Monday, November 27, 2017

Funny Stocking Stuffers! What's New in my ETSY Shop!

Two months have whizzed by without my posting a THING here. My part time Garden/weeding job lasted longer than I thought when one last job came rolling in. Then I stupidly signed up for an online challenge and immediately flunked seeing it through. I suck at challenges and have finally learned they don't fit my temperament, and they take valuable time away from my own creative work.

Keeping it simple, I wanted to share two new fridge magnets I added to my SmirkingGoddess Etsy shop. These are part of my dishwasher clean/dirty line of magnets that are popular stocking stuffers along with my other funny fridge magnets.

First, for all ye believers, the unicorn magnet:
To purchase: funnyunicornmagnet
And living in Connecticut I know there are many horse owners, so I added this to my line:
To purchase:funnyhorsemagnet
I hope you all will visit my shop, and support my one woman owned business. Each purchase is rewarded with a coupon that arrives with your purchase. Happy Holiday! Love Suzanne

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why Laying the Bones of your Garden is so Key

As I view the gardens of friends and customer's who hired me to weed for them, I realize even seasoned gardeners make mistakes. The mistakes are those mentioned in my previous post, of planting an invasive species in too small an area, or just planting it to begin with; the first two years look terrific, then the stuff is wandering into your lawn and swallowing up the space of other plants.

What I Wish I Did First…

For the new homeowner faced with a first time yard, or maybe a second time homeowner facing a bigger yard than before, the urge to fill the area with color is strong. Having a third of an acre for the first time in my life, I gave into the urge.  I over-spent and made mistakes. I wish I laid out the "bones" of my yard first instead of running to nurseries and purchasing colorful shrubs, flowers and herbs.

What Do I Mean by "Bones"

By "bones' I mean investing in border evergreens to offer us more privacy and to block the view of neighboring businesses as well as muffle their sound, plus it would establish boundaries with a neighbor who's junker car was actually parked on our land. We thought this area was his, until the town put markers in and we realized it's time to trim and mow the area ourselves.

 When You Can Forego a Privacy Screen

Establishing boundaries with evergreen trees, or decorative fence, ornamental grass etc. is essential and greatly improves one's property value. However, we're also so lucky to have a really nice neighbor bordering our other side, the landlord graciously allowed me to put in an area garden where he chopped down blighted trees, and his tenant and tenant's girlfriend graciously supplied me with some free plants to add to my layout. If you have such a neighbor like us, one can waive the privacy screen for an area garden.

 A Privacy Screen Could've Helped Them…

 There's a house in our neighborhood, a gorgeous Victorian that's been on the market for too long, the price has dropped three times, and yet homes all around town in the same price range are selling like hotcakes. The owners have a gorgeous zen-like garden they painstakingly doted over. But the gorgeous layout didn't include planting trees to block a parking lot and neighboring business that borders their backyard, nor did they mask their dumping ground of tossed broken branches they piled up by the adjacent business's chain link fence. We've watched potential buyers wander to the back to stare at the unfortunate view, and this has gotta be a deal breaker.

Laying Down the Bones of the Yard Gives You Clarity 

Had we lined our yard boundaries with some Green Emerald Arborvitae, It would've been easier for me to visually map out some area gardens, as the yard wouldn't look like an overwhelming expansive blank canvass in desperate need to fill up with beautiful flora. Case in point, I tried to create a "berm" last year, it flattened out on me. I wanted a raised zen-like Hosta and ornamental grass garden.  So I plowed ahead despite the non-berm happenstance, and planted a variety of Hostas and ornamental grass. The plan failed, I was so anxious to fill an area, that I didn't think things through, the Hostas didn't take to the area although they do well in other parts of our yard.  So all that labor and expense was wasted and I pulled the plants. Now it's a bald patch of mulch, putting up bordering trees or an attractive fence panel–would've  looked pretty and blocked the view of the neighbor's garage, thus no need to urgently fill the area with "stuff".

And Finally Getting Around to IT

So six years in, we're finally budgeting to take down the scraggly trees–all of 'em belong to us– lining our yard's border.  I've stared at these ugly bushes for too long, one shrub is dead, and two are invasive, deciduous shrubs and I'm tired of raking leaves, how I wish we took care of this from the get-go, but I just had to HAVE those flowers first. Lesson learned.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gardening Mistakes 101 What this Artist has Learned

When we purchased our antique home six years ago  in northern Connecticut, the third of an acre yard was pretty much a blank slate to fill. There were some pockets of impacted Day Lillies and Russian Iris and English Ivy that were a bear to dig up, but otherwise, it was a huge space begging for color, texture, and butterfly/bee friendly plants. I couldn't wait to order plants.

