December 4, 2014

Poem: Fallen Star

created from photos by Andrew J. Cosgriff, David DeHetre, and ewkste 

She is a fallen star,
Forced from the heavens,
The only home
She'd ever known.
I did not see where she fell.

I have searched
Cold, green mountain hollows
And bleak fields of asphalt.
I've inquired
At fortresses of marble,
Concrete, and paper.
No one, not one, has seen
My bright little star.

I will keep searching.
I cannot give up;
Hope burns
Like a star in my chest.
Someday I will find her.
No star can fall
Without a trace,
A sign,
A trail
Of its passing.
Wherever it lands,
A fallen star must shine:
And undeniable.

November 26, 2014

Collage: Fog Diptych

Recipe for my monthly desktop picture collage:
- choose a word or phrase
- search on that word in Flickr
- select a few of the resulting images
- mix & mash in Photoshop

This month's word is "fog."

While working on the first collage, I had an idea for a variation on it and decided to make this a diptych, or set of two images. Since I use two monitors both at home and at work, now I have a separate background image for each screen.

The photos I used for these collages were taken by Patrick Strandberg, Ingrid Taylar, and Phil McIver.

What really excites me about these pieces is that I was able to use a databending technique that I've never managed to get to work before. I saved one photo in RAW format, opened it in Audacity, ran an echo filter over the middle of the image data, then exported the file back out. Here's the result:

I love the shapes that resulted, the circles and crossed diagonal lines. You can clearly see where I used this image in both collages.

One odd thing about this month's theme: As I worked with the picture of fog that had been glitched in audio software, a phrase kept popping into my head, "the noise of the fog." Those words carried a sense of apprehension, and I wondered why. Then I remembered that I once wrote something with that title. I think it's probably a poem. I vaguely remember seeing the title on my computer and having the sense that it was a Pandora's Box of sorts and I shouldn't leave it sitting around for anyone to open.

After I remembered all this, I looked for the file. I haven't found it yet, which means it's in some really old archives, if it hasn't been deleted. If I find it, I will post about it, with the caveat that my life isn't that interesting, so the mystery probably isn't going to live up to the hype.

October 31, 2014

Annual Scary Collage: Paranoia

I couldn't think of one individual person right now who's notably scary. Instead, it's the pervasive atmosphere of paranoia right now - in large part thanks to the media, both social and mainstream - that's scaring me. This paranoia creeps into the minds of otherwise normal people, turning them  irrational, unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous.

As always, I did an advanced search on Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed photos using the word "paranoia." I got a lot of great results, but ended up using only three.

This photo of a (Swedish?) report from Anders Samberg:


This photo from a dance called "Paranoia" from Vivadança Festival Internacional:


And this photo of a peacock feather from Jordi Cucurull:


I tried to make the peacock feather into a set of creepy, inhuman eyes. I used the Sketch: Graphic Pen filter to make them look like they're on a screen or in a hologram. I used the wave filter on different parts of the image and layered them with layer masks of varying sizes to make it look like the electronic interference is spilling out of the "eyes" onto the people.

I had a lot of fun working with the text. I used the Distort: Spherize filter on one layer of text, then made another layer with larger text flipped around backwards to make the letters less recognizable.

At one point while working with this collage, I had to completely stop and start over. That's always a hard thing to do with any piece of art. If your original vision isn't working out, do you keep pushing or abandon it? I ended up backtracking almost to the beginning and heading in a completely different direction, letting the medium guide my vision instead of trying to forcibly create the image I had in my head. I'm glad I was willing to trash hours of work and start over. I think the resulting collage is exactly the sort of creepy, dystopian image I had in mind.

October 29, 2014


A Ridiculously Simple Nonpartisan Social Media GOTV Effort

photo by Tim Ebbs

 Here's how it works:

  1. On Tuesday, November 4, vote as early as possible
  2. After you've voted, take a picture of yourself outside the polling place 
  3. Share it on the social media of your choice, along with this message:


    #VoteTag I just voted! @tweep1 @tweep2 @tweep3 it's your turn! Vote then tag 3 ppl


    #VoteTag I just voted! Friend1, Friend2, Friend3 it's your turn! Vote, take a pic, & tag 3 more people.
Can we surprise and shock the jaded political class with a record turnout? Here's hoping!


