It's been a busy past couple of days for me, so I haven't caught up on my email or social media or even been to the coffee shop to get a bag of my favorite blend. As the last bit of the beans I had whirred, ground, and perked in the coffeemaker, I sat down at my desk with the laptop to clean up some emails before getting back to photo processing.

One of the emails was an invitation to a memorial service.

I had to read it over several times, not certain at first of what I was seeing, not wanting to think that this had happened.

The young woman who once managed the coffee shop died last week, at age 26. I sit here writing this now, and tears flow down my face. I have to wipe them away to be able to see the screen.

Jenn was simply a beautiful girl, with shining long blonde hair and a gorgeous face, always smiling. She was the first person I ever met at the coffee shop, and she took the time to learn my name, what I liked to order, would always ask what I was up to that day. She had a lovely calm to her, a groundedness that made her seem older than her years. Over the years, we would chat about whatever was going on in our lives in the moments while my drink was being made, and I liked her even more with every interaction we had. She was funny, smart, and thoughtful. It was always good to see her there, a nice constant presence.

One day as my daughter and I made one of our after-school coffee shop stops for a mid-afternoon treat, we found Jenn saying her goodbyes to a few of the other regulars. She was leaving for Colorado, where she had family, and leaving the shop. Oh no!, I said, genuinely sorry to see her go, but I wished her the best of luck and told her how much I had enjoyed seeing her there. We chatted awhile about Colorado, the mountains, life outside of the hustle and bustle of metro areas, what she would be doing, and we exchanged contact info. We hugged goodbye, and she said she'd be back up to Washington for visits as often as she could.

And now she returns, to be buried. At age 26.

Jenn had many friends, who knew her far, far better than I did, and who will feel the loss even more acutely. I just feel so sad for them. At 26, you are just beginning, and that is truly what breaks my heart. Not everyone gets to stay here to grow and change, see and do, and keep connecting with the world. You make a difference every day you are here, and sometimes that difference is made just by offering a smile to a weary mom low on caffeine on a grey rainy afternoon, who could really use a moment of sunshine.

Rest well, dear sunshine girl.

James Taylor, "Fire and Rain"


I just lurrrrve all things vintage and retro and 20th Century, particularly mid-period design, probably because I am from the mid-20th Century myself. Advertising, fashion, graphics, photography -- there was this mix of sleek and minimalist combined with campy and quirky that continues to inspire generations of artistically-minded folks.

I came across Tack-O-Rama a couple days ago while looking for a new font to use on the *upgraded* "new* and *improved* Popthomology site design, which should roll out, drop, and go live soon. What an awesome resource, and fun to look at and play with even if you aren't a designer of any sort. There's a huge free stash of vintage stock photos, many of which are just plain funny to look at, and how about these free downloadable fonts!

Cool, right? I swear, if I had a regular job I would for sure send out every interoffice memo in Mary Tyler Moore font just to annoy the hell out of everyone. Enjoy!



Any suggestions for American Anti-Hero #2? I've got a year to get costumes ready for the geeks at Comic Con.


After you've been around for awhile, you learn this: QUESTION EVERYTHING. Why? Well, just for today let's take a look at a few ads from the relatively recent past.

Yes, kids, the Corn Products Refining Company would like to muscle your kids right on up with all kinds of delicious and inexpensive foods and drinks loaded with CORN SYRUP. This ad fails to mention in small print that 60 years later many of our kids will be obese and diabetic in large part due to foods and drinks loaded with...CORN SYRUP.

Speaking of obese, diabetic kids, Motorola doesn't mention that TV turns kids into immobile, passive, weak-limbed sheep whose only activity comes from walking from the TV set to the kitchen to get delicious foods and drinks loaded with CORN SYRUP.

OK, so you don't want CORN about some totally non-calorie super-keen and modernist Fizzies? Delicious! Safer for teeth! Won't spoil appetite! Loaded with toxic cancer-causing artificial sweeteners! Oh...wait.

OK, kids, forget the TV and the food...go play with your toy! It's completely safe and harmless! Enjoy your uranium!

Don't let anyone call you a crank. QUESTION EVERYTHING. You also might get a free coupon or something if you complain enough.