So I ordered plants online and went happily shopping at local nurseries. Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes because I didn't know what I was doing. I paid for expensive shrubs that didn't survive a cold Connecticut winter, I planted Hostas that overtook an area garden, though I gave away most of the invasive Day Lillies and Russian Iris, I transplanted some only to wish I gave them away too. I also fell in love with plants that just don't go with our circa 1600 home nor the cottage garden theme of my area gardens, now I'm digging up the ethereal, even alien-looking Sea Holly that riveted my attention at Walmart a year ago. I also made the mistake of believing online descriptions and found the two Dappled Willows I planted would grow to be much BIGGER than promised, and I planted them too close together.

I also purchased the wrong mulch. Our first year here, due to a day job in another county, I had limited time to garden, so choices were made in haste. How I wished I did my google research. We bought two raised garden boxes, I filled with dirt, plunked in plants and finished off with black mulch. A week later our new neighbor told me not to grow vegetables in dyed mulch, as the dye leeches into the food. I also noticed, the plants just didn't do well, not only was the mulch dyed, it had chunks of lumber among bark that sucks nutrients away from plants, the shredded hardwood bark natural mulch is what one should use. Unfortunately, I ended up cleaning out all the old mulch and dirt, and starting over again. And I planted Hostas and Daffodils under an oak tree only to realize the tree sucked away most of the moisture and so they withered up. Angelina Sedum can grow around the tree and I just finished plunking in more to fill in at the base.

So now six years into gardening, with three years working out of my home now, I have more time to schedule gardening. I joined the Windsor Garden Club one year and found gardeners are generous with information and also with swapping plants, and I have some friends who graciously gave me freebies. I exercise more patience and control, just because I'm drawn to a beautiful plant, it doesn't mean it will work in my yard, so I don't buy it. I don't hastily transplant either, I allow ideas to sift down for awhile, this came after transplanting a Rose of Sharon five or six times.

Due to my hard work, that resulted in some pretty area gardens, I've picked up a sideline business of weeding gardens of local residents who need help. In the past few jobs I've completed where I endured a bout of poison ivy so bad I looked like Porky the Pig, and a bee sting that left me feeling groggy; I've learned, the mistakes a newbie gardener makes are always the same. Below is my list of DO NOT DO'S that novices make and then their pretty area garden becomes a wretched mess too overwhelming to deal with.

Suzanne's 12-Step Gardening Do NOT Do's!

1. Find out what the flowers are that seasoned gardeners hate. This list usually includes Day Lillies, fine for filling in a large area, BAD for area gardens. They over-naturalize and roots/bulbs get impacted, pulling these up are like pulling up thick blocks of cement. I also remembered how members of my local Garden Club groaned when someone mentioned Russian Iris, they get out of hand, FAST.

2. Stick with stand alone perennials, I think some novice gardeners buy invasive plants thinking it will grow fast, fill up space and Voila! instant garden. Instead the invasive shit takes over, in this case the Chameleon Plant groundcover that one customer planted, it totally destroyed her garden, and yellow jackets loved the stuff, this is how I got stung, wretched stuff. She bought other invasive plants and I dug them up tossed away and recommended she replace with Coneflower, Stonecrop, nice plants that are sturdy and don't take over and are drought tolerant.

3. If you insist on buying something invasive, PUT IT IN A PLANTER, NOT IN THE GROUND, you will thank me over and over for this warning. And practice sheet mulching! Lay down huge sheets of wet newspaper-(I also use cardboard and plastic bags too, better than that cheesy weed blocker fabric), the worms love it, then cover with mulch, great weed blocker and if some weeds do poke through, they're so easy to pull out! I used newspapers in hope of blocking any roots of invasive plants I overlooked in said customer's garden.

4. Don't plant flimsy stuff, I know some gardeners who like tall flowers that gently wave in the summer breeze, this is fine, but after a rainfall will flowers flop over and lie forlornly on the ground like fainting goats? Why plant something that can't withstand a little rain, or will need the assistance of an ugly stake?

5. Dirt should be brown not flowers. I'm not a fan of ferns that turn brown. Nothing is uglier than dried up flora. If your ferns are more brown, or anything that you plant dries up and turns ugly on you, yank them out and plant a drought tolerant perennial in it's place.