Q: What if I voted early or absentee?
A: Then you're ahead of the game! You can tag 3 people as soon as you wake up on November 4.

Q: What do I take a picture of if I voted early or absentee?
A: An envelope, a "V" for victory or voting... Be creative!

Q: What if I don't know 3 people I'm willing to tag?
A: Then just tag one.

Q: Can I tag 20 people?
A: Please don't, that's kind of spammy. Keep it small and personal so people are more likely to respond.

Q: Can I use Instagram/Vine/ello/Google+/Yammer instead of Facebook or Twitter?
A: Sure!

Q: Why do you say to take a picture outside the polling place?
A: In some states, it's illegal to take pictures inside. Better safe than sorry!

Q: What if I can't vote until 6pm or later?
A: You can still tag your friends who live in a later time zone.

Q: What if I'm voting at 6:55pm in Hawaii?
A: Then you have to be "it" until November 2015. Sorry!

Have any questions not answered here? Ask them in the comments.

October 24, 2014

18 Shorter Synonyms for "Actually"

One word that I really use a lot is "actually." In fact, I probably over-use it. At 8 letters, "actually" is quite a long word relative to the amount of meaning it adds to a tweet or text. Inspired by the exercise I did with the word "interesting," I decided to see if there were indeed any good, shorter synonyms for "actually."

Here's what I found on There are a lot of shades of meaning in this list, so every word isn't appropriate for every context. But keeping these synonyms in mind will surely help free up some crucial characters for other words that can't be shortened.

  1. in fact
  2. really
  3. truly
  4. surely
  5. easily
  6. by far
  7. clearly
  8. indeed
  9. plainly
  10. rightly
  11. simply
  12. quite
  13. fully
  14. totally
  15. utterly
  16. well
  17. wholly
  18. verily

October 18, 2014

Digital Collage: I Dream of Texas

I thought it might be illuminating to describe how I put together the photo illustration I created to go with my previous post.

I started with an idea based on an image of the dream itself: Mary standing behind her grandfather, who was dressed in a suit and laid out on a steel table, with a map of Texas behind them. I thought that might be a little too macabre, not to mention too time-consuming, so instead I skimmed through Morguefile for pictures of women who looked vaguely like Mary as she appeared in my dream.

This is the image I started with:

I chose this picture because the girl looks very neutral: blank wall, neutral expression.
I'll be able to alter her appearance however I need to.

In my dream, Mary was sickly-looking and had bad acne. So instead of using Photoshop to make someone look better, in this case, I was trying to make her look worse. I did that by
  • Scaling the photo horizontally, then using the Liquify filter on her face to make her thinner.
  • Using the techniques described in this photo retouching tutorial to add shadows on her cheeks and under her eyes.
  • Using the stamp tool to take acne from another photo and add it to her face. I set the acne layer to overlay so it blended naturally.
  • Changed her hair from red to blonde using Image > Replace Color.
And here's how she looked after that:

Mary's had a rough few months.

Then I used the patch tool, stamp, burn tool, and brush to remove the glare on her glasses. After a little more Liquifying to shorten her chin and enlarge her eyes, I saved the picture as a flat PSD file.

I found a great old map of Texas on Wikimedia Commons that I wanted to use as the background. This tutorial on selecting hair was exactly what I needed to create the composite. 

If you look carefully, you can see I didn't do a perfect job selecting her hair,
but I figured it was close enough for my purposes.
Now the really fun part: changing all the colors to make it look crazy and dreamlike! I used the layer effects palette to add a gradient fill over Texas. Then I created a layer above but below the photo, filled it with green, loaded the photo's layer mask as a selection,  and expanded and feathered it the selection to make a shadow mask. This helped the photo stand out from the background better.

The green shadow layer is set to Multiply.
Mary's face still didn't look nearly as red as it did in my dream, so I again loaded the layer mask as a selection, created a new layer above the photo, and filled the selection with hot pink. I tried several different blending modes for the layer, and liked the way Hard Mix looked (Vivid Light and Color Burn are two other modes I tend to favor).

