store, a metal salvage yard, and the junk heap where a barn had been not so recently re-roofed.

It was just uncommon fortune that Illustration Friday chose "Propogation" for it's word of the week. I figured I would be contributing to the propogation of baby birds, so I decided to post some pictures.

This particular house uses the side cuts from some logs, some regular 1X lumber, a portion of a license plate, a metal house number, a valve stem, an electrical plate of some sort, and a sculptural head that had taken a bad fall. I still have a little caulking and weatherproofing to do, but I am pleased with my results.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Outsider Art Doll #2

This is the second art doll in the series. She's a little wacky, as evidenced by the split mouth and the spring pigtails. She's also pregnant, which may account for the cookie cutter belly. She has white porcelain knob breasts, and textile spindle legs. Her arms are made from 1/2 of a salad serving tong. The main body is an old shoe stretcher.

I'm having the distinct feeling that I'm going to have these things hanging around a long time, as they are gathering very little attention so far. Just what I need, more art.

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at MyShoeStretcher.com.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Outsider Art Doll #1

So, I did these 11 art dolls. Personally, I love to make stuff, draw stuff, create stuff. I can do it all day and night, and frequently do. I did these dolls, and decided to list them for sale on eBay, one per night for 11 nights. It seemed like fun. This is Doll #1.

The main body of the doll is an old cedar shoe stretcher. I collaged the face from pictures in some old Ladies Home Journals I got off of eBay. The eyebrow is made from some headless nails, and the hair is from copper tacks that have been wrapped in blue coated wire. There are a pair of tiny screw breasts and a porcelain knob "bun in the oven." The legs are made from spindles discarded from an area textile mill.

I enjoyed making these dolls, as I have no social life whatsoever, so doing art kind of compensates for that, but not really. In any event, you can check back here for Doll #2 tomorrow, and you can bid on Doll #1 on eBay right now. Go ahead. Really. Why wait?

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at MyShoeStretcher.com.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Illustration Friday: Pattern

“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.” - Alfred North Whitehead

I haven't done an Illustration Friday piece in a long time, but today's theme seemed appropriate to my latest project. Art Dolls.

My father passed back in January. The last several months have found my mother and I sorting through a mountain of my father's stuff. One of the things my father was bog on was shoes. He had over 300 pairs of shoes, which we have ebayed and consigned and given away. In the process, we pulled out dozens and dozens of these shoe stretcher things. I was packing them up when I was seized by an art idea, which usually assures that my own children will have as much stuff to sort through when I die as my mother and I have since my father's death.

I brought home several boxes of these shoe stretchers. A trip to the local Habitat Re-Store and Goodwill added lots of other odds and ends, and Michael's and Lowe's rounded out the project needs. So far, I am having a lot of fun cobbling together [no pun intended] these funky dolls.

They are built on wooden shoe stretchers with spindles from a textile plant for the legs. The eyes and mouth are collaged from Ladies Home Journal magazines from the 50's and 60's. There are also curtain rod finials, a wrought iron drawer pull, handmade nails, leather scraps, plastic and metal serving spoons, a cabinet hardware backplate, string, screws, matte varnish and tacks. I plan to eBay them starting next week. I hope you'll stay tuned.

So what is the pattern? For me, I am almost always drawing people, usually portraits. These dolls are kind of like portraits for me, albeit in an obvious departure from my usual work. So I suppose people are my pattern, the thing to which I continuously return, the thing that makes me feel connected.

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at MyShoeStretcher.com.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Allure Flooring Stinks

I don't usually write product reviews here, but I want to do an informational post on the Allure Trafficmaster Flooring from Home Depot because I suspect it is important.

Recently, I bought a new house. OK, not really new, as it was built in 1986, but it is a place to live. Anyway, it is a HUGE renovation project, and I don't exactly have tons of money. I needed to put down a floor in my bedroom after ripping out the old carpet that was there. I wanted a non-carpeted surface. While wandering through the Home Depot, I came across this vinyl floating floor from Halstead Industries called Allure Trafficmaster. It comes in boxes of plank strips that stick to one another, not your subfloor, and it looked really good. Better yet, it was reasonably priced, so I decided to go with it.

I bought 12 boxes. Eleven boxes were batch #10-10-2009, and one was #10-03-2009. I took it home and let it acclimate in its boxes for a couple of days, as one usually does with flooring. Then, in the space of only a few hours, my husband and I laid the entire 12 boxes. It looked fantastic. We moved in our furniture, closed the skylights and turned on the air conditioning, and prepared to spend our first night in the new bedroom.

