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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Published!

My small art journal "Book of Night" was included in the "Mini-Book Challenge" feature in the January/February 2011 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, the premier magazine of collage and mixed media arts.
What an excellent Christmas present!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day - My Annual Ritual

A long time ago in a place I used to call my home, I spent most of my time with other wonkish English major/writer types. We liked drinking beer, arguing about movies, listening to 80s New Wave music and reading or reciting poetry to the delight or horror of our assembled company.

I remember well the time my friend Alan Natali recited this one. It was December 13, a cold and dark day at the end of a particularly long semester. He gave it to me as a Christmas gift, a present to carry with me as I made my way away from that place and those people whom I still hold so dear.

Over the years, I've shared it with new friends. Tortured them with it, I should say, reading it aloud to anyone who would listen on December 13, the feast of Saint Lucy.

Now, through the wonders of the InterTubez, I can share it with you.

Please, forgive the occasional trip of the tongue; I wasn't nearly drunk enough when I recorded the voiceover. The images are mostly mine, but some I've stolen heartlessly from the Web. And you should know, if you don't already, that Lucy's name, ironically enough, means "light" and she is one of the so-called "plate saints" who met with a particularly grisly martyrdom. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The cure for December

The darkness at this time of year oppresses me. In Seattle, we lose more than a minute of daylight every day as we approach the Winter solstice. I needed something to help me through it, something to hope for. We booked a trip back to Kauai in January. I am relieved.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Amusing Coincidence

I use Gmail for nearly all my email needs, so I don't really have much of a spam problem. I check the spam folder from time to time to make sure nothing good got caught in Gmail's mighty filters, and delete all with a single stroke. Some days, spam and email subscriptions collide to amuse me, as they did this morning when I found this in my spam folder:
And this in the folder that contains my newsletters from the Daily OM:
 I won't even bother apologizing for giggling like a twelve-year-old.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Counting Pennies -- A gem from the past

Naked trees at Shilshole Bay
Back in 1999, I wrote this letter to my friend Jason, in part to encourage him to come to Seattle for a visit over the holidays. With his permission, I shared the letter with the nice folks who run rivertrout.com, a strange little website devoted to epistolary literature. Because their site is built in a strange way, I've never been able to link directly to the piece, so I've decided to republish it here because I like it and because its message holds true not just for Jason, but also for so many friends and loved ones near and far.

Seattle, WA
September 15, 1999

Dearest Jason,

Autumn lurks around the corners of the Olympics and the Cascades, creeping in disguised as marine fog in the night, and lying thick about the land well through the day.

Fall comes so slowly here, not like in Pennsylvania, where one hard frost paints the hills all gold and crimson in a day or two. It takes its time both coming and going, as if it likes the Northwest best of all, so it arrives early, hands summer its hat, and sticks around to make sure winter is settled in before it goes away again.

The change in weather prompted me to stay home yesterday, as if in reverence to the upcoming season. I took the chance to clean the kitchen, and nearly broke my wrist lifting the Mason jar I keep on the counter for spare change.

The weight of it surprised me, and it made me laugh when I imagined what a fortune we would have found it in the old days.

It is a strange new feeling having some money: My new job is more rewarding financially than I've even had a chance to comprehend. It's odd to know for the first time in my life that I'm not perched on the brink of economic disaster, not rolling coin to make the rent, the way we used to do back home.

I took the jar to the grocery store and dropped the contents into one of those machines that counts your coin and spits out a receipt you can take to the cashier for paper money. According to the machine, I had $63.48 in change. I made it a gift to charity.

The process got me thinking about days even older than ours, days when I spent so much time with my grandfather learning most of the stuff that gets me through my life. I remembered rainy afternoons when he would sense my boredom a moment before it arrived and reached up onto the high shelf in the living room for the metal canister where he kept the pennies.

It was always full, I swear.

