Drear Diary

Author: Kirsten K., Books, History, Literature

On March 9, 1992, a former scrap metal dealer rang up a London literary agent and asked the question that would upend one of the most enduring mysteries of the previous century: “I’ve got Jack the Ripper’s diary. Would you be interested in seeing it?” The story that followed was almost as convoluted and contentious as the search for Jack the Ripper itself, involving forensic and psychological analyses, confessions and retractions, infighting among “Ripperologists,” the intersection of two sensational murder cases, and the curious appearance of a pocket watch that may have belonged to the killer.*

At the time, I was getting my degree in psychology and had a particular interest in the minds and motivations of serial killers (not an especially swoon-worthy topic, unless by “swoon” you mean “pass out from fright”). I read about the diary in the newspaper shortly before its publication in 1993 and got a copy for my birthday later that year. Until then, I’d only had a passing interest in the mystery of Jack the Ripper, but after reading the diary I became well and truly hooked.

Over the years, I’ve read numerous books on the subject and spent hours on forums like Casebook: Jack the Ripper going over various theories about the killer’s identity, but the majority of posters seemed to dismiss the diary as an elaborate hoax. While it is one of the most fascinating documents I’ve ever read, the diary has been dogged from the beginning by persistent questions about its authenticity and the dubious manner in which it was discovered. When the man who made that extraordinary phone call eventually confessed to forging the diary, the skeptics were smug, but even though few believed he had the necessary skills to pull it off and he later retracted his confession (then changed his story again), the damage was done. Most experts agreed that the diary was likely a forgery, and they returned to their furious speculations about the identity of Jack the Ripper.

But I’d never been able to shake my conviction that the alleged author of the diary, Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick, was the real killer. For years, family and friends have had to put up with my repeated discussions and dissection of the diary, as well as the trial of Florence Maybrick, the young wife of James Maybrick who—in an ironic twist—was convicted of murdering her husband in 1889.

Despite the doubters, nobody has been able to prove that the diary was forged. Comparable hoaxes, such as the Hitler diaries, have been uncovered quickly, but as the years passed without a similar revelation about the Ripper diary, my belief in its legitimacy only strengthened. A forger would have had to be an expert in both the Jack the Ripper killings and the Maybrick murder trial, the psychology of a serial killer, the symptoms of arsenic addiction, and the composition and style of Victorian-era paper, ink, and writing. A person like that would surely have come forward at some point to take credit for this monumental feat, but no credible forger has stepped up or been exposed.

Then, this past summer, it was announced that a new book about the diary would be released in September proving that it was an authentic 19th-century document that had been traced directly to James Maybrick himself. I was unable to obtain one of the 500 limited edition copies of this book, but it claims to present two primary findings:

  1. In-depth forensic analysis of the diary dates it definitively to the late 1800s, rejecting the theory that it’s a modern forgery.
  2. Research has revealed that, during a 1992 renovation of Battlecrease House (home of James Maybrick at the time of the murders), the diary was discovered beneath the floorboards of Maybrick’s own bedroom by three workmen, one of whom knew the infamous caller.

Given that the diary contains details about the murders that could only have been known by the killer and police at the time, these revelations make the strongest case yet that James Maybrick and Jack the Ripper are one and the same.

True skeptics will remain unconvinced, because there is an entire industry that has sprung up around the Ripper riddle and people are invested in maintaining the mystery, but after stumping seekers for almost 130 years, I’m more confident than ever that this case is closed.

Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Diary of Jack the Ripper


The limited edition facsimile of the diary with updates from its owner, Robert Smith, is currently sold out, but you can email the publisher, Mango Books, and request to be informed if and when it is reprinted.


*The story of the watch is almost as intriguing as the diary itself. For a more thorough description of the discovery and analysis of the Maybrick watch, read Ripper Diary.



Flying Under the Radar

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

No Flying in the HouseKirsti and I met in third grade, which is notable for both the beginning of our friendship and our introduction to the book No Flying in the House. Our teacher, Mrs. Jansen, would read a few pages from the book each day after the lunch recess, and students impatiently lined up at the classroom door to hear the next part of the story. Today is the birthday of the book’s author, Betty Brock, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 80, but will live forever in our childhood memories and in our hearts.

