Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hard Times Demand Other Kinds of Actions

Followers to my blog know that I used to use this venue as a place to talk about things related to spiritual counseling and healing, the use of flowers for emotional and spiritual healing, art and photography. It dissolved into more of a selling place when our financial situation dissolved, especially after we moved to the desert. Then we got hit hard by our relationship with one of our selling venues, Cafepress, and then came the hardest blow of all— a 150% increase in minimum payment by the company that funded our businesses, JPMorgan Chase.

I put a flurry of work into researching who this company is, posted that, and now rarely have the desire to post anything at all. I'm too busy trying to plug the holes of our barely viable bank account, writing a book about our experiences, and trying to regroup. But I have been wanting to address some of what I most recently have posted about—the connection between mega-oil, mega-banking, the wars in the Middle East, and the economic crisis we all find ourselves in now.

It's a bit much and what I wrote before on this blog comes across a little like a hysterical rant so I've had to do a little healing work on myself to come back to a more centered place. I haven't had the heart to write about it for awhile but it's in my book now—my book that was supposed to be a more or less light-hearted account of the journey of two New Age metaphysical counselors in the Mormon desert.

Art can illuminate an aspect of living life on the planet we might not ordinarily encounter, it can open the heart, the mind and/or spirit to something new and different, something we might miss or not see if we walked by it. Georgia O’Keefe once said “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

That’s part of what I want to do with my work, to show people the worlds within the worlds we inhabit. We get so busy in our rush, rush, busy, busy lives. It’s almost impossible to see a flower, never mind explore the significance and healing nature of every living thing. That’s what my work with Paul is sometimes about, it’s usually what our art is all about, and it’s the main reason I started to write about my work with flower essences. It’s also part and parcel of the reason I’m currently writing a new book.

What I NEVER wanted to do was to fight injustice, lead press release and letter writing campaigns, research multinational corporations and figure out just how convoluted and evil some of these twisted financiers can be.

I’ve never wanted to buy into conspiracy theories! In my research online I tried to eliminate any website that came across as a conspiracy theory site. I looked for evidence of connections, documented proof. It took almost three days of work and it still isn’t easy to put all the pieces together but the connections that can be discovered are pretty much in plain sight!

The Rockefellers founded Standard Oil Company, the world’s first and largest multinational corporation until it was broken up the U.S. Supreme Court in 1911. It began as a partnership between John Rockefeller, his brother William, and four others, one of whom was related to the Rockefellers through marriage. Partnerships and convoluted agreements between entities are still how the Rockefeller companies operate to this day. That’s why it is often difficult to point a finger squarely at the head of any one person. You’d have to trace all the interrelationships going back before various mergers happened to figure it out.

One of the younger Rockefellers recently was interviewed about her own holdings in Exxon Mobil, the company her relatives started as Standard Oil many years back. She said she didn’t know but the reporter’s own research indicated it might be as little as 1%. That doesn’t seem like much. But if you add up how many companies the same family owns or invests in that also have stock in the various Standard Oil spin-offs and how many of those supposedly independent oil companies are now merging to form larger corporations—Exxon /Mobil, Chevron/Texaco—it’s pretty obvious that the break-up of John Rockefeller’s oil monopoly in 1911 is being rectified by the principals involved step by step and that Rockefeller’s bank, JPMorgan Chase, has dealings or direct connections with them all.

I realize that Chase recorded over $500 million in losses in their credit card division in the past year but it was the actions of their own mega-conglomerate oil machine that brought the country’s economy to its knees. Exxon Mobil alone posted record profits based on oil prices because of the Iraq war while consumers were saddled with enormous costs at the gas pumps, heating bills, grocery store and everywhere else. That made it impossible for millions of Americans to pay their rent, never mind the credit cards they got from Chase at usury rates before the subprime lending fiasco even happened. Poor JPMorgan Chase? Pity them not!

And what about the subprime lending currently being blamed for the crash? According to a report by the Washington watchdog Center for Public Integrity, JPMorgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Merril Lynch and Citigroup “both owned and financed subprime lenders.” And who has benefited from the resulting and inevitable crash? Anyone with the ability to buy the smaller lending institutions up at bargain basement prices and JPMorgan Chase is one of the biggest ones. That’s how they used the $25 billion “bail-out” they received from the Federal government. They bought Washington Mutual and several others. They are one of the largest mega-banks in the world and that's not a coincidence.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thanks, Dennis!

Another Cafepress shopkeeper saw my press release about Cafepress and asked permission to help distribute it. Now I'm getting computer generated confirmation emails from newspapers across the country thanking me for my submission! Wow! Thanks, again! I really wanted help in getting the word out to the news media but was getting overwhelmed by the thought of it. My own financial situation needs to take precedence but I have to admit to feeling better when I write and share what's going on. I currently have more than 250 pages of my book finished. It's almost complete and Chase, along with Cafepress, just gave me a new chapter. It's called "Con Men, Swindlers and Thieves."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More About the Chase Credit Card Bait and Switch

Consumer Affairs.com has an article about JPMorgan Chase raising the minimum payment on their low interest rate credit cards from 2% to 5% at http://www.consumeraffairs.com/credit_cards/chase_credit_cards.html . That's a 150% increase in monthly payment. People are being forced to default and/or declare bankruptcy in droves.

I read the letters on this website and felt way better! Not because this is happening to so many people but because people are speaking up. I was just devastated by this experience, feeling ashamed and horrified at the idea of bankruptcy but mad as hell that anyone could do this to me. Sure, I said yes to the low interest rate checks I got from them (see my previous blog) but I did it thinking how else would I EVER get such a low interest rate for a business loan? How could I even get a business loan at all for the type of businesses we have? I was going to figure out how to pay it back, I WAS paying it back. Now, there's no way and I'm FAR from the only one.

According to one letter I read the Obama Administration is trying to put through legislation to prevent this kind of abuse but it won't be law right away. Is this Chase's retaliation?

Chase, by the way is owned by the Rockefellers, the same lovely people who founded Exxon Mobil, the multinational corporation who brought us the Iraq War. I've been researching who this company is all day and what I've been reading is unbelievable. The links are no longer as direct as they once were but Exxon Mobil and JPMorgan Chase executives and retired executives sit on each other's boards, invest in each other's companies, and both attend meetings of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with BP, Chevron, Shell, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and a number of other corporations who are not exactly impartial players in global economics and politics especially as it relates to oil-rich countries like Iraq and Iran. Dick Cheney and many other high ranking officials in the Bush administration continue to sit on this council.

JPMorgan Chase was one of the big banks who received $25 billion in federal bailout money. When Obama insisted on measures to regulate how they used this money and wanted to scrutinize their activities JPMorgan Chase said, uh-uh, no way. They paid the money back recently and that's when all these letters were sent raising the rates.