Girl, that color really brings out the texture in your zits!
The color looked great, but there wasn't enough detail, so I copied the original photo and put it on top with the blending mode set to Screen to capture the higlights.

Almost there...

Then, just one more layer to add the shadows and some of the natural color back in: another copy of the photo set to Multiply. Voila!

Here are the layers palettes from the two files I created.

October 17, 2014

The Texas of my Dreams

I have a lot of dreams that I think are interesting, but every time I consider sharing one I remember what Sheri Lynch said about dreams. To paraphrase, "When someone tells me about a dream they had, all I hear is 'Blah, blah, blah, this didn't really happen.'" But I figure no one is making you read this blog, so if you don't want to hear about something that didn't really happen, stop now.

In this dream, a couple who are friends of mine - let's call them Tom and Mary - had moved from South Carolina to Texas. After being away for almost a year, they came back to South Carolina for a visit. Mary's aunt had a get-together for them at her house, and all their friends showed up to see them. 

Texas life had not been kind to Tom and Mary. Mary, thin to begin with, had lost a lot of weight and looked pinched. She was suffering a terrible acne breakout that had turned her beautiful face red and shiny. Meanwhile, Tom had gained weight. His skin looked awful, too, his face weathered as if he'd spent every day out in the sun. His cheeks were beginning to sag, giving him a sort of jowly, bulldog look.

We sat in Mary's aunt's cheerful but modest living room. The furniture was mostly white-painted wicker with colorful striped cushions. Sunlight poured in the windows which covered both long walls of the rectangular room, making it almost seem that we were sitting outside. The aunt had set her eclectic collection of chairs around the edges of the room, facing inward, so everyone could talk. It wasn't a huge party, there were about twenty of us there. Some people sat on cushions on the floor, and Tom sat on top of the drink cooler.

I asked Mary how she liked Texas, and she said their first few months there had been really hard. Her grandfather, who also lived in Texas, had died. But because of some sort of new regulation, there was a shortage of coroners across Texas, and he couldn't be buried without a coroner. So she'd had to get on a waiting list for a coroner to come see him.

I asked if she could have called a coroner from another state, but Mary said that coroners from nearby states were refusing to come to Texas, and she wasn't allowed to leave the state with his body, so they were stuck. She had to wait three weeks after her grandfather died before she was able to bury him.

During the rest of the party, Mary spent time on her aunt's computer. It was set up on a little cream-colored desk at one end of the living room. Mary searched for jobs, anything to allow them to leave Texas, and Skyped with her mother back home who was taking care of Tom and Mary's children. Tom sat on the cooler looking beaten down by life, drinking from a red Solo cup and not saying much.

October 15, 2014

Poem: The Path

Have you ever had one of those times in your life where you can sense that everything around you is changing? Your best friend moves away or your business downsizes or someone close to you dies. The changes snowball as your group of friends stops meeting up, coworkers leave for other jobs, or family traditions end.

How do you find that happy place again? Do you try and restore what's been broken or leave in search of new friends, new work, new traditions? The answer is different in each situation. When I see the changes coming, though, my instinct is usually to hold on to what used to be good, and try to make it into something good again.

Adapted from a photo by Houston Marsh

I have come up
From the green and fertile valley.
Ahead of me I see
A desert wasteland,
But for the path I walk,
Desolately winding
Through gray rock and dust.
If I stay upon this path
I'll walk a harder road; harder, yes,
Than any I have known before.
It's tempting - I'm tempted
To abandon this journey
Here and now:
Begin anew somewhere else,
Someplace green and welcoming.
I see the faded footprints
Of those who came before me
And turned aside.
I understand.
But if I do, if I do not
Traverse this desert,
I will forever wonder
Where this path I've chosen might have led.
What miracles may lie
Beyond this dreary road?
I have to know.
I will know.
I take a single step

September 25, 2014

Poem: Saw Her in Line at the Coffee Shop

Red, red, red
Lips like a stoplight
Pulled my eyes
To her dark eyes blackened darker
Than her inky hair.
She glowed like a neon light,
Filled that corner of the coffee shop
With luminous beauty.
And yet.
The look on her face,
The posture of her
Exquisitely dressed body,
Said, "Ignore me.
"Pretend I'm not here."
She shrunk inside herself,
Hiding from those barefaced girls
Sipping lattes in sneakers and sweats:
A wilting hothouse rose among the daisies.
Her aura whispered,
But she glowed - 
Impossible not to look.
I saw them look,
And judge.