No Flying in the House tells the story of Annabel Tippens, a young girl who mysteriously appears one day on the terrace of wealthy Mrs. Vancourt accompanied by her guardian, Gloria—a talking dog just three inches high and three inches long. Although the formidable lady has no interest in children, she is an admirer of small things and wants Gloria for herself, so she accepts them both into her home. But when a talking cat named Belinda causes Annabel to question her origins and abilities, will Gloria be able to protect her secret?

The ShadesI have reread the book a number of times as an adult and it is still as captivating as it was in third grade. First published in 1970, No Flying in the House delighted a generation of children, but seems to be flying under the radar today. Kirsti and I marvel that it hasn’t been made into a movie yet. Betty Brock wrote only one other book, The Shades, which is equally fantastical and worthy of its own adaptation. The books are both suspenseful and even mildly frightening at times, which is what kept me on pins and needles as a child, but it was No Flying in the House that first inspired my imagination to take flight.

On this special anniversary, I want to honor all of the teachers and authors who shaped my childhood and introduced me to the infinite wonders that can be found within the pages of a book. You wove your own special brand of magic and created swoon-worthy memories that will last a lifetime. Thank you.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

No Flying in the House


No Flying in the House and The Shades can both be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


Tie Yourself Up in Scots

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Entertainment, History, Literature, Pop Culture, Television, Travel

Outlander 1As I mentioned in our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide (that thing keeps coming up again and again and again), I went to Scotland in 1997 with Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, which has been developed into a popular television show on Starz that will begin its second season this Saturday, April 9th.

At the time of my Highland fling, I worked for an audiobook company that did business with Romantic Times magazine (now RT Book Reviews). I was already a huge fan of the Outlander books—a genre-bending series that defies categorization—when the magazine announced that it was organizing a trip to Scotland led by Diana Gabaldon in which the author would take readers to the places she’d written about in her books. So, 19 years ago today, I hopped on a plane to spend a week in the land of kilts and bagpipes with one of my favorite authors.*

Outlander 2

Flushed from too much Scotch whiskey with Diana at the Stakis Grosvenor Hotel in Edinburgh.

Looking back, I’m not sure why Diana agreed to do it. If I was an author, being trapped in a foreign country with a bunch of fangirls would be my worst nightmare, but she was gracious and accommodating, making herself available to sign our books and answer our endless questions about the series. Her fourth novel, Drums of Autumn, had just been released, so the trip doubled as a book tour of sorts. Walking into one store, we were amused to see Diana’s novels displayed with other “Books by Scottish Authors,” since she is an American who had never set foot in Scotland prior to writing the first book in the series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Outlander, the novel is told from the perspective of Claire Randall, a British World War II combat nurse who, while vacationing in the Highlands of Scotland with her husband after the war, is transported through a circle of standing stones to 1743. There, she encounters her husband’s ancestor—a sadistic Redcoat—and a band of Scottish clansmen that includes Jamie Fraser, a man who will force her to choose between two different lives and two distant centuries. The series is enthralling, with its combination of historical realism, eloquent prose, pulse-pounding adventure, and passionate romance.

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With Diana at Clava Cairns near Inverness, April 14, 1997


Back in 1997, Diana accompanied us to Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site near Inverness surrounded by stone circles that inspired Craigh na Dun, the fictional circle through which Claire travels back in time. We also visited Culloden field, site of the definitive battle between Scottish clans and British troops that, within the space of an hour, brought an end to the clan system and changed the course of Scotland’s history. There was a tangible sense of grief pervading the area, making us aware that the characters Diana wrote about in her books had flesh-and-blood counterparts who shed that blood on the very field beneath our feet.


Outlander 4During the trip, a few of us formed a group of friends, one of whom let us in on a little secret. Back in the states, she had done research on contemporary silversmiths in Scotland, trying to locate someone who could recreate the wedding ring that Jamie gives to Claire in Outlander, described as “a wide silver band, decorated in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link.” She found a woman in Stirling who employed 18th-century techniques to fashion silver jewelry with Scottish motifs. On one of our free days, we met with this woman to discuss the ring and place our orders. Her final design was more rustic and had larger elements than the ring described in the book, but I still treasure it as a memento of the trip and an authentic piece of Scottish artistry.