By the way, when a reporter for CNN asked how they were going to raise the money to repay these funds the CEO of the company said: "I don't see why a company with our kind of capital would need to raise capital." Yeah, they're a multinational corporation worth at least 2.1 trillion dollars. They brag about that on their own homepage. Why the hell were they getting a bailout in the first place?

Oh yeah, I remember, because the record $163 billion in profits they and their community of interdependent companies made while jacking fuel oil prices up and benefiting from large oil contracts with the Pentagon during the 5 years of the Iraq war (so far) wasn't enough? You all do remember the high prices at the gas pumps, the cost of heating fuel and jacked up prices for food and everything that got shipped across country in the final years of the Bush administration, don't you? Remember— that was going on at the same time as the predatory lending practices that are currently being blamed for tanking the economy. If JPMorgan Chase—the company that is owned by the people that still own controlling interests in many of the biggest privately owned oil companies in the world—wasn't doing their crap we wouldn't be in this mess.

This is the kind of predatory behavior bringing the world's economy to its knees. And, from where I sit, they look like the perpetrators.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Predatory Business Practices

About a year ago Chase credit card company sent me some "special checks" that could be used any way I wanted at a low interest rate of 4% for as long as it took to pay it off. I knew better than to jump at this right away. If I still had a balance on my regular credit card through them—the one that had a really high interest rate of 18%—my payments would go first to the lower interest rate "check loan" while huge interest payments would build up on the credit card. So I paid that credit card off using another credit card and used the 4% interest check to pay the second card off.

Essentially, I used those special checks to lower the payments I had to make overall from 18% to 4% and help myself stay afloat. All legal on my end and intended to help me continue to pay off my debts in the best way possible.

Well, big oops on that one! Remember what I was saying about companies including clauses in their Terms of Service contracts that say they can change the Terms of Service at any time without the customer having any recourse? That's essentially what happened at Cafepress and it seems to me that a contract like that is not a contract at all. But we've all been used to seeing contracts like that from our credit card companies for years now. They all say things like that! Almost all of us need to have a credit rating to buy certain things so I doubt that anyone ever really thinks twice about accepting these agreements.

Thing is, in the past the credit companies rarely pulled any crazy stunts to abuse their customers. If you payed your bills on time it used to be that your payments stayed at approximately what you would expect them to be month after month.

Well, that's not true anymore. Chase increased the minimum payment I expected to be paying right from the start and just informed me that they intend to more than double my minimum payment rate again for no good reason. My credit rating is about as high as it gets. I've always made my payments on time and until Paul and I got into a financial bind this past year I rarely if ever even made payments, I just paid off the balance in full every month.

But we did get in a bind and I did fund our business using the "low interest rate" loan they offered and now that that we've lost our Cafepress income and the economy is hitting all our other businesses hard, I can't pay this high a rate. What good is a low interest rate if the minimum monthly payment is sky high? I'm going to be expected to pay MORE per month than when I had 18% interest and I've already paid down on that account for more than a year.

I called Chase and told them I can't make double payments and wanted to speak to a loan officer to negotiate a payable rate. They said NO. I told them that this decision could be pushing us over the edge into bankruptcy and wouldn't they rather get something than nothing at all? I WAS making the payments they agreed upon before. They said I had no recourse and there was no one I could talk to about it.

What the hell?!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Om Mani Padme Hum Products on Zazzle

Paul put up a really nice design in our new Zazzle shop. Actually a few different designs all featuring popular mantras. This mantra—Om mani padme hum— means the lotus that becomes the jewel and it is used to express one's intention to become enlightened.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Macro Grass Trio on Zazzle

Be unique! Wear art on your shirt!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chloe on the Laundry

Chloe decided not long ago that Paul's pile of clean laundry was the best place in the house for a nap.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Eccentric Scarecrow

We don't really have to worry about scaring away crows around here. There are ravens but they seem to have plenty to eat. This is a "scare dog". It's meant to keep the rabbits away from the tomato plants.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

News from the Cafepress Alert the Press Campaign

I tried to send my press release to a well-known “news” agency called Reuters. I was under the impression that they were similar to the Associated Press, the main news distribution newswire for the nation. Well, maybe they are but a normal person can’t even send them a press release unless it goes through a PR news release service you have to pay for first! Since when did Public Relations become all the news fit to report on? Have you been paying attention to what half the “news” is on any given night on network TV? Mini-ads for businesses thinly disguised as “consumer” reports. We saw several last night. Rather than cover in depth any current event happening anywhere in the world Americans are being brainwashed into having attention for no more than 5 minute news blurbs and the other half of the standard local news report tends to be about what to buy.

I went to school to be a journalist years ago when my professors thought it was an honorable profession. Excuse the rant, but when Microsoft owns NBC and who knows who owns the others...how unbiased can our media be today anyway?

By the way, at least one television network (Fox) has a sweetheart deal with Cafepress for selling T-shirts and other junk related to popular TV shows like American Idol. American Idol...the TV show where an unknown talent hidden in the boondocks could have a chance to become Carrie Underwood and have the recording artist career of their dreams. I wonder how the producers of that show would feel if their program became associated through that arrangement as being in alignment with a company that just took the livelihood and art career of their dreams away from thousands, if not millions, of people? I tried to send them a press release today. Not too easy to do, I couldn't send anything directly to the producers of that show at all. I had to send it to Fox and even that was damn near impossible. To make myself feel better I sent it to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times instead. Paul just requested NPR and Democracy Now so I sent some to them as well.

Getting Closer to Being Paid What We're "Worth"

About a month ago Paul and I changed our rates as a result of the economy-- we raised them by 50%! But we also went back to offering a sliding scale that went down to half our previous rate at the bottom end. Well, today I realized that was a great idea.

Since there’s not a lot of people lining up for metaphysical spiritual counseling and healing services here in the Great Recession Mormon desert you would think the opposite would be true and a few weeks ago I would have thought so, too. Our first two takers on these new rates paid us at the bottom. Okay, not great, but at least we had a couple of sessions with some new people. Then a semi-regular client paid us at below our previous rate. She most likely would have paid our old rate for that session if the scale didn’t exist but we just took a deep breath and sucked it in. Then last week a brand new client who had never had a session with us paid our top rate and if she hesitated we don’t know because she paid that new higher rate in advance...so there really are people out there who still have jobs and are not worried so much about money! What do you know?!

Odd thing is I had to confront my working class fears about that right away. I was unusually nervous about that session and Paul gave me some listening time before we worked with her about it. I was concerned she might expect too much at this higher rate. Well, I have no idea what she was expecting but she got her money’s worth! It was a great session! I left it thinking she got a bargain.