September 18, 2014

TBT: Odes to the Dallas Airport

Created from a photo by Grant Wickes

Flipping through an old notebook to find some songs I wrote long ago, I came across a page of doggerel titled "Odes to the Dallas Airport (or should I say 'odors'?)". These would have been written some time in 1991, probably during my first trip to Sewanee as a prospective student.

Thankfully, DFW has improved a lot since then. But the memory of what it once was has been immortalized in verse.

I Will Wait

To the tune of "Let It Snow"
Oh, the bathrooms are quite disgusting
And the toilet seats are rusting
But since I've heard my plane is late
I will wait, I will wait, I will wait
The women are all smokin' ciggies
And have hairdos like Miss Piggy
They just changed my departure gate
I will wait, I will wait, I will wait

To Fly or Not to Fly

To fly or not to fly?
That is the question,
Whether 'tis nobler to stay in my seat,
Or to take precautions against the ladies' restroom,
And by holding my breath not smell anything;
To sit in a smoke-filled stall,
To pee,
To pee perchance to actually have to touch the toilet seat.
Ay, there's the rub.


From gate 20A I'll depart
This gate's not for the faint at heart
The one place left to sit
Is covered with spit
And contains a malodorous fart

Flying is just as much fun
As being shot with a large gun
The seats are so tiny
They don't fit my hiney
I have to sit on just one bun

September 16, 2014

Business Idea: The Kitchenette

The Idea

When people downsize their living spaces, as many are doing these days for economic and other reasons, extraneous rooms like the home office and the garage workshop disappear. Businesses have stepped in to fill those gaps: Coworking spaces provide offices for people who work at home or on the road but sometimes need a fully functional traditional office space. Makerspaces provide workshops for people who don't have the space for a large workshop or the desire to buy a ton of expensive, specialized tools.

But one room that remains, even in the tiniest studio apartments, is the kitchen.

Real Life, NYC

If you eat out all the time, a kitchen is inconsequential. But it's harder to eat healthy that way, not to mention a lot more expensive. If you want to have fresh fruit and vegetables, you need a fridge to store them in. That takes space. If you want to save money by buying in bulk, you need storage space. If you want to prepare meals ahead of time, freeze them, then heat them up, that takes a lot of space. And to make home cooking enjoyable, you really need a fair amount of counter space to work on, not to mention a decent stovetop, an oven that can fit a half-sheet pan or casserole dish, a microwave large enough to reheat things, and a sink deep enough to make filling up pots and washing up easy, plus a dishwasher if you're feeding more than two people on a regular basis.

What if there were a place near your home where you could go to both cook and store your food? Maybe even eat it there? A family of any size could have a meal together even if their home is too small for a separate kitchen table to be practical. People could save money by buying frozen bulk items even if their apartment freezer is a 6"x12" shelf.

Now, I know that there are already businesses like Simply Supper and Dream Dinners, where you can prepare frozen meals that you reheat at home later. But this business model assumes that you have a freezer at home large enough to store all those meals and an oven large enough to reheat them. Those businesses are great for busy middle-class families.

But one reality of our current economic climate is that the middle class is disappearing. If you want your business to succeed these days, you're better off selling luxury goods and services to the wealthy or inexpensive essentials to lower-income folks. The Kitchenette targets this second demographic.

How many people would be able to afford a nicer place to live if they didn't have to worry about having a fully functional kitchen? How much space is wasted by ovens and stovetops that never get used? How many people would love to cook homemade meals, but are hampered by a lack of space and equipment?