I'm a pretty lucky person, and I know it. I get to spend a decent chunk of my days doing creative things, which makes me very happy. But it is almost always a completely solitary endeavor. I'm used to doing everything I do by myself, whether it's writing, photography, or god help us all, music. So when Twitter friend Michele Costanza (who writes the Sassy City Girl blog for the Seattle P-I) reached out to me to meet in person this year to talk about possibly working on a project together, I was really intrigued. It took a few months to pull together, but finally we agreed that we'd like to team up to cover a few concerts at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. The "Zoo Tunes" summer series is immensely popular, drawing big-name acts who often perform to capacity crowds on the wide green lawn. And so last Wednesday as the threat of rain fell away and we were left with a late sunny afternoon to play with, Michele and I met up at the Zoo's North Gate for a show by feminist folk-pop icons the Indigo Girls, with openers the indie/Americana band Mount Moriah. Michele brought her pen and paper, I brought my camera, and we traipsed around the grounds like mighty hunters.

Mount Moriah delivered a very well-received set featuring songs from their recently-released self-titled debut album as the audience filled the lawn with blankets and chairs and coolers. The warmth and purity of Heather McEntire's voice combined beautifully with the band's thoughtful, layered arrangements to make for a very pretty atmosphere, grounded well in tradition, yet distinctly modern. Seattle is a hotbed for this particular kind of take on folk music, and I am sure Mount Moriah would be welcomed back as a headliner here any ol' time.

(More Mount Moriah photos are here.)

The Indigo Girls are far more than just a female folk duo with a knack for writing memorable, singable tunes -- they are no less than icons for many in the LGTB and progressive political communities. They mean more to people because of what they stand for, and how committed they have been to their ideals. There were indeed many LGTB audience members, but Amy Ray and Emily Saliers' songs of struggle against the odds, hope in the face of fear and doubt, and the renewing spirit of love appeals to all. Saliers and Ray's seamlessly-intertwined vocals, strong musicianship, and ease and flow of stage communication underlined their years of performing together and were complemented perfectly by keyboardist/accordionist Julie Wolf and violinist Lyris Hung. The foursome pulled strongly from bluegrass, mid-20th Century folk protest, and bright lyrical pop forms to bring the crowd to their feet, dancing and singing along, a warm communal vibe to the air, little kids running around with painted faces and big guys in plaid shirts drinking Mac 'n Jacks beer.

(More Indigo Girls photos are here; more Zoo Tunes crowd photos are here. All photos courtesy Sassy City Girl and Seattle P-I)

At the end of the evening, as I finished my own delicious Mac 'n Jacks kindly purchased by Michele, I thought a moment about the how important it is to make personal, real connections in a world where we spend so much time on a screen, or driving alone in cars, or making small talk only to not be able to remember a single thing said. Music is obviously one way that people come together to share a connection, and I am grateful to Michele in sharing some of her many interests and talents and goals with me, and asking me along on such a lovely evening. Please see her Sassy City Girl article here with her nod to Zoo Tunes as "Best Family Activity In Seattle!"

Thank you to Michele, Seattle P-I, Woodland Park Zoo and the Zoo Tunes staff, Mount Moriah, and the Indigo Girls. See you soon!


Happy birthday, pal. <3


(I really wish this were a real comment. But since it's not...a Spam Poem it becomes!)

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Every day, I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of creative works I would like to peruse, whether in music, art, film, photography, writing, or design. Absolutely overwhelmed. If I could, I would spend all my time just marveling at the output of my fellow artsters, but then I would not be able to make anything myself or eat or shower or wave hi to my kids. In making choices and spinning plates and balancing needs, I know I miss so many things that I would surely love.

One of the choices I had to make this year was not attending the second annual Solid Sound Festival last month, held in North Adams, MA. -- family needs, logistical hurdles, and cash flow made the event a sad "no" for me. But this is exactly the kind of event that not only gets my attention out of a million competing things, but earns my admiration, which is a whole 'nother level entirely. Curated by one of my favorite bands, Wilco, the festival is an outstanding example of a fresh take on presenting a wide range of arts to the public, and manages to be both cutting-edge and family-friendly at once. The Atlantic produced this little video about it, and I think you can feel the good vibrations right through your computer screen. Watch:

Rather than be overwhelmed by choices, or not doing anything outside of the box, Wilco forges ahead and offers Solid Sound Festival-goers an opportunity to spend a summer weekend enjoying the arts, and has fun, too.