None of these sessions came from the local area. We haven’t gotten one of those yet and half our business in Santa Cruz used to be conducted in person so, despite those new client calls, we’re still facing the challenges of how to get ourselves to a location where our work will be utilized and accepted. But I’m glad Paul and I are turning this corner together. Having a large number of clients who are wealthier than we’ve ever been (as well as being able to support people lower on the payscale) really wouldn’t be bad at all.

On a related note in regards to art: the Cafepress wake-up call has alerted Paul and me to other ways we’ve been selling ourselves short financially in our lives. When we set our mark-up rate we never set it as high as we’ve found out many other artists charge. We kept thinking in terms of what we would pay for a t-shirt, never realizing that I have never paid for an artist designed “limited edition” t-shirt in my life! I realize POD is not exactly the same as what limited edition is meant to be. Theoretically, if your work is well-known enough (Peanuts, Dilbert) you could sell hundreds of a single design in an afternoon! If you sell slogans and funny sayings related to hot current events you could do pretty well, too. But if you’re like most fine artists, it doesn’t matter how great your work is, the demand for works of art on t-shirts just isn’t very big! It’s a niche in a niche and, generally speaking, that niche values the idea of wearing something that’s unique. Special limited editions go for much higher prices!

When my mom, who was an artist, originally heard we were going to sell our work on t-shirts and other products she said “I hope you plan to charge enough! You should get $50 a shirt!” I didn’t believe her—I thought she was out of touch and discounted it. Yesterday a new friend of ours in Snowflake mentioned the same thing. A trendy designer selling cynical negative sayings with stick figure art is getting $40-50 per t-shirt in Flagstaff and she sees people wearing them there all the time!

I'm raising my prices on some of my fine art products online, not too much right now, halfway between what they have been and the prices we’re talking about here. And I’m planning to look into what artists get paid for licensing their work in the real world—standard upfront fees with royalties on sales after that. When you get paid upfront by a company who believes in your work enough to choose it as part of a limited line THEN it might be acceptable to get 10% in royalties after that, but not before then.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Press Release--Cafepress Puts 6.5 Million Business Partners Out On the Street

Here's one version of the press release I recently sent to the San Jose Mercury News, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Associated Press, CNN, CBS and I forgot who else (a few of the TV news stations make it almost impossible to send press releases via the internet). Feel free to use this as assistance in writing one of your own.

I used to work as a journalist so I do know the basics of writing a press release—making it current, including who, what, where, when and how, and making sure you send it out. Press releases, by the way, do not have to only be sent to the regular news media. Get creative--try sending them to Cafepress's so-called corporate partners (will they be getting the shaft from them sometime in the future?), their stockholders (if you can figure out who they are), and anyone else you can think who might be of assistance in the process of getting the word out—has anyone found a kick-ass class action lawsuit attorney yet?

Oh yeah, if you have a really good BRIEF story of your own about how what's happened at Cafepress has affected you or someone you love, include it and include contact information so a news reporter can follow up and interview you!


Internet Giant Cafepress Puts 6.5 Million Business Partners Out On the Street

Cafepress, the self-described Internet leader in print-on-demand marketing of user-designed t-shirts, greeting cards and a wide variety of gift items, just made a financial decision that has literally ripped the livelihoods, near livelihoods, and extra income from 6.5 million of their own designer shopkeepers overnight.

Cafepress describes itself as “a community of 6.5 million members, where folks from all walks of life gather online to create, sell, and buy T-Shirts and other "print-on-demand" products.” Until May 31st the basic premise was that anyone with a great design or slogan could upload their creative work to Cafepress, offer it on a wide number of products, add their own mark-up and share in the profit if the item sold. A single design can be uploaded for free but people who are serious about making a living from their work can also pay for a “Premium shop” and, at one time, could upload an unlimited number of designs. Shopkeepers are encouraged to spend time making their shops look nice, write detailed product descriptions and develop good Search Engine Optimization (an essential ingredient for successful internet marketing).

Some shopkeepers were highly successful at this. Many did well enough to quit their day jobs and a large number of people committed a large amount of time and effort with the belief that with enough diligence their work would pay off over time. Typical shopkeeper profits were in the range of 25-45%, many charged even more. Most of this income depended on the sale of their items in the Cafepress Marketplace.

At the beginning of May Cafepress announced that as of May 31st it would no longer allow shopkeepers to set their own prices in the Marketplace and the new commission would be 10%. Shopkeepers are reporting a 50-80% slashing of their income overnight.

The number of people severely impacted by this decision is hard to judge. There are participants on Cafepress’s own online forum , claiming to be the sole providers for their families, who were dependent on this income. One woman, the stay at home mom for three children, claims her $50,000/year income will be slashed to $5000-7000 and she doesn’t know what she will do. A disabled Vietnam vet wrote saying that without his Cafepress income he was in danger of losing his house. Many others have been sharing similar tales.

On the homepage of their website Cafepress claims to be “rewarding self-expressionists since 1999.” For many of those shopkeepers rewarding self-expressionism has died.

Online Resources for Researching this Story Further

Cafepress Announcement of Marketplace Changes... http://announcements.cafepress.com/?p=167

The Cafepress Press Center... http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/about/pr/

The Cafe Press Forum Section on this Marketplace Decision... http://forums.cafepress.com/eve/forums/a/frm/f/680104103
(PLEASE NOTE: This section of the forum will be closed on June 15th and will be taken down from the site July 1st.)

Cafepress Made Me Lose My Shirt... A blog for preserving the stories Cafepress shopkeepers are sharing about how this decision affects their businesses, from the Cafepress Forum... http://cafepressshopkeepers.blogspot.com/

Blog post about how Cafepress’s business model worked, why so many people were enticed, and what this means for those people now... http://healingcommunication.blogspot.com/2009/06/importance-of-good-seo.html

Blog post about the disproportionately high number of disabled people, work-at-home moms and family caregivers losing their income as a result of Cafepress... http://healingcommunication.blogspot.com/2009/06/wish-i-knew-enough-then-to-have-done.html


Contact Info:

Corporate Headquarters
1850 Gateway Drive, Suite 300
San Mateo, California 94404
Phone: 650-655-3000
Toll Free: 877-809-1659
Fax: 650-655-3002
Email: info@cafepress.com
URL: http://www.cafepress.com

Press & Analyst Contact
CafePress.com Public Relations
1850 Gateway Drive, Suite 300
San Mateo, California 94404
Phone: 650-655-3039
Email: pr@cafepress.com

Provider of this Press Release:

Sheryl Karas
Cafepress shopkeeper
Contact me via this website
Email: xxxxxxx
Telephone: xxxxxxx

A Few Sample Stories from the Cafepress Forum

(many more available on Cafepress Made Me Lose My Shirt... http://cafepressshopkeepers.blogspot.com/)

Freakshow Productions:
I work full time at my CP shop. Over 90% of my sales are generated thru the marketplace. I am raising three kids and working from home lets me be there for them and set my own hours. I too took a huge hit when they took away the volume bonus. I've been a "Top Shopkeeper" for over two years and last year made $50,000. Now me and family are screwed. According to this new plan I will make $5000-$7000 this year!! WTF CP??????????