Outlander 5Twenty-three years after its publication, I was thrilled to see that Outlander was being made into a series for television. Like most fans, I worried about casting and changes to the story, but everyone involved in the production did a fantastic job of bringing Diana’s first novel to life. Season One is out on DVD (in Volumes One and Two) and available for streaming, so there’s still time to tie yourself up in Scots by setting your DVR to record the new season as you catch up on the previous one.

With the series currently standing at eight full-length novels (a ninth is in progress), two novellas, one short story, a graphic novel, and a spin-off series (more of a “sub-series”), the producers should have plenty of material to keep the show going for years. And with some of the highest viewership in the history of Starz, that’s not an outlandish assumption.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Outlander – Books
Outlander – Television


*Technically, I hopped on a plane to New York City on April 7th in order to meet up with part of the RT group on the 8th. We flew to Iceland for a two-day pre-tour in Reykjavík before flying to Scotland on the 11th to join the rest of the group.



In the Starz adaptation, Jamie gives Claire a wedding ring made from the iron key to the front door of his home, Lallybroch. It may have been a sentimental choice, but it is not a particularly attractive one.


A Flood of Memories

Author: Kirsten K., Books, History, Literature, Nostalgia

When I was a child, I had a series of recurring dreams about being caught in floods and tsunamis that were so vivid and frequent, I can still remember them in detail. My waterlogged nights were the reason that, while visiting my Auntie Jo as a young girl, I plucked a book off her shelf about the St. Francis Dam disaster, kindling a fascination with the story that continues to this day, because today marks the 88th anniversary of the collapse: the deadliest American civil engineering disaster of the 20th century.

A Flood of Memories 1

The St. Francis Dam in February 1927, a year before it failed. At the time, the St. Francis Reservoir was the largest lake in Southern California.

Shortly before midnight on March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, 50 miles north of Los Angeles, suddenly and catastrophically collapsed, sending the 12.4 billion gallons of water in the St. Francis Reservoir racing down San Francisquito Canyon and across the Santa Clara River Valley to the sea. In its path were families asleep in their beds, colonies of migrants who worked on local ranches and farms, camps of powerhouse and railroad workers, and untold numbers of animals, all swept away by a wall of water that reached 140 feet at its peak. When it was over, more than 400 people (and possibly as many as 600) were dead, the second largest loss of life in California state history.

A Flood of Memories 2This past January, a new and exceptional account of the disaster hit bookshelves. Floodpath is the result of more than 20 years of meticulous research by author and documentary filmmaker Jon Wilkman. It chronicles the rise of Los Angeles, the life and career of William Mulholland, personal stories about the night of the flood, and details of the aftermath and investigation in such a way that the book reads like a novel. Since the author may have been the last person to interview some of the remaining eyewitnesses and survivors before they died, this is likely to stand as the definitive account.

The chapters in Floodpath describing the night of the collapse are gripping, detailing events of the disaster from the first ominous rumble at 11:57 pm to the last rush of water and debris that entered the Pacific Ocean five and a half hours later. The floodwaters had scoured a path through the canyon and down the valley for 54 miles, destroying property and lives and changing the landscape of Southern California in more ways than one. Equally compelling and tragic is the story of William Mulholland, the self-taught engineer and architect of the St. Francis Dam who had been lauded as a hero for bringing water to drought-parched Los Angeles, but who ended his life a broken man living in seclusion after the failure of the dam.

A Flood of Memories 3

All that remained after the collapse was this center section of the dam, nicknamed the Tombstone.

Because I’d known about the St. Francis Dam collapse since I was young, I didn’t realize until reading Floodpath that the disaster has been virtually forgotten by all but civil engineers, L.A. history buffs, and dam enthusiasts. Jon Wilkman lays out some possible reasons for this “historical amnesia” in his book, including a campaign by civic leaders to whitewash what had been an embarrassing misstep in the aggressive growth of Los Angeles, but it was still a shock when driving through San Francisquito Canyon this week to encounter not one sign leading to the site or marking its location. The only indication that the area had witnessed the greatest man-made disaster in 20th century America—second only to the San Francisco earthquake and fire in terms of Californian lives lost—was a single plaque behind a chain link fence at Power Plant No. 2 that I stumbled upon when I stopped to take a picture (the former powerhouse at that location having been completely washed away in the flood).