In childhood, I thought my grandfather was among the richest men in the world because he always had that can full of pennies. He would spread them out in the middle of his desk, and we would go to work counting them up, two by two: my index and middle fingers trapping a penny each, then gliding them to the edge of the desk and dropping them in my catching hand.

We would count them thus, five strokes to a dime and fifty to a dollar, stack them up in rows, ten high and five deep, and Pap would shimmy them into those dull red paper wrappers, fold up the ends, and stack the finished product like firewood on the corner of the desk.

That was the work of it, what we did with the preponderance of 1955 to 1965 Lincoln heads, but the fun was in the ones we didn't roll. He taught me to look for the ones with wheat on their backs, for Canadian ones with the face of the young queen or, better still, her father. He told me legends about ones that had an Indian's head on them, but I never found one of those.

Still, those unconventional pennies were precious to me, and the thrill of finding them was not at all unlike the wonder I figured I'd experience if I found a dinosaur bone in my back yard.

When we were finished counting, I'd have a little pile, at most a dime's worth of minted excitement. I'd scoop them into my hand and close my fingers around them tightly until I gotten them back to my room, where I kept the velvet box.

Pap had given me that, too: a long, slender jewelry box covered in dark blue velvet, hinged with shiny brass, and lined with silk the color of cream. I'd pry open the lid, and slip the pennies inside to join the others I'd collected over time.

That box got pretty heavy over the years, and by the time I was past counting pennies for entertainment, I couldn't open the lid without some spilling out. It shouldn't surprise you to know that I still have that box.

I'm not counting pennies any more, but I do still count my oddities as treasures.

Consider yourself counted.

With love,

L.A.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's NaNo Time Again

A few weeks ago, I was lost without a single good idea swimming in my head and looking forward to a blissfully lazy November with no word metrics, no plotting, no character-birthing. I was simply going to sit in my comfy chair reading books that other people had written and getting caught up on my knitting.

Then I started thinking about Steampunk Angels. And I couldn't think of anything else.

I was sunk.

If you want to know more, you'll just have to wait for the finished book, but if you'd like to show your support for my writing habit and help the good folks at NaNoWriMo continue to sponsor free creative writing programs for kids and adults, please consider making a donation on my fundraising page.

That's really about all I have time to write. I have a little wordcount widget over there to the right that says I'm on track, but I'd like to keep my wordcount high at the beginning of the month just in case I slack off a bit over Thanksgiving.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What I remember

I remember being not awake enough to fully grasp what I was seeing, what Matt Lauer was talking about on the Today Show as I poured my first cup of coffee.

I remember sinking onto the couch as the reality sunk in.

I remember worrying about friends in New York City on business and feeling utterly despondent over the unfathomable loss.

I remember the next few days under a pristine blue sky, unmarred by contrails.

I remember the strange silence under that sky.

I remember a few days after, walking to the convenience store/deli on the corner not far from work and telling the Middle Eastern owner and his wife how sorry I was that people had come into their business and called them horrible names.

I remember watching as liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, folks of all stripe and order, came together as Americans. We reached out to each other in charity and fellowship. We gave what we had to give, and sometimes a little more. We helped out. We practiced random acts of kindness. We set aside, for the most part, our petty differences.

Yeah, I remember that.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My grandmother's girl

Back when my father was alive, he and I would frequently get into discussions in which I was obviously the person playing the role of the responsible adult. His favorite insult to throw at me at such times was, "You sound just like my mother."
 Though I never said it aloud, I often thought, "Thank you. That's the nicest thing you could possibly have said."
True, my grandmother was not an easy woman to live with. Strong willed, highly opinionated, powerfully intelligent and prone to meddling, she was ahead her time by at least a half century. Educated, professional, enlightened well beyond the immigrant middle class constraints of her birth and upbringing, she lived a life of her own choosing, even when her choices -- like divorcing the father of her young son at a time when decent women did no such thing or getting herself a college education and later marrying a man 13 years her junior -- made her the talk of our little town.
I adored her and I grieve the loss of her still after nearly 40 years.
There is no denying that I am hers. Whenever I look at my hands, I wonder why they cannot simply pick up knitting needles and manifest sweaters, scarves, afghans, and all manner of wonders the ways hers did. Some days, I catch my reflection in the mirror or a storefront, and my breath catches in my throat. I look more like her every day. Today, a little more than usual, I think:
My grandmother's girl
This is my self portrait for today. I'm doing one a day this year to document myself at 50. I think she would have liked this one. My hair is out of my eyes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unintentional Domesticity