This is my job. MY JOB. I quit to do this full time before the volume bonus was taken away, and I took a hit on that. I dealt with it, though, even though is was a loss of income. We cut back on everything and I felt lucky to have a job. But this .... I'm going to have to go back to working outside the home. I have MS, and I have a hard time working full time. I can work at home, because I can work around my good days and bad days. You can't do that in a regular job.I would go on disability, which I could qualify for. Except it's $800 a month. This is devastating to me, as well. I'm going to lose 70% of my income.

My story: I share my shop with my sister. For her, this is her entire income. She is agoraphobic and even stepping outside of her house is terrifying. When this came along, it was a huge financial relief for her (and our whole family) as she has been able to support herself. Since hearing this news, she's literally been throwing up, not knowing how she's going to pay for anti-anxiety medications and her monthly bills. My husband is a student, and my cafepress income has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom to my two and four year old children. Cafepress has been paying my mortgage as well as my healthcare premiums. Jobs in my field are very hard to come by at the moment, and my earnings on other PODs and affiliate ventures will take a long time to even come close to CP.

Thankfully I didn't quit my day job, but half of my income comes from my various CafePress shops. I, like many of the rest of you, have made significant life decisions based upon a budget that included my CP income. I bought a home that I stand to lose at this point, as the math just doesn't add up. I'm getting married this summer and have no idea how I'm going to tell my fiancé this evening that we very well may lose our home this year. I'm crushed.

Since December, I've lost 50% of my total income as a result of the economy. It was beyond my control. Today I've been informed that I'll be losing 80-90% of what was left thanks to Cafepress. Also beyond my control. At the moment, I have little to no income, and I'm left scrambling for alternatives that I never thought I'd need to pursue..... And the really tough part to all this is that... since we were not employed by CP, we do not qualify for unemployment, there is no severance package, AND all our hard work has -- one could argue -- been stolen by the company that worked for us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing Privately, Changing Directions

Paul and I are being forced to review a lot of our choices. We're calling it the Ganesha influence and are trying to have a lighthearted attitude about it. Ganesha, remover of obstacles, has been removing a lot of what we paid too much attention to in recent months. It was shocking at first but it also made us take a hard look at our lives. We barely make ends meet and we don't have the kind of expenses a lot of people have.

We put out an incredible array of creative work—you only see a small percentage here on our blogs. We also do incredible work with our spiritual counseling and healing clients. (We had a phone session with someone the other day that blew our minds.) But we suck at marketing and we spend 70-80% of our time and effort doing it!

Paul has been intent on researching how other artists make it in the world. A few of our recent blog posts mention that they usually have some kind of help. But that's not the whole story. First, they have to feel proud enough of their own efforts to make sure it is at least seen by the people who might be able to help them. Putting our creative efforts on Cafepress and now on Zazzle is not, generally speaking, the way this is done! But we've still been dithering about on that and putting our newest work up on Zazzle anyway. So what happens? Glitches galore. Hours of work disappear in an instant, in different ways, and it's not always their fault. It's not wrong for us to be doing this (everyone we know has been suggesting it) but it just isn't right enough.

We've also spent a lot of time researching how other spiritual counselors and healers make it. There are two diverging approaches. One is to go the entertainment psychic/ fortune teller route. "Madame Gazatska sees all, tells all, reunites lost lovers, tells you what to do." We're not that. The other route is far less taken. That's the path of becoming known as an "expert" by doing talks, teaching classes and marketing best-selling books. Most of those people don't work one-on-one with clients at all after awhile. Those who do charge extraordinarily high fees. We're still wondering about that.

A third route begins to form in my heart. Maybe it's not entirely up to us to figure this out. We try something, get turned away (as has happened repeatedly along our way), try another approach and get turned towards the light. You never actually know that path until you've embarked upon it.

Right now I'm finding some delight in looking at some of my photographic and design work and thinking this is really good, this needs to be big and seen in a book and/or a gallery wall. I've also been going through all the blog posts Paul and I have written on our journey together and find that the story of our lives includes themes that echo in our society as a whole. The inner and outer journey seem to coalesce as one and sparks my writer's imagination. I couldn't come up with some of the threads and plot twists I've been looking at as a fiction writer if I tried.

I'm far less inclined to put artwork up daily and sell my work on Etsy and use this blog strictly for marketing as I have been before. I'm focused on rebuilding, discovering better channels for what we do. We'll be checking in regularly with our blogs I'm sure. I write better when I think I have an audience interested in what I do. But it's not going to be the same thing. It can't be. It will be interesting to see what we do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cows Are Sweet

Now that the height of mating season seems to be past the bulls seem to have settled down and the cows are growing on us. Whole herds turn and stare at us when they see us walking on the road. That used to feel intimidating, and we're still cautious around the bulls, but it seems that we just weren't aware of what cows allowed to run wild consider to be their "personal space."

We used to turn tail and walk briskly in the opposite direction long before we got close enough to find that out. But Paul started to feel frustrated and a little concerned that we were possibly conditioning the animals to be more intimidating than they actually feel. He decided to walk a little closer to see how they would respond. I don't know how to judge distances but I'd guess that at about 30 feet or so away they think we're close enough. They pretty much always nudge their babies out of the road and walk away.

We're starting to enjoy watching the cow families now. They're very sweet with each other. The other day we watched a big bull lead the herd to the closest watering hole we know of while another large bull guarded the rear. We didn't know they were so protective of each other. Most cows we've seen before were contained safely behind a fence and didn't appear to be so concerned.

Molli White, the owner of the store where Paul and I have some of our things for sale, found a large stash of antique photos that had been thrown away. I fell in love with this one because I thought it was so fun that this woman is walking with her cow while wearing a fancy fur coat so she lent me a few of the photos to scan into my computer. I tried an experiment in Photoshop to add a little color and make the subject pop and I'm pretty pleased with how it worked out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wish I Knew Enough Then To Have Done What We Have to Do Now

Not long ago I read something in an Etsy newsletter about how their demographic of artist/sellers included an unusually disproportionate number of work-at-home moms, disabled people, and family caregivers. When looking for stories of how the changes at Cafepress were going to affect individual shopkeepers over there I discovered an unusually high number of people needing to be home for the same reasons.

Paul and I have been pondering this phenomenon and it occurred to us that what's happening at Cafepress is particularly heinous specifically because of who these people are that are being hurt. Why were these people sucked into the world of freelance internet business dealings in the first place? Because they had to find alternative sources of income that enabled them to take care of the personal challenges keeping them from more traditional forms of employment. Sure, there were entrepreneurial types who worked at this on the side while keeping their day jobs until they could cut loose, but the vast majority of people who wrote to tell their stories in the Cafepress forums had all kinds of extenuating circumstances in their lives that pushed them to be much more industrious than the average person uploading things to the site. That's why they were a success—they worked hard to make it that way.