St. Francis Dam 1

The site of the St. Francis Dam today looking east. The five steps protruding from the dirt once led up the front of the Tombstone.

The classic film Chinatown popularized the California Water Wars, but even though the St. Francis Dam failure is alluded to in the movie (as the Van der Lip Dam disaster), the collapse has slipped from public consciousness almost as quickly and completely as the waters of the St. Francis Reservoir slipped past the remains of the dam. With our aging infrastructure and shortsightedness in preventing another such disaster, this cautionary tale could not be more relevant. Hopefully, Floodpath will revive interest in this important chapter in the history of Los Angeles and unleash a flood of memories for those who can’t afford to forget.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:



Floodpath can be purchased online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bloomsbury, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

Jon Wilkman is currently working on a documentary about the St. Francis Dam. Read more about this project on his website.



Update 3/13/16:

Yesterday, while my pre-scheduled post about Floodpath was going live, I returned to San Francisquito Canyon for a tour of the St. Francis Dam site through the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. This annual tour on the anniversary of the disaster was led by Dr. Alan Pollack and Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel with an assist from Evan Decker. It began in the Saugus Train Station at Heritage Junction Historic Park with a one-hour lecture and video presentation about William Mulholland and the California Water Wars, the construction and collapse of the St. Francis Dam, and the resulting flood with its deadly consequences.

On the way to the site, we passed the former location of Hollywood cowboy Harry Carey’s Indian Trading Post, a popular tourist attraction that had been swept away by the floodwaters, as well as a private cemetery on a hillside in the canyon where seven members of the Ruiz family, all victims of the flood, are buried. We also walked farther down the floodpath from the dam site than I’d gone on my previous visit, seeing large blocks of concrete from the collapsed dam that had been borne downstream by the water (new picture gallery below). The most powerful moment for me came while standing by Power Plant No. 2, where Dr. Pollack pointed up the hillside to indicate that the floodwaters had reached 3/4 of the way up the canyon walls. Referring to the powerhouse workers and their families, who lived in a small community across from the plant, he lamented, “They never had a chance.”

The SCV Historical Society is actively pursuing legislation to designate the dam site as a National Memorial and Monument and grant it federal protection. Despite the fact that the City of Los Angeles and the L.A. Department of Water and Power seem to prefer that the St. Francis Dam disaster remain a distant and fading memory, this event in our history is of significance not only for Southern California, but for the country at large. Lessons learned from the collapse of the St. Francis Dam helped to improve the building of dams nationwide, and the tragedy should be acknowledged for its role in strengthening our infrastructure and contributing to the growth of this country.

For more information, visit the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.


How Dare You?

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature

You 6E Thing 3If You Dare was released this month and I dare say it’s the best book yet in the Deanna Madden series (read my review of the first two books in the series here). A. R. Torre ratcheted up the tension by teasing readers with an unsettling mystery for most of the book, doling out bits and pieces of the puzzle in a way that had me once again on the edge of my street as I listened to the audio version. Normally, it can take me up to two weeks to finish an audiobook, since I only listen for about an hour a night on my walk, but I knocked this baby out in just a few days. My house has never been so clean and organized as I folded clothes, washed dishes, filed receipts, and did anything else I could think of in order to keep listening.

In an interview with RT Book Reviews, A. R. Torre addressed the possibility that If You Dare would be the last book in the series by saying that, if she never wrote another Deanna Madden book, she thinks readers would be satisfied with the ending (I agree!). However, in the author’s note at the end of If You Dare, she states, “As far as whether I will write another book in this series, I think that I probably will.” (I triple-blog-dare you!) If she does, the wait for the next book in the series will be Madden-ing, so I hope she writes fast, because I really should clean out my garage…

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

If You Dare


Purchase If You Dare from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or download the audiobook from Audible.