6. Stick with what works, rinse and repeat. Hydrangeas, Coneflowers, Stonecrop, Corabells, Hyssop, Hosta (The blue leaf variety has thicker leaves slugs can't chew through) do well in my yard, so I use them a lot, no need to show off how many different kinds of plants I can successfully grow, stick with what works. Keep your garden-scape design simple, don't get lured by colorful catalog pictures to buy all kinds of stuff. Also, Hydrangeas have a very long blooming season, I select plants that offer me color for as long as possible, after all I did the grunt work to get them into the ground, I want to be entertained for as long as possible.

7. If you don't know where to transplant or plant it, do what I do, create a space to harbor these plants until a plan forms in your mind. I have an area behind our barn, with pots where I stick the plants until I can figure out a place for them.

8. Don't plant ornamental grass that re-seeds to the point they take over, this too was a mistake a customer of mine made, I ended up digging the whole lot as again, a second area garden was overtaken with this stuff, to the point I discovered a lovely hidden rose bush. Another customer had non-bearing raspberry plants that I yanked out to find a gorgeous Japanese painted fern hiding underneath.

9. Check for what plants are considered an invasive species in your state. I have two in our yard and plan to replace them as budget permits, the Multiflora Rose a wild rose, and a huge, beautiful Burning Bush. People told me to pull up the Rose bush and burn it, I can't do this, I plan to give it to a beekeeper friend as the flowers smell wonderful. The Burning Bush? It will be hard to let go.

10. Check Craigslist for people who sell plants in your area. I discovered Helayna, a lovely Ukrainian lady in my own town who sells organically grown plants from her own area gardens. In fact, I'm now sending my customers to her. Her prices are very, very reasonable.

11. It's easy to want to plunk in colorful plants right away, but save some money for the bones of your yard, if you need privacy trees to screen a neighbor's driveway, or to cut traffic noise, be sure to budget for some in the beginning. I wish I had.

12. Consider rockscaping to break up the monotony of mulch, rocks also keep bugs from entering your house if you have them by your foundation, the rocks are too hot in summertime for bugs to rest on. And definitely check out my Pinterest Board for more Cool and Exciting Gardening Ideas!

So there you have it! My tips to avoid huge pitfalls in your outdoor flora wonderland. Hopefully this post will also save you some money and trouble. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Introducing My Vintage Funny Santa Blocks, New in My ETSY Shop

We moved into an antique home circa 1664-yeah that old, in the oldest settlement in Connecticut, the town of Windsor in 2011. The former owners lived here for many decades, they very kindly left some antique collectibles in the basement and attic for us, interesting stuff, not too much, not too little.

What we didn't need we sold or continue to put up in my husband's ETSY shop RetroUrban, a portion of the sales of all vintage and antique items sold there go to our Vintage Hi-Fi Museum at 485 New Park Avenue in West Hartford, Connecticut. We do have so much to add to this shop, and that is our goal this year.

One of the treasures left us were piles of vintage children's wood play blocks, I found four of the same size painted them, distressed them more and added my own humorous signs to each one. I love re-purposing these found gifts that were left to us as we continue to conserve our wonderful historic home the Deacon John Moore House.

My Santa sign blocks are now available and would make a fun, witty addition for your holiday decor, herewith the link to purchase, take a gander over to see all the new items I'm adding this Fall. THINK HOLIDAY FUNNY GIFTS: SmirkingGoddess:.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Throwing in the Towel on the #100DayProject, ADD or the Challenge of a Multipotentialite?

It's been a month since I quit the #100DayProject challenge. It wasn't my Attention Deficit issue that led me off-course and I'm glad I recognized the difference. I wanted to finish the challenge. Instead it's the fact I am an artist AND writer, I work and create more than one line of products that aren't similar in production and design. When I scan ETSY shops I'm envious of the illustrators who stick to selling just prints, or artisans or jewelers with branded signature shops featuring one kind of product instead of offering a variety of collections in one shop.

Aside from dreaming up new funny stuff for this shop: SmirkingGoddess, and working on my illustrations for this shop: SuzanneUrbanArt,  I also manage a shop for my husband's Vintage Hi-Fi Museum. The latter two aren't getting the updates they need yet. Add to the Urban plate that I take on wholesale orders and freelance commissions, including a weeding service for local residents to keep money flowing, and a volunteer for this program: The Windsor Monarch Project  and I'm all tapped out for time. Oh and then there's the basic household chores so my home doesn't look like a frat house. So you see, even a woman who doesn't have kids, who works at home–(full-time), finds it hard to commit to a seemingly simple challenge-framework because creatively speaking, her fingers are stuck in too many pies.