In recent blog posts Paul and I have been putting out that we're looking for some kind of patron or larger ethical organization to help promote our work. We should probably be much more specific than that. We don't need a hand-out as much as a business manager, a literary agent, a healing retreat or conference center, a book publishing company, or any number of other things. We want to work and get paid for what we do, not just put our energy out all over the internet for free.

Nobody wants to do that! That's why what happened at Cafepress got to Paul and me—we were working at that, building something, annoying people who read our blogs with constant advertisements for it. We were even seeing significant enough results from adding things to our Cafepress shop more often that we were encouraged to do it more. That's what this intense hew and cry is about—we were investors in this business and the company we thought was our partner charged us money for the so-called benefits of building our shop on their site and then stole all the profits from that work for themselves.

Again, we hadn't succeeded yet. Most people report that it took at least 2 years of daily effort before they started to make a significant portion of their income from their Cafepress shop. It takes almost that long to figure out what works on a product and what doesn't. After a year and a half, we had only just started to crack the code ourselves. Art for products has to fit certain parameters. Art we like on our walls, wonderful landscape photography for example, doesn't sell well on a T-shirt. But Paul's photo of a Snowy Owl face did from time to time. It takes awhile to learn that. Just because you might wear a photo of a dead tree on your shirt doesn't mean the buying public will. (Although it might do really well being sold in a gallery as art for someone's wall.)

So it takes time to learn the ropes in a business. Some business tricks that an experienced literary agent might know how to pull off, the creative talent they promote may never get the experience to do. Those of us who love typing blog posts like this in our room for hours every day might be really well suited for writing books...but never gain the networking and confidence in selling that a more gregarious person does naturally. And why should we do that? I have been berating myself constantly for not learning how to sell Mama Love more consistently. I do well with it in specific circumstances. But my father made his living as a manufacturer's rep. Schmoozing with buyers, making "friends", doing the old-fashioned versions of social networking is what he did best. It's how it's done. It's not what I like to do.

We feel for our comrades at Etsy and Cafepress because it takes a lot of effort to learn how to make it in business and both of those communities are full of hard-working people like us who really put their heart into what they do. But when I think about what I learned from Cafepress, I'd tell people just starting out on any online selling venue to build your own websites first and link everything you do back to yourself. It won't matter if Etsy is "ethical" enough if they start to have financial difficulties and change things or find that the size of their marketplace grows at a rate that nobody's work stands out from the crowd anymore. They may have to cull the deck like Cafepress someday.

Most of my readers are Etsy people right now. Buy yourself an easy web design program like iWeb, do a trade with a great experienced web designer or, better yet, PAY them to help you get your start. Then use everything you learn on these other websites to do whatever makes sense to get your work in the public eye. And get help from old-fashioned business people, too—people who have made great livings for themselves and didn't settle for just muddling through.

Marketing, Blogging and Going Beyond

There's a recurring series of threads about blogging (the importance or unimportance of it, how to use it to promote your work, what to write about) that people frequently start on the Etsy forum I sometimes frequent. Etsy is the name of the art and handcraft site where I sell some of my work. People are very supportive of each other there and truly try to help each other succeed. I love it and sometimes pick up really great ideas.

But lately—especially when it comes to blogging as a marketing tool—I've been wondering if we're all a little bit like not-even-subsistence farmers trying to help other not-even-subsistence farmers figure out how to make a living. I, of course, know there are several fabulous exceptions to this rule but even they claim the keys to their success came from doing so many things one has to wonder when they have time to sleep, eat or even do the art they came on that site to sell! If they added up ALL the hours they spend promoting their work on Etsy and elsewhere in their lives would the money they make even come close to minimum wage?

Paul and I have had a lot of front porch talks about how to break out of the box of doing FAR too much for FAR too little. It wears on a person after awhile. We're both from working class/ lower middle class backgrounds. We both were brought up to think that people who succeed do it based on talent and on the sweat of their brow. (So tell me, how did George W. Bush get to be president again?)

Recently, a friend recommended a very interesting book called Outliers: The Story of Success which is about people who have been extraordinarily successful in their lives and how they got that way. The "be the top in your class and work really, really hard model" did not play out. What really seemed to make the most difference were external circumstances (social class, family background and connections, time or place they were born) that had absolutely nothing to do with what they did on their own at all. The author makes the point that, in every case he investigated, extraordinarily successful people have had help!

My partner Paul has been researching who are the most financially successful living artists in the world and what happened in their lives to put them in that position. He originally intended to find out what they did that made them so successful so he could follow their example. But what he discovered is that while being creative and doing their work was essential, it wasn't what gave these artists their initial break. External things—being in the right place at the right time, being discovered by a rich patron, having a family member who funded their first art shows, having a really great business partner, or at the very least a spouse or family able to support them and buy art supplies—was always the key.

Now we didn't know what to do with this information at first. We have caught a few breaks in terms of food and housing support ourselves. But we don't currently have a David Saatchi in our lives. He's the wealthy patron of the arts who discovered a strange conceptual artist named Damien Hirst, liked him, and decided to fund anything he wanted to do. Saatchi bought a number of Hirst's earlier works, promoted him in his gallery, and propelled him to such fame and notoriety that Hirst is now the most financially successful artist living today. (You can read an interesting, funny and informative blog post where Paul talks about this by clicking here.)

We've been spending a fair bit of time in the past few months and years developing a body of art, writing and photography. We've also spent time developing ourselves and doing some really great work as spiritual counselor / healers. (I'll include Mama Love perfume in that category.) Now we're looking for patrons, wealthy funders of creative spiritually-oriented projects, healing arts centers and the like who could both promote our work for our mutual benefits and be great organizations/individuals to deal with as well.

I originally intended this blog post to be about what to rename this blog. I include A LOT more about art and photography here than I ever expected to do and the title "Spiritual Counseling, Perfume, Healing and Me" doesn't include that. I could add the word "Art" —and probably will—and be done with it. But then I think it's too long and cumbersome already...you can see where this is leading.

But I'm not going to go into all the different head games I've been wasting my time on with this. The truth is that I don't think it matters! I know how many people read this blog. I supposedly have more than 113 "Followers" but my stats say only 25-50 people even view my blog by mistake on any given day. And most of them aren't even in the demographic that I want to find me.

Case in point, one of my recent posts with a photo of a pussy willow gets a lot of hits, comparatively speaking. The title of the blog is "Pussy Willows in the White Mountains" and the post mentions that the White Mountains are a great place to go when it's hot in the summertime. So guess what the last person or two who found this blog post typed into Google: "hot white pussy"!