As I was laying in bed, I noticed the bad odor. I opened a skylight part way, but left on the air. By morning, the smell was really bad. I turned off the air and turned on the ceiling fans, opening windows all over the house. Surely it was like a new car smell, and would dissipate quickly. It didn't.

I grew concerned, so I called the Customer Service line at Halstead. The woman registered my name and concerns, and told me that if I would wash it down a couple of times with some vinegar, it should take care of the problem. An odd idea, but I tried it. For 3 days I mopped the floor with vinegar. Now, it smelled more like a pickle factory, but that was somehow better than the strange chemical odor alternative. However, as soon as the vinegar smell dissipated, the chemical smell was back.

I Googled Allure Flooring to see if anyone else had this problem. There were a few angry complaints on various forums, but many people said the smell went away very quickly, and they loved their new floor. The only people with serious complaints seemed to be the ones who had installed it over concrete below grade who were having issues with it coming apart, and with mold trapped underneath. I had installed mine on a second floor over very dry plywood, so that wasn't it.

I had asked for an MSDS sheet on the flooring when I called, and the woman very kindly sent it to me via email. There are a lot of interesting items there. First, the MSDS sheet says it is for Metroflor Vinly Sheet Flooring and Metroflor Resilient Tile Flooring. Then, over to the side, it has a box that says Allure Vinyl Sheet Flooring and Resilient Tile Flooring. So which is it? It's hard to say. Metroflor is an upgraded product that is also manufactured by Halstead, but it is not the same product. That seemed odd. The MSDS seemed to indicate that the product was pretty innocuous though, which I tried hard to find relieving. There was a second "MSDS" sheet on the adhesive that is used to lock the floor pieces together. This didn't really look like a MSDS, rather it was a report from the Fu Hong Chemical Company, Ltd. of Taiwan. It showed a spectacular list of chemicals that sounded scary but were not detected in the sample of the adhesive. So I knew what it wasn't, but that didn't tell me exactly what it was.Hmmm....

The room got worse. It was always strangely humid in the room. My bed sheets felt cold and clammy. I was already keeping the air handler for the house going around the clock, along with a ceiling fan. I kept the adjoining bathroom window open. I added an Ionic Pro and a de-humidifier. Nothing helped. I woke up each morning with a sore throat, and sometimes my eyes would run in the night. After about a month, my daughter said, "this room is unhealthy." She's 13. Maybe she'll be a scientist.

I emailed my brother, who is a noted polymer scientist, and forwarded him the MSDS sheets Halstead had sent me. He told me that they had sent an SGS [contract testing organization] report, and he couldn't tell me what was wrong because all the report showed was a list of chemicals that were NOT found in the adhesive.

It was time to call Halstead again. The nice Customer Service woman listened to my story very patiently. She asked if I would like an "abatement kit." I asked her what that was, and she said it was a neutralizer I could apply, and then a sealer. [Alarm bells are beginning to go off in my head.] She went on to say that the product was made from recycled vinyl from China [Red flag! Red flag!] and that most batches had no odor at all, but some batches did seem to have a bad smell and she didn't know why.

OK, when you start saying that something was manufactured in China, that's when I start to get worried. It's not like the Chinese have such a great track record these days when it comes to the safety of their products. Who knows what could be hidden in this stuff? I was about to enter full panic attack mode when I heard her say "... or would you just like me to issue you a credit?" Excuse me?

The Customer Service representative asked me how many boxes I had bought. I told her I had bought 12 boxes in mid June. She said to just take my receipt to Home Depot, have them call the Halstead Customer Service line and reference my name, and they would take care of the credit. I was stunned, but I decided not to waste any time on this, so I jumped in my car and headed for the Home Depot.

At the Home Depot, the woman in returns had me speak with the Assistant Manager, who called Halstead and confirmed that I was due a $550.00 refund. They promptly credited it back to my Discover card and apologized for the inconvenience.

"Don't they want the flooring back?" I asked. Apparently not. No company rep would visit or call, no return the defective product hassle, just take the money and be on your way. It all seemed so suspiciously easy. I asked my brother the scientist about it. His take was that they knew they had an issue of some sort, and that it would be easier to pay me off rather than risk a lawsuit. Interesting.

I went home and ripped out the flooring and hauled it out of my house as quickly as I could. It took about 3 hours to rip it all up and haul it out. I opened the windows and ventilated everything. I also stripped all the sheets and bedclothes from the bed and washed them thoroughly. That was Thursday. It is now Saturday. The smell is gone, and the humidity levels have evened out considerably. I slept much more easily, and haven't had any sore throats or runny eyes since.