 Time management is an issue for we Attention Deficits, this stumbling block leads me to silently chastise myself for not getting enough done in a day. But, I'm also aware that I like to delve into a variety of creative areas. My concern over not finishing the #100DayProject challenge led me back to Puttylike a Blog by author and creative entrepreneur Emilie Juliette Wapnick who coined the phrase "Multi-Potentialite" a term to describe those of us who literally can't narrow down and specialize in one field or in my case in one medium.

And of course we live in a culture, as described by Ms. Wapnick that demands we follow one career path. But there are some who succeed in defying tunnel-vision expectations.

So here I am working on new gag lines for my line of magnets and pinbacks, check, trying to finish my new line of signs–taking time as I try to find the right wood planks to order for this line, and the other shop? I'm straddling the fence between my new Pink Pussy Hat illustrated bookmarks, I re-drew the characters recently, this happens a lot where I am two-thirds done with a project and it just doesn't set right with me and back to the drawing table go I. I've also put shooting several gingerbread men ornaments on hold–they're finished, but need to be photographed; and I'm now investigating the new medium of spun cotton.  And to finance my ETSY business and help pay bills, I placed an ad on Facebook that I'm available to weed area gardens, and inquiries are rolling in.

So it goes, for those of us Multi-Potentialites who want to succeed but are juggling what seems like as many balls as there are stars in the sky.

Are you a Multi-Potentialite? Please comment below.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Day 51 and 52 #100DayProject My Newest Work Tied Up in Product Development

 My #100DayProject

Perform one simple task a day to assist me in becoming more creatively productive and consistent in my studio. All tasks can be followed with a reward to encourage consistency.

Back In the Saddle Yet Again

Now that the community volunteer project I was involved in has wound down for a while, I'm back in the studio after a two-week hiatus. Resting on my desk were two WIP's-(works in progress). One I'm creating funky angel/fairy ornaments from sheets of plastic I've kept to upcycle. This project so far has no hitches. But the other project. . .

The Other Project–Shelf Sitter Christmas Blocks

I'm expanding my funny magnets and pinbacks onto signs and blocks for the upcoming season. I've put this project off due to busy orders and product development snafus. What sounds easy to do isn't. so the signs are on hold, but staring at a basket of vintage children's play blocks left by the former owner of our antique home, I had an idea to create small shelf sitters with some of my funny quotes on them.

First in Product Development–Decision Making

First I had to decide which of my copy to select for this line of vintage blocks. Secondly, I had to measure the blocks and re-create my round magnet design in a rectangle shape. I decided to create a line of Christmas themed blocks that one could purchase as a set, or alone.

The Snafuls 

Despite accurate measuring, I had to adjust the size of my template for the image. Secondly, when working with your design on a computer screen, text is readable, the design looks bright and crisp. Upon printing out, three of my designs didn't read well, the font I chose was too thin in line and curly. Back to the computer to fix fonts. I also found a typo after this print out. I re-printed out and this happened. The color was totally off. Since I have a high end inkjet printer my print-outs usually need 24 hours to dry, I switched to painting the blocks a deep burgundy and called it a day.

Moving Forward

I reprinted on the second day and the color adjusted correctly, yay! I sandpapered the blocks for an aged look and varnished for protection. Next, hopefully with no further snafus I can complete this project.

The Christmas block snafus tied me up for two days, but sometimes a project is more challenging and gets tabled for far longer. This is part of the process of a creative maker who needs to get their work up online, in front of the public to sell so she/he can return to their studio and do it all over again. But to the non-makers out there, this is why our handcrafted items are priced to protect our time invested. So much more goes behind a handmade product than you'll eve guess.

My Reward for Sticking with Studio Tasks:


Back in the garden I finally completed some much needed rock-scaping between my two raised-bed garden boxes. Hallelujah!

My name is Suzanne Urban I sell my funny magnets  pinbacks here: SmirkingGoddess and my art here: SuzanneUrbanDesigns

Monday, June 19, 2017

Day50 #100DayProject When I've Piled Too Much On My Plate

 My #100DayProject

Perform one simple task a day to assist me in becoming more creatively productive and consistent in my studio. All tasks can be followed with a reward to encourage consistency.