I'm not really complaining. This isn't all about money for me anymore. I enjoy it, it gets me writing, and I recently discovered that I've got enough material here for a book or two. That's probably a very good thing. I've had three books published before, maybe the next ones I do will do us some good.

So what is my point? I think that if you don't have anyone fabulously rich enough to fund everything you want to do in your life, that being who you are, loving your work enough to put it out in the public eye, and trying an experiment or two might actually lead exactly to the position of being in the right place at the right time in the right mindset to take advantage of it. So, yeah, go ahead and keep writing blogs (if that's what you love to do), keep doing anything that you feel attracted to but don't think for a minute that you HAVE to do anything you hate just to get ahead. Because that approach might not lead to a happy, healthy, well-lived and well-loved life. And isn't that at least part of the reason why we chose to do writing, art or craft in the first place?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Importance of Good SEO--What We ALL Should Learn From Cafepress

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a buzzword anybody with a business on the Internet eventually gets to know. Search engines are what bring your potential customers to your site. Figuring out what search terms a person might use to find goods and services like your own is, therefore, essential to your business—you need to have those words somewhere on your web pages, preferably in the title or as close as possible to the top.

It's also essential to have as many links coming in to your website as possible because Google ranks a website higher based on the perceived "usefulness" of a site based on how popular a page appears to be elsewhere on the Internet. Finding as many people as possible to link to your website is, therefore, also a very popular way to increase SEO.

Finally, you need to have as many pages as possible on your website. The size of a website and how often it is updated is the key to your success because nothing ranks a website higher in a Google search than that.

Here's another financial trick. Make every page on your site an ad for something related to the search terms the websurfer just typed into their search engine and make sure they can buy that item by simply clicking a button.

The formula is simple but the truth is that building a successful business site like this is a lot of work.... Or is it?

For the average individual, working alone, using the business formula above could take years. But imagine what could happen if you could get millions of people (say, 6.5 million people) linking their web pages with yours and not only that, they create the pages on your site, pay you money for the opportunity, and write your SEO for you! There are products for sale on every page, you take the lion's share of the profit when something sells, and the people creating this great SEO buy a significant number of things from you, too! Now you have a multi-million dollar operation. Now you are Cafepress.

The way you enticed all these people to build your business for you is by telling them that you care about their financial well-being, too. The products you sell are based on their designs so they can have a cut of the profits as well. In fact, they can set the mark-up and if their work is good enough make a very good living themselves. People have succeeded with this business arrangement. There are $100,000/year sellers on your site and you make sure you trumpet how well they are doing in a newsletter to every new person who comes along. You also promote those who are still on their way up, making perhaps only $10,000 - 20,000 / year. These shopkeepers are excited, they're seeing increases over time. They can't quit their day jobs yet but that time is obviously and most convincingly in sight.

"We love artists!" you say. "Make a living from your creative work. These people are succeeding and if you work enough at promoting your work on our site you can have a successful career with your creative ideas and hard work, too." Make sure you have photographs of happy smiling Cafepress employees who have their own shops on the site. After all, you want all these people you're attracting to think that they're not just creating great new potential businesses for themselves, they'll be joining a fun creative community of committed artists just like them.

What a strategy! Don't you wish you could join in?

Well, don't.

The photos of happy smiling Cafepress employee shopkeepers are long gone. And the serious artists and slogan writers who put years of effort into building this site are crying in their beers. With one stroke Cafepress has ripped the livings and almost livings from millions of their so-called business partners across the nation by changing their business model to one where they no longer pay the mark-up these hard workers set. The commission is now 10%, supposedly a "standard" licensing fee in the business—except receiving a normal licensing fee doesn't require anything more than handing over a computer file with your artwork to the company granting it. The artist gets paid several hundred dollars upfront for the use of their designs, and doesn't do anything more. They don't write ad copy, SEO-filled product descriptions, image tags or promote the product themselves. They provide limited use of their artwork and nothing more.

The new Cafepress policy was announced one month ago and went into effect May 31st. Shopkeepers are reporting losses of 50-80%, livelihoods are being decimated. For some people, especially the disabled and housebound, lives are being ruined. And the truly sad part of this—the better you did on Cafepress the worse this is. The truly successful ones gave up their day jobs and devoted themselves to this company's and their own mutual success. Some have been at it for years. Now, even the $100,000 winners might make no more than $20,000 after taxes. That's barely a living anymore. For a family, in some areas, that's not even above the poverty level.

The idea that this story has not even hit the evening news is criminal. The idea that they might get away with it is worse. I don't want to spend my time on this—Paul and I were not successful enough on Cafepress. It shouldn't make a difference to us.

But I want to see this on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News or San Francisco Chronicle, the two newspapers closest to San Mateo, Cafepress's hometown. I want the Associated Press newswire to pick it up and 60 Minutes to cover it in their next broadcast. I want it featured on The Daily Show and for some hot shot lawyer with a first rate pedigree to grab hold of it for a class action lawsuit. I want them to win and I want to see how the Cafepress stockholders respond when they do. It's not revenge, it's justice. And it's making sure something is done to prevent Internet pirateers from being able to get away with this kind of thing ever again.

Sunset After The Rain

This is a view of the property we live on at sunset after a recent rain. We're getting a lot of rain these days compared to what they're used to this time of year. People say it seems like the monsoon season has come a month early!

We are actually quite thankful for that. It never seems to last for more than an hour or two and it is so nice and cool after it happens!

The cloud formations as a result of this weather pattern are also quite gorgeous. When Paul and I go for walks we used to find ourselves obsessed with the ground—finding prehistoric Native American pottery shards and pretty pieces of Petrified Wood was very exciting. Now we look at the sky.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spiritual Counselors Are Different

Some of our best clients think we're psychics. Well, let me tell you what great psychics we are. Want to know why we're not raking in the big bucks? Here's why:

The other day one of our longtime semi-regular clients had a session with us. We spent half the conversation explaining why she shouldn't latch too strongly onto psychic predictions even though that was the reason she called! It was a great session, we were very proud of it, and she was very thankful. But did we "predict the future"? Kind of. But we also said this might be true right now but when/if you make different choices this prediction might not be true next week, it might not be true an hour from now! We also talked about the importance sometimes of going through whatever is happening in one's life, not trying too hard to circumvent things by working at psychic predictions too much, going with your own heart even if it doesn't turn out well, etc., etc.

We spent a lot of time helping her think for herself, empowering her to make her own decisions at her own pace. Like I said, it was a great spiritual counseling session but it wasn't a typical psychic reading which is what she originally said she wanted.

She knows how we operate. We don't think she was a bit surprised. We spend an hour with our clients, sometimes more. A lot of psychic readings are done in 15-20 minutes, maybe 30. Psychic readers at fairs I've been to sometimes have lines of people waiting their turn for 15 minute readings a piece. We need a break and processing time after we finish one.