Solid Sound 2012, anyone?



It is me who gets there first, when there is no more intake of breath, as her heart slows and stops, her blood no longer moves through her veins, and her skin begins to cool. I can only take a moment or two to regard her, to mourn her, and no more.

Soon, someone will come to check on her for the last time. The news of her death will spread quickly. I think about the many people who will miss her, and those who wish with all their hearts that they could have helped her. Yesterday, she looked far older than her age. Today, now, she looks like a child.

With a sigh, I approach her, and gently touch her thin arm. She wakes, dazed and shaky.

“We have to go now,” I tell her, quietly. I give her a minute to understand, but no more. She rises and walks with me to leave the house.

“Who are you?” she asks me, as she runs her hand absently through her hair.

“My name is Ashley Levy. I’m here to take you to the next Club member.”

“What club?”

“When one of us passes, the one that has passed right before comes to walk us to the one who will pass next. This is the 27 Club. There’s a club for each year of age.”

For the first time, she looks directly at my face as we stand at the doorway. She seems very sad, for me.

“You are 27, too, then. What happened to you?”

“Leukemia. We’re going to go right back to the hospital I just came from now. Biking accident. His name is Jason Kim.”

She looks out her window, and speaks to me a final time.

“And after that, after I take him to the next one, what happens to me?”

I pause, for the answer is as hard for me to say as it is hard for her to hear.

“I don’t know.”

She looks back at what is left of her, what will be carried out in a bag and taken to a morgue to be cut, cultured, examined, and pronounced, then blankly faces forward as we close the door behind us, to go on to the next one.


As some of you are already aware, I wear glasses, for I am pathetically nearsighted and now of course get the extra age-related ball-kick of presbyopia, which sounds like a Protestant religion but is not. I don't think about it much, because I've had to wear corrective lenses since I was eight years old. Contacts didn't work out for me, and I'm too chicken to do LASIK, so that's that. My glasses are just part of my face. So, jump forward from me at age eight to today...yup, folks, today my daughter MissEight got her first pair of glasses. Fortunately for her she does not have the same issues -- one eye is just slightly far-sighted, so she was prescribed reading glasses.

I was so depressed at the news that I needed glasses. I didn't want to be "four-eyes," and I REALLY REALLY REALLY didn't want the glasses my eye doctor picked out for me, which were tortoiseshell cat-eyes, about as uncool as it got in 1970. I made one meek inquiry into getting some wire-rim little round John Lennon-style glasses, but the doctor completely dismissed me, I think because he thought they were too fragile for a child and that John Lennon was a damn commie hippie. Sigh. There was no talking back to a doctor, or any adult. I had to live with them on my face, something that I didn't feel was me at all, and it made me sad and uncomfortable for a long time.

But in 2011, MissEight is able to go to her eye doctor, have her exam, and is able to choose from tons of cool frames, in whatever color she likes. She is treated with respect. All this week she kept asking me, "Are my new glasses here yet? I can't wait!" She was excited!

She came home and got out her summer assigned-reading book and proudly announced that she zoomed from page 7 to page 27 in no time with her new glasses.

If you are eight years old and need glasses, 2011 is where it's at, baby.


It is not an award, or many awards, even though formal recognition is genuinely appreciated.

It is not money, even though most creative artists will never make a living at what they do best, and could often do with a bit more scratch.

It is not an appreciation of technical abilities, even though that may rightfully underscore years of hard work and a great deal of talent.

The nicest compliment you can give a creative artist, whether a dancer, writer, musician, painter, actor, director, choreographer, photographer, sculptor, or designer is that he or she through their art made you feel something that resonated within you. It doesn't matter what that emotion was -- joy, anger, sadness, longing, fear, peacefulness, anything -- but that it felt real, from your core. This is the highest calling of any art, and the most noble: to connect with other human beings in ways that often transcend words or time. Art helps us to better understand our world and ourselves, the endless quest for knowledge, for knowing.