Just like a Makerspace provides an environment and tools that are impractical for everyone to have at home, The Kitchenette would have all the large, bulky, useful appliances that make cooking fun and easy, like waffle irons, food processors, and stand mixers. And of course there would be helpful staff on hand to show you how to work unfamiliar tools and answer cooking and meal-planning questions.

Cooking for a Healthy Future-Tacoma April 17 080

The Business Model

Of course, the real question is, how do you make money? 

Using the Coworking model, people could pay a monthly fee for unlimited kitchen use, or pay per-use. There would also be a charge for pantry and fridge/freezer space rental, x amount for so many cubic square feet. This space would be locked, so everyone feels secure that their food won't be taken by another customer. Unlike the businesses linked above, you would bring your own ingredients (though The Kitchenette could have some basic spices on hand, such as salt, pepper, and cinnamon). The Kitchenette could also offer cooking classes, which would be a great marketing tool for recruiting new customers.

But since this business is targeting low-income families and individuals, what about those who can't pay much? People would be allowed to pay for only the pantry and fridge space, then make up the monthly membership fee by helping clean up a set number of hours. This would not only make The Kitchenette more affordable, but also cut down on maintenance costs and give customers a sense of ownership.

The ideal location for The Kitchenette is near a grocery store, in an urban center with dense housing. The business would be a boon for any grocery or bulk store nearby, because it would encourage people who otherwise might not buy much food to purchase more.

Imagine families of any size able to sit down together and eat a home-cooked meal. Imagine people rediscovering the lost art of cooking together. Imagine healthy, sustainable food replacing processed fast-food in many families' diets. This is my vision for The Kitchenette.

September 8, 2014

An Imaginary Conversation at the Iowa State Fair

Photo by Doug Kerr

“Hello, miss? Would you like to sign up to win an iPad or a flatscreen TV?”
“No thanks. It’s against my religion.”
“Really? What religion are you?”
“I’m a Christian.”
“Well, so am I!”
“Your sign says different.”
“Americans for Prosperity isn’t a religious group. We’re an advocacy group trying to educate people about how to improve the economy.”
“You cannot serve both God and money. That’s in the Bible.”
“It’s a reality of life that you need money to live. We’re not worshiping money, just trying to make sure that the rules of the economy are fair so people get to keep most of what they’ve earned.”
“Which people? Jesus said, ‘Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.’ My understanding of your organization is that it primarily helps people who already have a lot of money at the expense of those who don’t.” 
“I see. I think that’s a common misconception. You see, AFP is really about helping all hard-working Americans keep more of their money. We want a good environment for business so more people can have jobs. Wouldn’t you agree that’s a good thing?”
“When you don’t pay people enough to live on, when you expect them to come to work sick and work crazy schedules at a moment’s notice and prevent them from standing up for their legal rights, either in a union or a court of law, is that loving your neighbor as you would love yourself?”
“I can see we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Have a nice day. Enjoy the fair.”
“You know, God’s grace is free.”
“Hello, sir? Would you like to sign up to win an iPad or a flatscreen TV?”

August 11, 2014

Poem: Ron Clayfoot

Graphic by S. King, photo by Evo Flash
I knew your god
Before his ascendence.
He once ruled
The golden kingdom of my childhood
And was not beloved.
I watched schools crumble in his wake.
I saw brows furrow at his guile.
He was not beloved.

When I first learned
How he was worshiped,
Adored, idolized, revered,
In lands beyond
My childhood home;
The world turned sideways.
I wondered what
These people saw
That made them raise a god
From an imperfect man:
A statue of fool's gold
With feet of clay.

August 9, 2014

When the World Gets Ugly, Create Beauty

Collage by S. King. Photo credits here.

"And now I see with eye serene the very pulse of the machine."
- William Wordsworth, She Was a Phantom of Delight

For the past couple of years, I have been wondering about the purpose of creativity. I've posted about it in this blog here, here and here, and in comments on other sites. Even though I claimed to have found it in that second post, I didn't really believe what I wrote there for more than a few hours.