We also go through periods where we turn potential clients away one after the other. (Ironically, this happens most often when we're worried about money and about not having enough sessions!) We send people to their doctors, mental health clinics, social services. "You don't need a session with us!" we say. "You need to call..." and we send them off. Other psychics and even reputable-seeming healers don't operate like this. For one thing, they don't screen their own calls. They show up and work with whoever shows up. (We're learning to be less worried about this.) There are also people who are more than willing to take a client's money no matter what they show up with.

We had a call not long ago from a person who has a son with a hereditary condition all the men in her family have. They all outgrow it at puberty but she was doing everything she could to "heal" him of this condition beforehand. Numerous so-called healers had been willing to take her money—Reiki practitioners, cranial-sacral practitioners, herbalists, other ones, too. The guidance we received before returning her call is that he was fine, he was right on track for outgrowing it in a couple of years, and that if she wanted to use our guidance to provide emotional support for him during this time we could help. Well, that wasn't good enough—it almost never is. She wanted a "cure" for a condition that wasn't an illness! Lots of parents have called us for problems like that. Only one or two were willing to pay us for our work.

We're obviously needing to shift how we approach this. There are ethics and then there are crazy ethics. Plenty of practitioners refer people to other people and get paid for the time it takes to do that! We're starting to realize we have to be willing to say yes to that, too. But it's been a challenge for us. We don't actually want clients we're not qualified to help showing up at our door. But even for those people the help they need from us is exactly what they receive!
Spiritual Counseling and Healing with Sheryl and Paul.... if we turn you away in 15 minutes, thanks for paying us for that! We'll refund the fee for the rest of the call.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Cafepress Rips Customers Off Now Too!

I hate doing this. I don't want to turn my blog into a diatribe about Cafepress but this news story hasn't hit the news yet. Have you seen it on 60 Minutes? I haven't. If those of us close to this mess don't report on it how will people know?

The latest news is that Cafepress has fixed prices in the Marketplace, shopkeepers do not set the prices there anymore, only in their private Cafepress shops. In the past shopkeepers could choose between a set percentage of their choice or one of Cafepress's predetermined mark-ups of Low, Medium, High, and Premium. What is Cafepress choosing now that they set prices on their own? 10% higher than Premium.

That means customers are being charged more, much more in many cases, than they used to be charged and shopkeepers are receiving far less. Case in point, Paul pointed out to me that we were selling a long-sleeved T-shirt for $24 or $25 and got about $5-6 per sale. Now Cafepress is selling the same item for $28 and we get $2.80. The customer pays more, the designer gets paid less. aaargh!

Now it is completely possible that Cafepress will lower prices at times, too. They claim to be experimenting with their pricing now. Going through a period of seeing what the public will bear and how it will affect their bottom line. All companies do that, fair enough. But in the meantime, if there's something we do that you like please buy it directly from our shop and not the Marketplace. With 450 designs to transfer elsewhere we can't close that shop right away so take advantage of the lower prices we offer while you can. Thanks a lot!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Healing the Earth, Healing for Ourselves

Healing the Earth Heals Us All. What's good for the planet is good for us! Celebrate Earth Day, support the environment, Go Green! This is the newest product I've uploaded to our Zazzle shop. Paul has put up a couple, too.

We're proceeding cautiously with Zazzle, putting things up but brainstorming a lot about how to go way beyond the Print On Demand models we've found so far. Are the most successful artists, commercial or otherwise, using these services? Some like the creator of Dilbert and Peanuts are but they're already famous and have a built-in audience for their work. We think artists who really believe in the quality of what they have to offer go far beyond this. We're just beginners at marketing our art though so we haven't hit our mark with it yet.

We're both thinking we need people who know a lot more about marketing artist's work to represent us. We're looking for literary agents, too. There's satisfaction in doing some things for ourselves but the go-it-alone model... well, let's put it bluntly, it sucks! We're looking for ethical partnerships, win-win relationships, and people who can help us go further than we've been able to do on our own.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

New Cafepress Jingle

No, I won't go to CP any more, more, more
There's a big fat thief at the door, door, door
He'll grab you by the collar
And take away your dollars
No, I won't go to CP any more, more, more!

My mom taught me a variation of this jingle only it was about Macy's and it referred to a short-lived practice of accusing honest and loyal customers of shoplifting and having them arrested without adequate proof. They were getting away with it, too, until they targeted a rich suffragette who took them to court. The case was thrown out but the jingle persisted for 50 years or more!

Our days at Cafepress are nearing their end now and what happens? We suddenly got an unusually large sale from a customer who bought 9 T-shirts with the "Rock On" design shown on this blog. We imagine there's a gay softball team in Miami wearing them now. :-) But the sale went through the "Marketplace" and supposedly not our shop although Paul had just posted an ad featuring that design just a day or two before. That means we get 10% instead of the 25-40% we might have gotten before (I don't remember what the mark-up on those shirts were). It's so frustrating! We want to support Gay Rights with our work but at this rate we won't make enough money to even keep our shop open! (They charge us money for that in case you didn't know.)

When we told family members about the bait and switch Cafepress pulled on all the shopkeepers who put them in business, promoted them to all their friends and potential customers, and made them a success Paul's stepdad said it reminded him of Sears. Don't know if it's true but the story is that Sears found a successful small business making something they thought they could sell, test-marketed it in their stores and then bought a huge shipment. The small business owner had to tool up and invest a fair bit of money to fill that order but Sears never bought from them again. The small business owner went under and Sears swooped in and bought the company at a huge discount and went on to make the product themselves and keep ALL the profit. Sears started as a company that profited on other small companies' misfortune. Their first product line was a shipment of watches the original company overspent on. But this set of actions takes that original business model further. Again, this is hearsay, but according to the story Sears deliberately plotted to put that small company out of business and they and other companies like them have done that again and again.

Stories from the CP shopkeeper frontlines include people who were regularly making big sales with T-Shirt designs (mostly slogans) that they created. One day a shopkeeper who had a pagan themed shop noticed that her most popular slogan t-shirt had slipped off the charts. She then went to the Cafepress marketplace and discovered that someone else was selling a similar design with the same slogan at below Cafepress' BASE PRICE. The base price is what the shopkeepers add their mark-up to and the ONLY people who can sell below base price would be Cafepress or one of their affiliates themselves. What's going on?