The Art of Asking, or Why I Want to Spoon with Amanda Palmer

Author: Kirsti Kay, Books, Literature, Pop Culture

The Art of Asking 1Sometimes a book sneaks up on you—one that wasn’t on your radar, but sprinkles a thousand juicy gumdrops of pure delight into your unsuspecting consciousness, renewing your faith in humanity. This is how I felt about The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. Yes, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls…Amanda Palmer of the million dollar Kickstarter…Amanda Palmer of the notorious eyebrows…Amanda Palmer whom I’d like to spoon with.

I was never an Amanda Palmer fan. I thought her band, The Dresden Dolls, was cool, but I never bought an album. I was curious about those eyebrows and thought she was super rad to snag Neil Gaiman, but that’s about it. Then I listened to an interview with her on Tim Ferrisspodcast, and as soon as she started talking, I was in love. I felt giddy with joie de vivre. She was so wonderfully open and honest and filled with joy. She made me want to play the ukulele! She made me want to make art! She made me want to spread her message across the land!

I immediately watched her TED Talk and then downloaded The Art of Asking on Audible. I highly recommend the unabridged audio version of the book. It is read by Amanda and also includes music—a delightful surprise, which sets the tone and makes the experience even more personal. Her reading style is relaxed and conversational. I didn’t feel like I was listening to a book at all. I felt that someone was talking to me, entertaining me, confessing to me.

The Art of Asking 2Don’t be fooled by the title, this is not your typical self-help book. It’s mainly a memoir filled with outrageous and delicious stories of Amanda’s life. She recounts the early days when she performed as a living statue, known as “The Eight Foot Bride.” She talks about The Dresden Dolls and how she amassed an armada of loyal fans by creating a symbiotic relationship of trust and reciprocation. She tells the sweet story of how she met the author Neil Gaiman and, yes, she explains the eyebrows.

She also gets into the whole Kickstarter controversy (Amanda was the first artist who crowd funded a million dollar campaign and a lot of critics accused her of ripping off her fans). She is not afraid to ask for money for her art, but in return she will come to your house, eat food with your aunt Fran, hang out with your friends, and play a show in your backyard. It’s a pretty refreshing concept. The Art of Asking is a simple formula: Give and the world will give back. Hug and the world will hug back. Love and the world….well, you get the picture.

In a world that so often feels disconnected, selfish and unfriendly, it’s reassuring to know Amanda’s out there, reminding us of the importance of creative expression and human connection.  I would say yes to anything she asked.

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Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

The Art of Asking


The Art of Asking is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The audio version can be downloaded from Audible. For book-related extras, including a playlist of songs from the book, visit Amanda Palmer’s website.


Note from Kirsten: Kirsti was so moved by this book that she bought me the Audible download and included a note saying that she really wanted me to listen, but I didn’t have to and shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated. Despite these assurances, I knew she was anxiously waiting to find out if I would listen and enjoy it. When I finally told her that I was loving the audiobook, she said, “Ohhhhh, so glad you are listening! I wasn’t going to ask!” We are both now fully aboard the Amandatrak train and excited to see where it will take us next.

Like Kirsti, I believe this book is best enjoyed on audio due to Amanda’s engaging narration and the inclusion of music, which sets the stage for key moments in her story. On a scale of yawn to swoon, this audiobook gets five out of five smelling salts. Listen to it!!

Smelling Salts 5a

The Last Time I Saw Ferriss

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia, Synchronicity

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, one of the things that Kirsti and I find the most swoon-worthy is synchronicity—when the stars align to create a situation so perfect and unexpected that you could not possibly have planned it yourself. You know what else is swoon-worthy? Laziness. Whenever possible, I believe in following the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle—reduce stress, reuse ideas, recycle posts. Two years ago today I experienced one of the best, if not THE best, moments of synchronicity in my life, which I wrote about at the time on my personal Facebook page. In celebration of anniversaries and laziness, I am lifting the veil of my privacy settings and sharing the story here. Enjoy!