So, my husband, Damon, played his guitar for a few hours today at the Magnoloia Farmer's Market. I went along in my traditional role of Swiss Army Wife, prepared to help carry his gear, sell a few CDs, and smile at the nice folks who stop for a few minutes to listen while he plays,

After he got set up and started playing, I strolled the booths, discovering local honey, some beautiful beets and baby carrots, kale, and leeks. I also picked up 6 pints of strawberries and two very sexy tomatoes. I was all set to come home, take a nap, and whip up something tasty for dinner.

Damon played well. I sold a couple of CDs, and the transient audience made mostly of people stopping to sit while they ate their really yummy looking veggie & cheese quesadillas was generous with their tips.We also swapped a CD for some delicious garlic-dill Cheddar curd from Appel Farms.

After he finished playing, one of the sweet ladies who works at the market came by and dropped a bag of carrots and chard on the table. She told Damon to hang out a bit, then returned to our table three more times, each time carrying more fresh, lovely (mostly organic) produce: more baby carrots, arugula, sorrel, asparagus, green onions and leeks. It seems that far from being a gig for sales & tips, the market pays its performers in produce.

When we got home, I went to work in the kitchen, cleaning the beets and carrots first, tossing them in olive oil, salt & pepper, and popping them into a hot oven to roast while I cleaned and bagged the greens. When the beets and carrots came out of the oven, I turned it down to 175 degrees and popped a couple of canning jars in to sterilize. Then I went to work on two pints of the strawberries (I gave two pints to our neighbors when we got home), cleaning and cutting them into pieces just the right size to dissolve slowly into jam.

The jam is done and cooling. While I was making it, I kept thinking about baking biscuits or scones or making Monte Cristo sandwiches. Sounds like I may know what we're having for breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I also want to incorporate some of the leeks and the asparagus into a nice risotto.

I still have two pints of naked strawberries waiting to be eaten or turned into a pie.

It's almost time for dinner. I think we'll eat the carrots and beets with salmon or tuna. 

I never did get that nap.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Memento Mori

Some events refuse to fade from our consciousness. They linger in our memories, insinuate themselves into our value systems, shape the way we think about basic concepts such as home, love, innocence, and security. Moments that are either too wonderful or too awful to forget stay with us, to comfort or confound us as their context demands.

One such event from my youth was the murder of a school mate more than 30 years ago. She was a nice girl who dated a not-so-nice boy. She had a sweet smile and a soft voice. I will remember her forever with feathered bangs and the striped shirt that she wore in her 1977 school picture. The picture that her parents and police provided to the media during the brief search that ended with the chilling news that her body had been found.

It is that moment, six days after she went missing when we learned that she was dead, that haunts me. Death had come knocking before in the guise of old age, accident, even suicide. It wasn't death that left its mark, but something darker, stranger, far more terrifying. A girl who went to my school, walked the same hallways that I walked, sat in the same molded plastic desks, ate lunch in the same cafeteria, had been murdered. Brutalized, raped, and murdered. Until then, I had no idea that such things could really happen outside the pages of books or the dark, blighted alleys of the inner city.

Mary Irene Gency's murder changed the way we all thought about our town, our friends, the people down the street. Fear came to stay after that. I don't know if I ever felt really safe again. Especially since no one was ever charged, tried, or convicted of the crime.