I've been pretty pessimistic about the usefulness of creativity and how it's valued in the world today, particularly in business. I see a lot of lip-service paid to being creative when what people are really measured by is how many units of widgets they produce and how well they can squeeze more numbers into the business' bottom line. Innovation, customer satisfaction - sure, those matter, but not in the short term. And management cares most about numbers adding up in the short term.

Yet we're taught from an early age to be creative. What are we supposed to be creating?

My obsession with finding a purpose to creativity reached its nadir with this Twitter exchange. I was sitting at my desk in the office, trying desperately not to sob as I typed those responses. I finished off an entire box of kleenex. I couldn't imagine ever reaching the mental state that Hugh and Jeff shared where they were excited about the possibilities of creativity.

Then last week, I was despairing over the state of the world in general. I'm sure I wasn't alone in this. With war all over the globe, poverty and disease rampant, the world was looking pretty ugly. Equally as ugly were the attitudes of many people I saw. "Screw them, I do what I want," "Every man for himself," and perhaps ugliest of all, "Those people aren't worth helping."

What do you do when faced with a world that doesn't care how mean and ugly it is? Can anything be done?

Yes, I realized. I can do something, even if it's something small. I don't have to be ugly. I don't have to let ugliness thrive in my presence. Just like when I take the time to weed my little garden plot even though the rest of the yard is still a jungle, I can make the effort to fight entropy, even if it's in a small way.

Many people are blind to the possibilities around them. They see things as they are, and look no further. Creativity lets you see beyond what is and envision what could be. You can see the beautiful house hiding in the shabby relic. You can see the party decorations lurking in recycled trash. You can see a delicious recipe in a pile of random leftovers. You can imagine a song, a picture, a dance, a party, where none existed.

That's what creativity is good for: to create beauty in an ugly world. Creativity won't make you successful or popular or powerful, but that's OK. It will do something more important. Creativity will help make the world a more bearable place, and bring some small measure of joy to those around you.

Even if no one acknowledges your creative efforts, know this:

You are making a difference. You are making the world more beautiful.

August 7, 2014

Bedtime Story: Little Panda

Panda drawn by GeistGirl
Little Panda lived with his family in a huge forest, high in the mountains of China. His mother told him, “Little Panda, you may go as far as those three big pine trees, but no further. I don’t want you to get lost.”

Little Panda did not want to get lost, so he tried to do as his mother told him. But one day, while he was playing in the forest, it began to snow. The snow grew so heavy so quickly that Little Panda didn’t even notice when he went the wrong way and walked right by the three pine trees and out into deep, dark forest.

The snow fell faster, and soon Little Panda realized that he was indeed lost. He was also getting cold and scared. Just then, he saw the entrance to a cave through the snow. Little Panda hurried into the cave and curled up inside. He said to himself, “When the storm is over, maybe I’ll be able to find my way back home.”

Little Panda was very tired and quickly fell asleep. But soon he was awakened by a strange noise coming from deep within the cave.

“Ping! Ding ding ping!”

LIttle Panda was curious and he headed towards the back of the cave to investigate. As he went deeper into the cave, the noise grew louder.

“Ping! Ping! Ding ding PING DING!”

Soon, Little Panda noticed that it was getting lighter, not darker, the further into the cave he went. He saw a strange glow coming from a crevice in the wall. He peeked through the crevice and was amazed by what he saw.

There was an enormous cavern covered with blue, red, and white glowing crystals. Strange little people wearing pointy hats climbed over the walls and ceilings, breaking off the crystals with tiny metal hammers. “Ding! Ding! Ping ping!”

Little Panda was so surprised, he forgot to be afraid. He pushed through the crevice and into the cavern. Suddenly, all the little people stopped their work and turned to look at him.

“Who are you?” asked one.

“How did you come here?” asked another.

“I’m Little Panda,” said Little Panda. “I got lost in the snowstorm. I found this cave and came inside because I’m tired and cold and I don’t know where I am and I miss my mommy!” He began to cry.

“There, there,” said one of the little people. He set his hammer down and gave Little Panda a hug. “It’s going to be all right. You are lucky that you found us. We are the gnomes who mine the magic crystals for the monks in the monastery on top of the mountain.”

“What?” said Little Panda. “I don’t understand.”