Ferriss 1When I decided last year that I wanted to shed some weight before my trip to Paris, I started out by following Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb Diet. I’d read about it in his book The 4-Hour Body, and what he said about diet and weight loss made perfect sense to me. In fact, everything Tim Ferriss says makes perfect sense to me. I read his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, years ago and found it to be surprisingly funny and eye-opening. He is the quintessential outside-the-box thinker who simply does not look at the world the way most people do. He’s always searching for a new angle. As someone who usually lives inside the box and always plays by the rules, I aspire to be more like him. He is one of my heroes.

I’ve thought about him off and on during the year-and-a-half since I started the diet, particularly when I was trying to brush up on my French for the Paris trip. Tim has an avid interest in language acquisition and has created his own method for becoming functionally fluent in any language in just a few months. I also visit his blog from time to time, because it’s packed with information on a wide range of topics, always with some fresh insight or cutting-edge discovery. However, I haven’t thought of him much in the past year until recently. Knowing that I’m a fan of Tim Ferriss, my friend Prashanta, who likes to listen to Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, recently sent me links to a couple of podcasts Tim did with Joe, which I listened to shortly before I left for my latest trip to Boston. Given that each show is two+ hours long, listening to them brought Tim vividly back into my consciousness.

Ferriss 2I thought about him again while I was packing for the trip. He travels frequently and has lived for extended periods of time abroad. I don’t know if or where he has a permanent residence and have no idea of his movements, since I don’t follow him on Facebook or read his blog regularly. He’s written about how he packs and prepares for a trip and how he gets to the airport. Everything this guy does is about being quick and efficient and doing the minimum amount of work for the maximum result. Looking at my large suitcase and assortment of clothes, I thought, “I need to be more lean and mean like Tim.” He only travels with a carry-on and gets in and out quickly.

I also thought of him right in the middle of my trip, when I was having a personal issue that I considered trying to explore through lucid dreaming. Since I hadn’t read anything new on the topic for a while and I’ve had difficulty in the past with inducing lucid dreams, I did a Google search for “how to have a lucid dream.” I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of the first results to pop up was a link to a post on Tim Ferriss’s blog about the subject. He mentioned Stephen LaBerge from The Lucidity Institute at Stanford (I’ve participated in their at-home experiments for more than 20 years) and gave some induction tips. Nothing new, but I thought it was interesting that he was knowledgeable about lucid dreams. Is there anything that gets by this guy?

Ferriss 3During the trip I saw that a friend of mine had commented on a Facebook post about a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. I was intrigued by the title and immediately purchased the ebook. I scanned the experiments and they seemed simple enough, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to try them. I was also hooked by the introduction, which gave remarkable examples of synchronicities in the author’s own life, as well as some of the scientific evidence behind the idea that we are creating our lives through our thoughts, expectations, and beliefs. I decided to try the first experiment.

Simply stated, the experiment involves giving the Field of Infinite Possibilities 48 hours to show you proof of its existence. That’s it. You simply make a statement that you want a clear sign—that cannot be written off—that there is a “loving, abundant, totally hip force in the universe” that connects everything and is responsive to your thoughts. I read this on a Thursday and decided to start the experiment that afternoon. I made my statement that I wanted clear, unmistakable, unambiguous proof of the existence of this energy field. The 48 hours would expire on late Saturday afternoon, which is when I was leaving to come home from the trip.

Ferriss 4I went about my business and noted after 24 hours that nothing had happened, but there was still time. Early on Saturday afternoon I remembered the experiment. I’d unexpectedly turned a corner in Boston the day before and come across Max Brenner’s restaurant, and I wondered if that might have been my sign. I’d made a pilgrimage to his restaurant in New York [because chocolate] and didn’t realize there was one in Boston, so it was a surprise to see it, but then I decided it couldn’t be the sign. I’d asked for something unmistakable, so I wouldn’t have to wonder whether or not it was my sign.

After that, I was too busy driving to the airport, going through security, and getting on the plane to think about the experiment again. The 48 hours expired sometime during the flight, but I was focused on the experience of flying and on the audiobook I was listening to, so I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was sitting in an aisle seat and had been listening to my iPod with my eyes closed, but I opened them to see someone coming down the aisle toward the restroom at the back of the plane. I felt a spark of recognition, but then the person looked up and I locked eyes with him for a second. It was Tim Ferriss.