If you are an artist and have ever received such a compliment, treasure it always. Its value and lasting effect means far more than any award or check you could ever receive.


Some snapshots first, in words.

1964: I am the World’s Youngest British Invasion fan. Barely out of diapers, I cling to my AM transistor radio like a comforting blankie, and the airwaves at this time are ruled by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Freddie & the Dreamers, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and the Animals. My parents, 40 years older than me, largely dismiss it all as garbage and noise, preferring Big Band swing. The one British Invasion song my father never flips off the car radio is “The House Of The Rising Sun,” by the Animals. “Boy’s got a good voice,” he would say, and I would be thrilled, like I had won one for the team.

1966: I beg, cry, and plead until my frustrated teenage babysitter gives me her 45 copy of the Animals’ “See See Rider.”  I play it over and over and over and over until no one can stand it anymore. I still own it.

1967: Between the Beach Boys, Gidget, and Eric Burdon & the Animals’ “San Franciscan Nights" and “Monterey,” I decide that my family should move from Wisconsin to California as soon as possible. This never happens.

1970: I lay on my back on the green grass of my front lawn, staring up at the puffy white clouds. Next to me, still, my radio, playing “Spill The Wine.” It’s a huge hit, and the radio station plays it often. Each time, I listen intently, trying to figure out what on earth the words mean. I never really do, but hearing Eric Burdon’s familiar voice again makes me happy.

And I guess that gives you an idea why I was so excited to be able to see Eric Burdon and the Animals play live this past Sunday at Snoqualmie Casino’s Mountain View Plaza. He’s been with me my whole life.

The casino is set on a beautiful piece of land, surrounded by mountains and huge pine trees. I got there early to check out the venue for photos – something I always like to do my first time shooting in any new place. I had been stressing about the day’s gloomy drizzle which had been threatening to turn into full out rain, because the Mountain View Plaza is a rain-or-shine gig. The security staff gave each concert attendee a blue plastic rain poncho, and were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Here’s my view from the pit before the show, if you’ve never been in a pit. Pro tip: watch your footing; it’s easy to trip over cables, scaffolding, and other photographers if you are goofy like myself.

The rain stayed at a doable drip, and the band appeared onstage at 6PM to a very happy audience, most of whom had years on me. I don’t know how you’d term it, but when I see a woman in her 70s, in a wheelchair, in the rain wearing a blue plastic rain poncho, singing as loudly as she can,” It’s my life, and I’ll do what I want, it’s my mind and I’ll think like I want,” I call that a pretty hardcore rock n’ roller there.

Eric, sporting Ray-Ban shades and a wicked sharp haircut, was in spectacular voice. All the power and emotion, still there, always by far the best of the Brit blues singers, I say. He is one of those natural-born vocalists, like Mavis Staples, Marvin Gaye, or Bono. That voice just comes out all big and booming and beautiful. He easily interacted with the awe-struck crowd, and often picked up a cowbell or tambourine to add to the ultra-pro Animals (Billy Watts, guitar, Brannen Temple, drums, Red Young, keyboards, and Terry Wilson on bass) who seemed to be having just as grand of a time. (You can click on the photos to bring them up full-size, or see them here on Flickr, too.)

After I finished shooting, I made my way to my seat for the rest of the show, and looked around me at the crowd. There were people here who were stoked to see Eric, let me tell you, just stoked, including the ones who had to dance along so much that they moved their groove to the sidelines as to not block anyone else’s view. There were lots of standing o’s, and singing along, and fists pumping into the air, punctuating the lyrics felt the most. No Washington concertgoers were going to let a little moisture get them down!

After the hour-long set and a generous encore featuring some extended solos by the band members, the band left the stage for the evening. As the people filed out of the Mountain View Plaza, I noticed how so many of them had huge smiles and were giddily discussing the show with their friends. My snapshots of Eric Burdon and the Animals now are not the warm, faded, memories of my childhood, but 1’s and 0’s stored on a digital memory card. I think if my dad had been able to be there with me at the show, there is no doubt what his review would have been.

“Boy’s got a good voice.”

Many thanks to Eric Burdon and the Animals, Marianna Proestou, and everyone at Snoqualmie Casino for a great evening.