So the gnome explained, “Many travelers climb this mountain to visit the monks. By the time they arrive, they are tired and cold. Their feet are sore and their legs weary from climbing, and they have a long journey home. So the monks use these crystals to help the travelers.”

The gnome picked up three crystals from the neat piles on the cavern floor and held them out to Little Panda.

He said,
“The red crystal will keep you warm, no matter how cold it gets.
The blue crystal will give you strength, no matter how far you walk.
And the white crystal will show you the way home, no matter how far you travel.”

The kindly gnome threaded the three crystals on to a piece of string and tied the string around Little Panda’s neck.

“Now you will be able to find your way home, Little Panda,” he said.

“Oh thank you, thank you!” said Little Panda. He hugged the kindly gnome and waved goodbye to all the others. “Farewell! Safe travels!” they said.

Little Panda walked back to the cave entrance. He no longer felt quite so tired and cold. It was still snowing outside, but the white crystal sent out a beam of light that cut through the storm. Little Panda followed the direction the light was pointing.

After he walked and walked for what seemed like forever, the crystal’s light shone on three big pine trees just ahead. Little Panda began to run. He was home!

His mommy and daddy were waiting for him, and they were so glad to see him.

His mother cuddled him close. “Oh Little Panda,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re alright!”

“Where have you been?” asked his daddy. “We were so worried!”

“I got lost in the snowstorm,” said Little Panda. “And I found a cave and there were gnomes in it and they gave me these crystals to help me get home and I was so scared and I’m so happy to be home and I don’t ever want to get lost again!”

Little Panda lived happily in the forest with his family for a long time. And when the weather was bad, he made extra sure not to go past the three big trees. But he kept the crystals hidden in the roots there, just in case.

August 1, 2014

30 Shorter Synonyms for "Interesting"

"That's interesting."

It's such a useful adjective. "Interesting" can be positive, disparaging, noncommittal, questioning. It's an all-purpose reaction to almost anything. A college professor of mine even banned the word in her class because she thought it was so over-used that it had ceased to have meaning.

My problem with the word "interesting" is not its banality, but its length: eleven letters. On Twitter, that's a lot of characters to spend on a single word. So I looked up "interesting" on and found 30 good synonyms with 10 letters or less. Not only will these words make my tweets more concise, they'll also vary my vocabulary and make my prose more... compelling.
interesting is 11 pixels long
  1. alluring
  2. amusing
  3. attractive
  4. compelling
  5. curious
  6. delightful
  7. engaging
  8. exotic
  9. impressive
  10. intriguing
  11. lovely
  12. pleasing
  13. refreshing
  14. striking
  15. unusual
  16. absorbing
  17. affecting
  18. arresting
  19. enchanting
  20. engrossing
  21. entrancing
  22. fine
  23. gripping
  24. inviting
  25. riveting
  26. stirring
  27. winning
  28. elegant
  29. magnetic
  30. suspicious

July 31, 2014

Poem: The End of the Day

By the end of the day,
My eyes are smeary,
Sloughing off
Their layer of pretense.
Too tired to maintain
The mask of wakeful youth,
I let it fall and crumble.
I wash my face,
Anoint my eyes my cheeks my brow
With Oil of Optimism.
Perhaps in the morning
Things will look better.

March 26, 2014

Be Awesome

There are a lot of things I'm good at that I don't necessarily enjoy doing. I'm good at running meetings. I can get along with difficult people. I can troubleshoot IIS and a MySQL database connection.

But if you offered me a job managing a group of sysadmins, for instance, I'd turn you down so fast your head would spin. (Unless you offered me a million dollar salary, in which case I'd do the job for a year, then quit.) I don't want to spend every day mostly doing things I dislike. There's no incentive for me to excel, and I would spend most of every day annoyed.

Recently, some of my coworkers invited me to connect on LinkedIn, so I took the opportunity to update my profile to reflect my current job. I get a lot of messages on LinkedIn from recruiters for jobs that I wouldn't consider unless I were truly desperate. For example, javascript programming jobs with a two-hour commute. I decided to fix my profile so I don't get any more of these messages. I like my current job a lot and don't want to be bothered by any proposal that isn't staggeringly attractive (e.g. the aforementioned million dollar salary).