But that may change. It seems that forensic evidence has provided police with a break in the case after 33 years. The men accused of committing this heinous crime, it turns out, are the two boys suspected at the time: her boyfriend, who lived down the street from me, and his best friend, who had dated one of my friends.

Time will tell whether they actually committed the crime. Justice may or may not be done. Regardless of what happens, one thing will never change: Mary died a horrible death, she was robbed of her innocence her life and whatever future she may have dreamed.

The news comes in part as a glimmer of hope that her family may find some peace and closure and in part as a new chilling reminder to embrace every minute as if were your last.

Mary, I do hope you're able to rest in peace.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Turning 50

I'm turning 50 tomorrow. If you know me, you know how unlike me that is.

Anyway, to celebrate this milestone, I've decided to rededicate myself to taking a year's worth of self portraits. Here's the opening bonus shot of me being 49 for the last time.
49 for the last time

Friday, April 23, 2010

You really can go home again if you want to badly enough

One of the nice things about moving away from the place where you grew up is getting a chance, every now and then, to travel back there for a visit. For a number of reasons, a week spent with family and old friends can do a world of good for your spirit.
First, unless you are some kind of sociopath or just one of the world's biggest assholes, everyone "back home" is happy to see you. You get warm smiles, rib-cracking hugs, and plenty of "Gee, it's great to see you," moments everywhere you go. If you're lucky, you get to spend some time with people you have known and loved --and who have known and loved you-- catching up on the good stuff in your lives. Having just had lunch yesterday with one such friend (who is turning 40 today, and I wish him well), I can confirm that Facebook is a pale substitute for face time with old friends. Nothing quite compares to lift you experience when you see your best self reflected in the teary eyes of a sibling or when an old friend reminds you that you that despite the years, you really haven't changed a bit, not where it counts, anyway. Sadly, most of us aren't as forthcoming with heartfelt appreciation and affirmation of the folks we see day-in and day-out. Maybe we should try that out more often.
The second big benefit to a hometown visit is getting to eat food you just can't get in the place you live now. Even in the day of Internet commerce and same-day shipping, you can't really experience the joy of a freshly baked pizza or Italian hoagie in Seattle, say, or Omaha. And no matter how good the chicken parmigiana is at your local Italian joint, it will never compare to the landmark feast of saucy, cheesy goodness served up by your family's "celebration" restaurant. I've already managed to savor those goodies, and I still have a few more "must-haves" on my list before we leave town. There will be plenty of time for restraint and salad next week; today is about proper fish sandwiches and pierogies.
Another fun bit is roaming the streets and back roads of your childhood stomping grounds, seeing what has changed and, more likely in certain parts of the world, what has not. Here on "Planet Yinz," as my old pal Craig Whyel calls it, most of the change is brought about by Mother Nature in the way of encroaching vines and rust. But there's a beauty in this decay, like the deep furrows of a life well-lived on an old Eastern European woman's face or the intricate tatters of sunlight through ancient cotton lace curtains. Other changes, the ebb and flow of business, industry, commerce, offer alternating stings from both boarded storefronts and sprawling shopping centers.It's always hard to tell whether the place is declining or recovering, but it is most certainly still here.
Today we'll do some more wandering, some more eating, and spend the evening laughing and drinking and talking with some of the best people I have ever known. At the end of the night, my heart will swell with the desire to take them all back home with me when I go.
Back home.
To Seattle.
Not here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating Women in Technology

When I started thinking about subjects for Ada Lovelace Day this year, I ran through a list of obvious choices, luminaries and inventors, brilliant scientists and savvy entrepreneurs.
Then I stopped in my tracks and realized I had the perfect subject for an entry celebrating women in technology: me.
No, I haven't shattered any long-held assumptions or shifted anybody's paradigm, but I have spent the better part of the last thirteen years working at some of the most innovative companies in the world. One could argue that I had a hand in developing the original social networking site and have, indeed, lent my 17-year-old image to one of the most successful online advertising campaigns of all time.
More importantly, though, I have spent the last dozen years or so learning new things every day and passing that knowledge on to others, men and women, so that they can better understand and leverage the power of information and technology.
That's about it, really. So I can only leave you with a reprise of last year's entry about the amazing Janet Galore and a poem I wrote a few years ago that refers to Ada Lovelace, whom I greatly admire.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Chalice