Ferriss 5Tim FREAKING Ferriss was on my plane! My little, single-aisle 757 flying from Boston to Los Angeles at 4:30 pm on a random Saturday afternoon in October. I was utterly dumbstruck. I actually put my head in my hands, because I could not process what I’d just seen. He went back to his seat toward the front of the plane and I didn’t see him for the rest of the flight, but I was in a daze. I’d gotten my sign in the form of Tim Freaking Ferriss. It HAD to be.* I thought about walking up there and telling him my story, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I am not the type of person to approach celebrities or public figures to talk with them, and I have a fear of meeting my heroes and finding out that they are rude or disappointing. But this story was too good! What to do? I decided that I would send him an email, even though I’d read in The 4-Hour Workweek that he checks emails as infrequently as once a week and most of them are vetted ahead of time by his staff. Still, it was either that or do nothing. I knew that I wouldn’t see him at baggage claim, because he only brings a carry-on when he travels.

When the flight landed and passengers started filing out, I looked for him in the aisle, but never saw him. By the time I got to baggage claim, there were people crowding around the carousel, so I went and stood near a tall, 30-something guy to wait for my bag. A minute later, Tim Freaking Ferriss walks over and starts talking to the guy. Turns out it’s the friend he was traveling with. O.K., Field of Infinite Possibilities, you’ve got my attention. My heart was racing. How could I possibly approach him? I was trying to work up the courage when he walked right past me, so I called out his name. He turned and said, “Yes? And who are you?” We shook hands and I told him my name. I said that, as he might have surmised, I had read and enjoyed his books. I told him that I didn’t want to disturb him while he was waiting for his luggage, but that I’d like to tell him a story I thought he’d find interesting.

Ferriss 6I related my tale and he was very attentive. He was gratified that Prashanta had sent me the links to the Joe Rogan podcasts. He said he hadn’t explored lucid dreaming for a while and really needed to get back into it. When I told him about all the ways he’d been on my mind recently and then about seeing him walk down the aisle of the plane, he replied, “You’re thinking, ‘Man, I can’t get away from this guy!'” From anyone else, that would have been mildly amusing, but it was Tim Freaking Ferriss, so I thought it was HI-larious.

The reason he was standing at baggage claim with his friend is that they were waiting for several boxes of equipment. Evidently, he was in town to film something (probably for his new TV show [The Tim Ferriss Experiment], which I just found out will be debuting in early December). I said, “This is just so odd. When I think of everything that had to coalesce for you to be on my plane… I mean, I don’t know about you, but I booked this flight months ago.” He said that it was very strange, because he never flies from Boston to L.A. In fact, before I’d called out his name, I overheard him say something to his friend like, “I think we took the wrong flight.” He seemed to be implying that they’d booked an earlier or later flight than they’d intended. In any case, weird!

Ferriss 7I said to him, “Well, I know you didn’t play any conscious part in it, but thank you for being my sign.” Then I asked him if he would indulge me by allowing me to take his picture—a sort of “proof of life” for the folks back home. He graciously posed for me, making a double thumbs-up. The picture is a little blurry, but the message is crystal clear: I got my sign and it was unmistakable and unambiguous. I met my hero and he wasn’t an idiot or an asshole. Now it’s time to explore those infinite possibilities…

In the two years since my close encounter with Tim Ferriss, I have had several more experiences of synchronicity, including three that were nearly as remarkable. I’ve also explored a number of possibilities, some of which culminated in the creation of this blog. I hope my story will inspire you to think big and expect the unexpected. The Field of Infinite Possibilities is just waiting for you to make your move.

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Tim Ferriss


The books in the 4-Hour series can be purchased from Amazon. All 13 episodes of The Tim Ferriss Experiment are available on iTunes. Be sure to check out Tim’s entertaining and informative podcast, The Tim Ferriss ShowE-Squared can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


*To those people thinking, “Coincidence!” I offer up one of my favorite quotes from Kirsti: “I hate skeptics, because you never get to experience the joy of seeing their eyes light up over something you’ve said.” Also, consider the number of flights that take off and land each day in the U.S. alone and try to calculate the odds that we’d both be on that particular plane.