So exactly what is the issue with Allure Flooring? It's hard to say, as I cannot afford to test the stuff to see what it actually contained. I am extremely grateful to have it out of my home, though. And while I wasn't compensated for the time I spent laying or removing it, I really don't care. What is a few hours compared with the exposure to something terribly toxic, which is what I believe was happening with the Allure I bought.

Now, in fairness, the Assistant Manager at Home Depot said that they sell this stuff every day, and mine was the first complaint they'd ever had. So maybe not all batches are smelly. But if you think you want this flooring, be really cautious. You might get more than you bargained for.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cafepress' New Prices Spell Trouble for Shopkeepers

Awhile back, Cafepress decided to make some changes to their marketplace; they decided to price everything in the marketplace exactly the same. I suppose this makes some sense, but the way they've gone about it hasn't exactly been great. We should look at how things are panning out.

Cafepress has always let the shopkeepers set their own prices. They have also always strongly suggested using the "Premium" price tier. That's Ok by me, so all my shops have been set up that way. Recently, though, when they decided that for the marketplace all products should be priced exactly the same, they went against their previous notion of premium pricing, and priced everything rock bottom.

I am looking at my August sales here. I have sold 11 items between 5 shops on Cafepress. That's not exactly enough to make anyone dance a jig. But it's when I compare pricing that things get really ugly.

So far in August, I have made $14.30 from these 11 items, all sold from the Marketplace. With a cost of $25 per month for my 5 Cafepress shops, I am in deep doo-doo. [a highly technical term for a losing venture] Had these same items sold a few months ago when they were priced at the Premium tier, they would have brought me $37.53. Not a lot of money, but I would at least not be losing money. [the aforementioned "deep doo-doo"] So that really sucks.

Then the question is, would those items still have sold had they been priced a few bucks higher? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to know what the tipping point is these days. Perhaps people are not spending quite so freely anymore. Still, it is a significantly smaller amount. Is Cafepress just looking for an increase in volume, which helps them, but at these prices, it doesn't help the shopkeepers. Which brings me back to the inevitable comparison with Zazzle.

Shops are free on Zazzle, which means it costs me absolutely nothing for the 14,000+ products I have listed there in 12 different, thematically focused shops. Those shops are Birds of Paradise, Biblical T-Shirts, Celtic Dreams, God Bless the USA, ottoblotto, Live Simply, Sun and Shadows, Turtle Hero, Zodiac Attack, Halloween Time, A Total Flake, and Obsessions. Whenever I get another idea for a design group, I can just open another shop. I sure couldn't afford to do that on Cafepress, which is making me re-think that relationship just a bit.

In the same time frame, I have made $24.95 in sales through Zazzle. Cost to me, $0. It's a big difference, and since Google Trends shows Zazzle still leading in searches over Cafepress, I wonder...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Zazzle vs Cafepress - a Whole New Ballgame

I've written a lot about Cafepress and Zazzle in the past. Up to this point, Cafepress has certainly been the more profitable choice in Print-on-Demand, but that may be changing.

About a year ago, I began branching out from Cafepress into Zazzle and Printfection. [Print-who? Exactly.] Not long ago, I closed my Printfection shops, as they were doing nothing; not one sale. But Zazzle, on the other hand, is really rising in the ranks of POD companies.

Let's look at Google Trends. Here, the blue line represents Cafepress, and the red line represents Zazzle, and the span of this graphic is the last 12 months. Gradually, Zazzle is being searched more than Cafepress. Interesting.

Cafepress recently went through some major changes that left a number of its shop owners with their panties in a wad. They decided to make all prices throughout their Marketplace uniform, although the prices people had set in their shops would remain the same. There was much talk on discussion boards around the internet that people were going to close their shops on Cafepress and run over to Zazzle.

Why?

POD is passive income, which means that you set it up, but it doesn't require any further affort on your part to make it make money, so if you were making money on Cafepress, why would you want to mess that up? In this economy, I'll take what I can get.

Zazzle, however, is beginning to make sales for me, which is great. Not a lot of sales, but I hope it, like the rest of the economy, will begin to improve. And Zazzle has one really big advantage over Cafepress: the shops are FREE. That's huge, since I am counting every dime these days.

I've started re-vamping my existing Zazzle shops to make them easier to navigate, since I didn't really grasp that too well the first time around; the whole sections and subsections thing is a little confusing. Plus, I've added some new, tightly focused shops, which I couldn't afford to do on Cafepress because it would cost too much while waiting for the designs to get better ranked.

I opened Zodiac Attack on Zazzle. It carries only Zodiac themed designs, but there are beginning to be a fair number to choose from.