Chalice Chalice by Robin McKinley


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I may be something of a freak among Robin McKinley's readers, but I actually loved both Chalice and Sunshine. The books both feature a young, innately talented heroine coming into awareness of her true power and purpose. Though each book explores that premise quite differently, each delivers a satisfying story with well-written characters, nicely paced plots, and enough world-building to keep things truly interesting.

In Chalice, I particularly enjoyed McKinley's lush and evocative exploration of bees and beekeeping, her examinations of the medicinal and magical properties of honey.

Chalice is an altogether enjoyable read.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book Review: Sunshine

Sunshine Sunshine by Robin McKinley


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this book up for a number of reasons: its compelling cover, good things I had heard about Robin McKinley's writing, a desire to read some vampire fiction that had a little more substance than, well, most of the stuff in that genre.I'm happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised.The plot was a little slow and honestly didn't come to a truly satisfying resolution, but the book worked for me. The characters are both interesting and original.In fact, I wouldn't mind reading more about them.

View all my reviews >>

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger



I can't begin to describe how disappointing I found this book. After tons of hype and many friends insisting that I read it. Insisting that I would love it. I really had to take a few steps back and evaluate whether those friends know me very well at all. I found the premise dull, the characters annoying, and the prose, quite frankly, as dull as a pair of grade-school scissors.
Blah.
Meh.
And a whole lot of other monosyllables that I can think of that are synonymous with "crap."

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

formspring.me

Ask me anything http://formspring.me/smithla8

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cats and their people

While the news has bled misery and tumult on a grand scale, the much more intimate woes afflicting a small cat and her beloved people have turned me introspective and a bit weepy this week.

They've also got me thinking about cats and their people.

On Wednesday, author Neil Gaiman tweeted that his blind cat, Zoe, was ill and at the vet's for an x-ray and endoscopy. By Thursday, the bad news returned that Zoe had an inoperable tumor.
Gaiman blogged about Zoe, as did photographer Kyle Cassady whose shots of Zoe reveal not only how beautiful she is, but what a sweet and gentle loving nature she has. Other members of Gaiman's extended family of artists, musicians, and magic-makers shared their memories of the cat in blogs and tweets. The much larger realm of Gaiman fans and followers (of which I am obviously one), expressed their condolences and spilled their grief as I am doing now.

"I'm wondering what it is about this small blind cat that inspires such behaviour," Gaiman writes. "I think it may be the love. Hers, once given, was yours, unconditionally and utterly."

I think there may be something to it, that notion about unconditional love in certain cats that transcend the role of pet or companion animal to become, well and truly, our familiars. As someone who has been lucky enough to have kept a few such cats (for keeping them is what we do; we never own them or master them), I marvel that some people never come to know such a cat at all. And I have been, at least once, lucky enough to have had the same cat (well, sort of the same cat) come to me twice.

In the late 1980s when I was teaching at a public university in Pennsylvania, I accepted a couple of cats from a student of mine whose landlord was averse to pets. One of the cats was a small, slender tortoise shell who bore much greater resemblance to a space alien than to a cat. She was eager and energetic and full of surprise. We called her Babette.

Her companion cat was a round and robust black shorthair with emerald eyes and the demeanor of a foreign potentate, the benevolent demi-goddess of some imagined island people who lived on milk and honey and prayed by imitating the sound of her low, gentle purr. She came to me with the unlikely name of Pumpkin, and almost immediatley communicated to me in that way cats do that her "deep and inscrutable singular Name" was Joss. Much better.