I've been absent from posting for thirteen days. I'm sure some thought I failed again in sticking with My #100DayProject challenge. The Challenge is over for many who started earlier than I. And many stuck to it with no roadblocks, they kept their heads firmly bowed over the drawing table.

Why I've Been Absent from Posting:

I created a roadblock for myself that pushed me off track. I got swept up in an exciting community project without realizing how much it would impact my studio time. I am a people-pleaser as well as an artist/writer who suffers from ADD. I'm glad I got involved,  and plan to STAY involved with this project, but it taught me that I never put the brakes on and eagerly respond "Yay!" without qualifying what is expected of me.

After being absent from my studio for two plus weeks, thus getting behind on work to be launched in my ETSY shops this Fall, I finally admitted to myself; in this world today, with so much help needed by so many, I still don't fit the criteria to be a volunteer, my time is maxed out. I'm also on a tight budget right now so I'm frustrated that I can't  give beyond signing online petitions. I'm not saying others aren't busy, I'm simply stating for the ADD artist in their own business, donating time must be carefully scrutinized.

Most Artists/Artisans/Professional Makers aren't the Volunteer Profile

Creative professionals perform several functions, we are the Product Development lab, the photographer, retail clerk, order processor, PR and marketing person for what we make. In corporations each of these assignments are a whole separate department. Everything we create is made from scratch with with our own two hands. Our job is more than 9-5, so where and when can we find time to volunteer? If we don't sell, we don't eat and paying bills stops. We aren't the best demographic for volunteer jobs.

Product Development is the Most Time Consuming of our Tasks 

 I have tons of WIP's (works in progress) waiting to finish because of snafus in product development. For one I need to buy electric scissors, another take out the sewing machine, another test a variety of clays for ornaments.  I have ten webinars in the queue yet to watch to help me build my small business, the list goes on. Oh and I have a deadline on a small painting at the end of this month.  All this needs to be done around managing my magnet/pinback business for my first ETSY shop. On top of this I am on the board and am the webmaster/graphic designer and PRperson of my husband's museum:

Know that Your Time is Valuable No Matter What:

Just because I don't get paid for some of my behind the scenes work, or I haven't soared my ETSY shops into a higher income producing bracket yet, it doesn't mean my time isn't at a premium. And I need that time to succeed as an entrepreneur. The creative ADD adult has to learn they can't do everything and drop a project when a new thought comes into their head. And the people pleaser has  to stop being the avid joiner–or if you do join, let the team know what you can and cannot do up front. Luckily in this case the organizer is an incredibly professional person and understood that I couldn't show up for one of the days. But as time went on, I was becoming more forgetful, and this not only doesn't do me any good, but also the team that's working on the volunteer project.

Now that things have settled down for a bit, I will be back on track tomorrow with my #100DayProject self-challenge.

The above magnet is available my Etsy Shop SmirkingGoddess™ it also comes in print form. I am also an artist and and sell my illustrations here: SuzanneUrbanArt

  •  Ask the organizer what your tasks would be and a breakdown of time involved share that you're in your own business so your work hours are longer than nine-to-five

  • Is Organizer a pro? Or are they using guilt to coerce your involvement, do they seem to know the lay of the land in working with others? Mine did, I've learned a lot from her
    and this project, I also value her time-involvement too. In other words this volunteer job has some win-wins for me and on a greater level for our town, it may very well become a tourist/visitor draw. Hello economic development!
  •  Is a larger entity behind this project, in our case it was the town, are their sponsor to help pay for supplies and anything else you might have to buy to help get the job done
  • Are you passionate about the cause and really believe in it? Or did you say yes to people-please?
  • Are you being asked to donate your Art, or other product made by you for free? Learn from my lesson. I used to donate two weeks to create something for a charity event with the lure of  "we highly publicize this event and your work!", I never gleaned any patrons and lost time and money (supplies). As a former professor of mine said, "first time is experience, second is exploitation". WHY? Why does the musician get paid, the caterer get paid and the Artist is supposed to perform for FREE? And mind you I was asked to perform for free in two of the richest communities in America.
  • If you're asked to donate an already made work of art/handmade product for a charity auction, be aware that if the bids are lackluster, this can impact your art marketplace value
  • This may sound terrible, but is there a win-win for you if you volunteer? Will your task look good on a resumé? Can you trade for free advertising? Think in terms of a trade on some level and you might see that the organization will work with you in return for your donating reasonable volunteer time

    I'm all for helping out and volunteering, but I'm also all for those like me who find time management difficult and our budgets are tight.