I opened Sun and Shadows on Zazzle. It currently has only sun themed designs in it, but I'll branch out from that eventually.

Last night I opened A Total Flake on Zazzle, which has winter themed designs. It isn't likely to be real popular here in June, but I hope to have it fully stocked by the time fall arrives.

My other Zazzle shops include the new Birds of Paradise, along with Biblical T Shirts, ottoblotto, and Live Simply, which is going through a major overhaul right now. Will they come out making more money then Cafepress? It will be interesting to see.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Does Google Hate Squidoo?

Does Google hate Squidoo? I sometimes wonder.

I've been pouring every possible second I could find for the last several months into Squidoo, partially because everything I own is locked up in a truck somewhere due to my lack of an actual home, thus preventing me from straying into an art binge. I'm long overdue. But I'd read all over the web how people were making lots of money with Squidoo, and it did seem like a good way to cross promote my stuff on Zazzle and Cafepress, so I let myself be sucked into the vortex of lens-making.

Somewhere along the line, I fantasized that I was doing really well. My 70 or so lenses, packed with all kinds of meaningful original content, were up to an average of 700 hits per week until...well, I'm not exactly sure what happened. Suddenly, my lenses were no longer to be found anywhere on the web. Not on Google, not on Yahoo. Some of them were first page on both. My hits have spiraled down, down, down, and I am down to 250 hits for the last week and dropping like a stone in still waters.

What happened that I should have somehow pissed off the major search engines so badly they would drop me, no, even throw me away like that. Yes, it's possible I'm taking it all a little too personally. But seriously, how does that happen? Is it something I said?

Confused, I poked around the web to see if anyone else had this sort of issue. Several people at various times over the last few years on various forums wrote of similar occurrances. The responses were all about the same; Google has had some algorithmic change, and your stuff will reappear in a few weeks, so not to worry. An algorithmic change? Can't they use some sort of electronic disco beat that never changes? What's with that?

Well, Google has not as yet seen how vastly empty the world of cyberspace can be without all that meaningful content I've been pouring out, and really, I don't think it matters all that much. I wasn't making any money at all, so I needed to take a break from it anyway. I've wandered back over to Cafepress, a story for a different post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cat Obsessions, Email Marketing, and Making Money on Squidoo

Squirt Buy at AllPosters.com Well, so I did this Squidoo lens on chihuahua obsessions called OCD - Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder. So I got to thinking about that, and started looking at all the other possible "C's" I could substitute. Of course, "CAT" came to mind.

Now, if we look at Google Trends, we can see that many more people are obsessing over cats than chihuahuas. The blue line shows the interest in the search term, "cats," and the red line shows the interest in the search term, "chihuahuas." So I made a Squidoo lens called Obsessive Cat Disorder. I hope it's going to be as popular as the Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder.

Popularity is big on Squidoo, especially among the various lensmasters, and I'm no exception. I do feel weirdly validated when people go read my lenses. But it is a little bit like email marketing, though.

With email marketing, I find the only people on the opt-in list are other people who are also trying to market similar crap to you as you are trying to market to them. In other words, they are busy deleting your emails, just as you are busy deleting their emails, so your information is never reaching anyone really.

With Squidoo, there are a lot of people checking out your lenses and leaving comments so you will feel obligated to check out their lenses, but in terms of people coming from outside Squidoo, say through Google searches, the number is often significantly less.

Of course, the real idea for making money with Squidoo is to cleverly weave in advertisements to various products for which you are an affiliate. So far, I have sold 1 poster for AllPosters, which netted me $2.25, which is still too low to pay out, and direct from Amazon I have netted $5.36. From these figures we can conclude one of three things: 1. My writing sucks. 2. No one has the money to buy anything anymore. 3. I am writing about the wrong stuff.

All these people who are making gobs of money at this stuff, I wonder who they are and if they are being honest. I keep telling myself things will improve as I get more lenses and as they continue to rise through the ranks. Right now, I'm a little skeptical.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder

I wrote this squidoo lens on Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder. Like my lenses on Dating Space Aliens or Retrosexual Women, it is meant to be funny. I can never decide if people "get it," although they seem to be. Anyway, I think it is a pretty amusing read if you want to stop by.

I am still trying to crack the code of what lenses actually sell something. My sales have now skyrocketed to a whole $2.34, plus I made $3.38 for just having some well ranked lenses. OK, well, sort of well ranked lenses. I can see the blank looks on the faces of my loved ones as they ask, "For this you missed The Office?"

So I have no life. Got it.