I went through my list of skills and thought about each one: if this were the only thing I did in my job, would I still want to do it? If I couldn't answer yes, I deleted it. I also deleted things that I can do but am not actually very good at (e.g. public speaking). What remained were the things I am good at and that I want to be good at. Plus javascript, which I left in there because a lot of people had already endorsed me for it.

I want to be awesome at these things. I aspire to do them well, and feel a great sense of accomplishment when I do. These are the things I want to learn more about, the crafts I want to hone, the passions I want to discuss with people who have similar interests. I'm at the point in my life and my career now where I can choose to focus on these skills. Paring down this list was a good reminder of where I need to focus.

I don't need to be good at everything. I just want to be awesome at a few things.

February 22, 2014

Poem: Identity

It's not your weakness that makes you special.
Honestly, your weakness is common,
Ordinary, dull.
Strong, maybe, and terrifying, yes, 
But also 
Exactly the same
As the fundamental weakness
Of every other person on earth,
Since people first began.
Your weakness doesn't make you unique;
It makes you
Everything else,
Everything that's left
When you look beyond the weakness,
(There is something there, I promise.)
That is what makes you

January 1, 2014

2014 New Year's Resolutions

I'm not going to bother linking to last year's New Year's resolution post, because I didn't keep a single one of them. On to bigger and better things!

2014 resolutions

Resolution #1: Lose 15 pounds

One weird tip...
I've looked at several size charts online today to make sure I have these numbers right: my waist is a size 14-16 and my hips are a size 6-8. This means that there is not a pair of pants outside the maternity department that fits me properly. I am tired of pants that fall down unless I wear a belt tight enough to cut off my circulation. I am tired of showing my butt to the world every time I bend over or squat down. I even bought a pair of high-waisted "mom jeans," hoping this would solve my problem. They also sag unless I cinch them mercilessly with a belt.

Back when I weighed 15 lbs. less, I didn't have this problem. So I'm hoping that if I lose the weight, I will also solve my pants problem. In the meantime, I'm going to wear more dresses and skirts.

Resolution #2: Do something creative for 20 minutes each day

If music be the food of love, play on, for at least
it is calorie-free.
I got the idea for this resolution from this post on copyblogger: The New Year's Writing Resolution You Can Actually Keep. The author recommends resolving to spend 20 minutes each day in January writing. The idea is that after a month, this will develop into a habit. And if you can't commit to 20 minutes, try 10. And if that's too much, try writing just one sentence every day.

Because I'm such an INTP, I couldn't limit myself to writing, so I'm going to spend 20 minutes each day either writing, playing the mandolin, or making art. And I'm counting this blog post as today's 20 minutes, since it took me longer than that and involved both writing and photography.

I thought about committing to completing a specific ouvre, but since I failed utterly at resolutions like that last year, I'm just going to work on whatever inspires me at the moment.

Resolution #3: Clean out the living room

This week on Hoarders...
A few years ago, we refinished the floors in the office and family room, so everything in those two rooms got moved into the living room. Then, before we managed to put everything back, we had to do some major kitchen repairs, so everything from the kitchen and hall closets went in there, too. This is in addition to all the stuff that's actually supposed to be in the living room.

We've finally been able to start moving things back into the kitchen, but it's been slow going, since the cabinets and drawers aren't finished yet. A lot of this junk is exactly that: junk. It needs to leave the house by the back door, go directly to the dumpster or the Salvation Army, and never be seen again. The pile is so large, though, that I've been putting off dealing with it. No more!

In my fantasy, the living room will become a reading and music room. My boys will learn to play the piano and I will sit at the secretary and keep up with my correspondence. This room will also be a beautifully decorated cabinet of curiosities where I can entertain my friends. We will sit in the
vintage chairs and hold jam sessions while sipping cocktails. But this dream will never become a reality if I can't get rid of things like that stack of 20 empty yogurt tubs I thought I might need someday.

If I can accomplish even one of these resolutions, I'll be doing better than last year. Here's to progress!