Well, given that slogans are what sell best on T-shirts, and that it's really hard to claim copyright protection for a slogan unless you trademark it ahead of time, it looks like CP's new business model includes taking the inadvertant market research we all did for them and getting rid of the need to have shopkeeper designers and give commissions at all. That doesn't really affect us because we used CP as a way to provide our art and photography and have very very few slogan designs that can be ripped off. But I think that this new corporate model led to the decisions that are being made now. Do they have anything to lose by getting rid of their top money-making shops if those money-makers were mostly producing slogans with clip art that CP could do themselves? No, the only thing they "lose" is the necessity of paying a commission. Bye, bye top-selling shopkeepers they pay out a fortune to, they've got your ideas now and ideas aren't copryrightable! Some of those shopkeepers were making $100,000 a year and more. That's all Cafepress profit now.

What bothers me more than anything is that we were fooled by them. Conned, swindled and delayed from making choices that could have been a lot better for us over time. And so were millions of people like us. One of those people contacted me privately to try to get me to stop mentioning Cafepress in my blog or by sending press releases to the national news media. "Bad publicity is good publicity" they said and that is a popular notion. But it CAN work another way.
Think: AIG. Big news about business failures based on a lack of ethics can ruin a company.

But I also know that's only temporary. AIG is already figuring out how to hide their name in business transactions. Paul's mom was talked into an insurance policy from her bank only to find out it was with AIG. She canceled it as soon as she found out but how many people haven't discovered the discrepancy? Macy's recovered from the jingle campaign I mentioned above. And despite multiple other unethical activities reported about Sears (credit card reaffirmation fraud, auto repair fraud) they continue on in business as well. And I haven't the guts to even get started about Walmart here ! (Here's a link if you want to.)

What's going on in American business is horrifying. It isn't about Cafepress for me and Paul anymore... but we don't know anymore than anyone else what to do besides tell people about it for now.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Prickly Pears in Bloom

The Prickly Pear cactus burst into bloom this week. The plants are only about 4-5 inches tall-- quite small compared to the Prickly Pears in Santa Cruz -- but that makes the flowers that much more spectacular. We discovered that we had better take pictures real quick though. The rabbits think the flowers are delicious!

Interesting note about these flowers: I've been feeling quite stressed lately, wondering if we should listen to parents about finding paid work doing something we'd hate, being worried about the writing I've been doing and whether I should be concerned about moderating what I say to avoid upsetting the local population, wanting to know what's going to happen and play manifestation games to affect things because I'm afraid of just asking and receiving what I say I want. I was wishing I could change my thought patterns and a vision of this plant (as I photographed it above) came to mind.

I usually follow up on clues like that and discovered that Prickly Pear flower essence, as described by Desert Alchemy, is for surrendering to the flow of life's events and remaining commited to what you know is right. Patterns of imbalance that indicate when Prickly Pear might be appropriate is exactly the set of concerns I described above.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Coffee Milk

I've been experimenting with a favorite southern New England drink these days--coffee milk! Most people outside of Rhode Island and Massachusetts have never even heard of this drink. I've never seen it sold anywhere else.

Coffee milk is like chocolate milk only flavored with coffee syrup instead. I think it's delicious so I've been experimenting with making it myself. Back in the days when Paul made his own espresso we made some really great drinks but he makes cowboy coffee now so I gave up on it for awhile. The other day I wanted the coffee taste without the heat or intense buzz so I mixed 1/3 of a cup of Paul's coffee with a teaspoon of honey and filled the rest of my mug with milk. Yummy!

The next day I tried maple syrup instead of honey--even better! I'm making up other variations in my head to try later-- adding a drop or two of orange essential oil or cinnamon, maybe almond flavoring or hazelnut. I think the possibilities are endless.

If you happen to like Frappaccinos you'll probably want to add more sweetener and full fat milk or cream. I happen to like a lighter, less sweet drink so I use 2%.

You could also make some pretty great milkshakes if you put the ingredients in a blender with vanilla ice cream instead of milk. Give it a try!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dandelion Flower Essence

Illustration by Sheryl Karas © 2008

Lillyshaystyle is running a blog feature on dandelions this week and I said I'd participate although I bet when she sees this illustration she'll be a bit surprised--not exactly the sweet dandelion image she might have been expecting!

I'd like to share with you the emotional/spiritual healing uses of dandelion and the first thing that comes to mind is that, in the most extreme version of a "Dandelion" state of being, the person who needs Dandelion healing most is the one who might be inclined to work way too intensely to pull them up! Hard-working, over-striving, irritable and overly stressed, Dandelion people need to learn to let go like the puff ball the Dandelion flower becomes later in its life cycle.

The dandelion (from the French dent de lion or tooth of the lion) is a tough tenacious plant that is known for its ability to survive almost anything and for its ability to spread itself prolifically far and wide. The bright yellow flowers with radiating petals look like little suns, full of energy and power. They grow singly on an upright stem.

Like the plant, people who need dandelion tend to be full of energy and power. They have great enthusiasm for whatever they want to do and throw themselves full-on into a great many activities (spreading themselves far and wide). They have a great capacity to stand up for themselves and don't need to depend too much on other people.

Unfortunately, they are so overdriven and overscheduled that they have little or no quiet reflection time to deal with emotional and physical needs which then build up and create great tension. Herbal remedies made from dandelion work directly to relax and cleanse the liver which is where overdriven people tend to store their anger, frustration and grief. Dandelion flower essence works similarly on the emotional and spiritual level to help these individuals learn to relax and use their energy in an easy effortless way. It is especially recommended for those who have tight sore muscles as a result of mental and emotional tension.

I don't currently make a Dandelion formula myself
but I can recommend a great one! It's called Dandelion Dynamo and you can use it like a massage oil to rub on aching shoulders. It works amazingly well!

No Limits on Loving

No Limits on Loving shirt
No Limits on Loving by paulnsheryl

Our latest design to be added to our Zazzle shop.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Healing Communication News - June

Paul and I have our latest newsletter for our joint spiritual counseling and healing practice and Mama Love Perfume online. Check it out!

The Livestock is Terrorized by Us?

Today we went for our daily walk and came across a family of cows enjoying a rest together lying in the grass near a stand of Juniper trees. As we came closer they all jumped up, obviously distressed. They all stared in our direction, peering out from behind the trees, and the bulls took up what had only recently looked like a menacing stance. This time, though, we realized they were afraid of us!

We respectfully turned our gaze, not wanting to stare back and frighten them more, while they kept a watchful eye until we were an acceptable distance down the road.


Next we came upon the fenced-in ranch we hate walking by because of the 5 menacing guard dogs that always bark at us through the fence. Both Paul and I were chased and bitten by dogs that had gotten free when we were children. We both have a lot of concern about what we would do if these animals got loose.

Today I greeted the dogs like they were old friends: "Hello sweeties!" I said in my best happy to see you little puppy voice. "Hi dogs! How are you? What good dogs you are! You do such a great job guarding your house. Good doggies!" There were only three today. Two of them stopped barking immediately and started wagging their tails while the third looked confused. We kept up the delighted to see them banter as we walked by and they all relaxed and settled down.