Anyway, like the meager amount I'm making currently at Cafepress and Zazzle, I am not really doing well. I suppose if I were selling some product that would remove the hair from the palms of teenaged boys, I'd be in.

Say, do you know of an affiliate program for that?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Giant Squids and Squidoo

I was made a Giant Squid today on Squidoo. In order to be a Giant Squid [imagine there's a bit of reverb whenever I say Giant Squid] you have to build 50 or more absolutely fabulous lenses [web pages] and submit them and the heads of the Giant Squid forum decide if you qualify to be part of the Giant Squid club.

I feel like Sally Fields - They LIKE me, they really really LIKE me.

OK, it's not an Oscar, but it is something. I announced my Giant Squididdity to my family, who met me with mostly blank stares. My brother finally ventured to ask if this was a good thing. I assured him it was. Their lack of enthusiasm notwithstanding, I went on back to work.

Squidoo has been great for me since I lack anything with which to do art besides a #2 pencil. Everything I own is packed away on a truck somewhere. I don't know when I'll actually find a house, and tucked away in a spare bedroom at my mother's home is my only choice. So it keeps me busy. Of course, I'm still not selling anything, but that is a story for another blog post later.

You can visit my Squidoo lenses here at my profile. See the nifty purple shield? Is that cool or what?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Squidoo City Guide

This lens is a member of the Squidoo City Guide
I've been writing some Squidoo lenses on various NYC landmarks. I've published 3 of these, with more on the way. I was very excited today to have my Empire State Building featured on the Squidoo City Guide's blog. How cool is that?

The City Guide features lots of Squidoo lenses on various cities across the US and worldwide. You may find wonderful information on places to visit, or even on your own hometown.

If there's not anything written on your hometown, and you are yourself the local history buff, you might consider joining Squidoo and writing your own page about your hometown. You could also write about cool places you've visited. Joining is free, making a page is easy and free, and you can attract people to the wonderful sites you know.

And did I mention that it's free?

Sign up at Squidoo today.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Making Money With Squidoo

Giant Or Humboldt Squid Lying on a Fishing Boat Back in January before my father's passing, I somehow got involved with Squidoo. Seems a friend of mine had been doing Squidoo for months, and it sounded like she was doing pretty well. And since the POD stuff wasn't exactly padding my bank accounts, I thought I'd give it a try.

Let's start with a bit of what Squidoo is. Squidoo is a place where you can make web pages, and hopefully, a bit of money. Here's how it works; you sign up, which is FREE, you build a page, which is also FREE using their easy to work with modules, and you publish the page, which is also FREE. You don't have to host or pay for anything.

There are modules that allow you to add pictures. There are modules that connect directly with Cafepress, Zazzle, and Amazon so that when someone buys something from those places by using a link on your site, you get a commission. There are modules that connect directly with Wikipedia, flickr, and YouTube. All in all, it's pretty easy to get the hang of it. You can move the order of modules around easily, add keywords, provide affiliate links of your own, and pretty much promote anything you like. There are people making gobs of money from this thing!

OK, I am not one of those people.

Again, it is a lot like the POD companies in that quantity helps a lot. Now, perhaps if you are selling Forex trading robots or the newest online dating service, you might make the aforementioned gobs of money, but if you are merely writing about everyday stuff, well, it's a tough market out there right now.

Here is a link to my profile. If you go there, you will see that I have done over 50 of these web pages, on such diverse topics as Dating Space Aliens, Cooking with Squash Blossoms, and The Brooklyn Bridge. Let's see how I'm doing.

I've made: On Chile Pepper Seeds and Growing - $.80 selling seeds and plants On Music and Dance Lessons for the Viennese Waltz - $.16 selling MP3 downloads On Music and Dance Lessons for the Mambo - $.72 selling Mambo music CDs That should add up to $1.68, although Squidoo has it adding up to $1.67, not that it really matters. It's not exactly stellar.

Squidoo also pays you a sort of general commission based on the lensrank of each of your pages, two months prior. That earned me $.80 this month, although I can expect that will go up over time as I add more lenses [their fancy word for the web page you build.]

Now, all in all, I really like Squidoo. It's super easy to use, and it's a great way to cross promote things you have elsewhere, like stuff on Cafepress or Zazzle. Nevertheless, it's definitely not a get-rich-quick idea, so if that's what you're looking for, then this isn't it. It takes a lot of time to build a page with good content and a reasonable informational flow with pictures and ads and all that stuff. But as a way to promote your other ventures, it's very good.

You can Join Squidoo here for free. It's easy to do, and someday, if the economy ever recovers, you'll be set. Or so I'm told.