I wasn't lucky enough to keep Joss for very long, but the time I had with her was remarkable. She was the sort of cat you could have a conversation with, confess your troubles to, ask for advice. And she delivered. I swear, as will my then roommate, Jeff, that the cat could stare sense into us when we were spinning out of control. She had command. She had presence. She had gravitas.

Since she came to me as an adult, I had no way of knowing how long she would be in our lives. Sadly, it was only a couple of years before she quietly breathed her last on a soft, rag rug and we laid her to rest in the back yard behind the garage where cat bones have rested for many, many years.

I grieved her something awful, even with a handful of other cats around, including Babette, to nuzzle my chin and warm my lap.

Some 20 years later, moved to Seattle, I lost yet another great cat (Salieri, about whom much can be written). His companion cat, Stinky (who lives with me still, slowed a bit now at 19 years), keened the loss so terribly that I felt compelled to find him a new companion with all due haste.

I left work a bit early and stopped by the PAWS cat adoption center to see if they had a kitten who might make a good friend for Stinky. I checked out the dozen or so kittens and young adult cats they had on hand, but none of them seemed to want to come home with me. I was about to give up when I noticed a plump, lush black shorthair lounging on the chair behind the reception desk, acting for all the world like she was waiting for her administrative assistant to bring her a cup of coffee.

I asked Dawn, the PAWS adoption services lady, if I could walk behind the counter and say hello.

"Sure," she said. "She's a real sweetie. I'd actually be sad to see her go."

I walked around the desk and kneeled down to look into her dazzling emerald eyes. She licked my nose.

"I'll start the paperwork," Dawn said.

So, it wasn't just that she so readily and immediately accepted me as a bigger cat, a someone-to-be-groomed, that made it impossible for me to leave PAWS without her that day. It was a sense that we had already known each other for a good long time. She was truly my familiar.

And so Toots (whose name at the time was Hera) came home with me that day. She and Stinky took a whole 48 hours to get used to each other. By the end of week, they were curled up on eachother making what looked like a two-headed black cat. Here is photographic evidence of that phenomenon.
















For nearly 8 years, Toots sat in my lap, slept on my head, and kept me most excellent company.

When Jeff met her, he, too, felt that sense of familiarity. We both felt lucky simply to have such a cat in our lives again.

When I started dating Damon, Toots let me know what she thought of him by climbing up behind him on the couch and licking his head. To his credit, he let her do it. I knew in that instant that I would surely love him for a good long time.

Sadly, Toots was diagnosed with kidney disease early in 2004. We fed her a special diet, hydrated her subcutaneously, and loved her as much as we possibly could for the next three years. On April 21, 2007, she breathed her last. I still mist up when I think about her.

Some cats are, indeed, like that.

Right now, Gaiman's blind cat Zoe is at the center of a widening circle of people all focused on the wonder of her love.

Right now, I'm grateful for every day that I wake up with Stinky on my head or behind my knees.

Right now, my friend Claire is sad and grateful for her cat, Spiff, who is nearing the end of his days but continues to climb onto her lap to be loved.

These cats are more than pets, more than friends, even. They get to us, they touch our softest, most human centers and remind us that love can be unconditional and healing and strong. And even though we don't get to share that love with them in this world forever, we never lose it really. We just hang on to it and pass it along.

These cats teach us that love can stay.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In other news: World Endures Longest January on Record

So, what started as a snarky little status update on Twitter/Facebook is swiftly becoming the battle cry that I hope will propel me through the remaining week of January 2010.
The month started off well enough. My love and I were on Kauai, enjoying balmy weather and white sand beaches. He proposed. I accepted. We vowed to bring the "aloha" back home with us.
And, to our credit, we have, despite the world's efforts to beat it out of us with every kind of bad news and sad news you can imagine.
I won't ramble on about the details. You can read the news for yourself and probably just take a quick informal poll of your family, friends, and followers to discover that they, too, have been having a terrifically crappy January.
Can there really still be 9 days left?