Colorful Characters

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature

On this blog, Kirsti and I write about stuff that we find swoon—or note—worthy. Often, these are things that you can purchase or experience for yourselves, but occasionally we like to share aspects of our lives that we hope will spark an interest and become worthy of your notice, too. This is one such post.

When Dressgate went viral back in February, it ignited a discussion about perception across the Internet. People were realizing that the world as they see it does not always match the way others see it. I learned this lesson several years ago when I discovered that most people do not perceive something very basic the way I do. I have grapheme → color synesthesia, which is a fancy way of saying that I see letters and numbers in color.

Colorful Characters 1

A B C, it’s easy as…red, blue, green. My synesthetic alphabet.

Grapheme → color synesthesia is the most common form of synesthesia (“union of the senses”), which means that some of you reading this post likely have it. If so, you probably also thought it was normal and not worth mentioning to anyone for much of your life. When I finally started talking to people about it in my 20s, nobody I spoke to had ever heard of such a thing, but in January of 2002 I happened to catch a segment on 60 Minutes II called A Sixth Sense and everything fell into place. Finally, I had a name for this condition and realized that others were having a similar experience. While I see letters and numbers in color, some synesthetes taste words or feel music as a physical touch on their skin.

Colorful Characters 2

This box of crayons is “Patient Zero” in the development of my condition.

I’ve read repeatedly that synesthesia runs in families, but nobody in my extended family seems to have it. Although many of the colors I see can be traced to a large box of Crayola crayons that my sister and I shared as children, she did not acquire the condition. This was about the time I was learning to read and write, so I’m certain that the association between letters, numbers, and colors was formed during this crucial phase of development.

People are often confused when I say that I see letters and numbers in color, and I find myself at something of a loss to explain. I can see the actual color of these gray letters against a white background as I type, but the individual colors are there too. It’s a mental overlay, and yet that is too simplistic an explanation. More than just seeing with the eyes or with the mind, it’s a knowing. I somehow know that 8 is red and S is dark blue. It’s strange to contemplate that other synesthetes see these numbers and letters differently. How could 5 be anything but purple?

Colorful Characters 3

These numbers are colorful characters in both senses. Each has a personality.

Aside from making the world a more colorful and interesting place, the primary benefit of having synesthesia for me has been in the area of memory. I find it easy to remember names, phone numbers, and dates, because of the color impressions they create. As a result, I have unintentionally memorized more than a few Social Security and credit card numbers over the years. I also love to look at license plates and street numbers as I drive or go for walks, because it’s fun to see all of the different color patterns.

Colorful Characters 4In the years since I first heard the term, synesthesia has become popularized through the TED Talk and New York Times Bestselling book Born on a Blue Day by autistic savant Daniel Tammet, who has several types of synesthesia. I encounter more and more people who are familiar with it, including one young woman who, as a child, physically saw letters and numbers in color before the experience became more of a mental perception as she grew older. Only recently, I discovered that other experiences I have always taken for granted are also forms of synesthesia: chromesthesia (seeing colors when musical notes and/or keys are being played), spatial sequence synesthesia (perceiving months and dates in space), and ordinal linguistic personification (associating numbers, days, months, and letters with personalities).

But I’m not going to get into the science of synesthesia here or expound on every little detail of my experience with it. I’d rather you take a moment to consider your own perception of everyday matters. You may find that your world has a richness beyond the norm and that you have something important to contribute to our understanding of the brain and consciousness so that we can all lead more colorful lives.

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Find out more about Daniel Tammet on his website. Born on a Blue Day can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A Legend, in Her Own Time

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

Tasha Tudor 1Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated close to one hundred books and produced thousands of original paintings, many of which have been turned into cards and prints. Her work is highly sought after by collectors, but—despite having received numerous awards for her books and critical praise for her art—Tasha’s personal life began to eclipse her artistic life when she became equally, if not more, famous for her 19th-century lifestyle.

Tasha Tudor 2Unlike many children who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, I was not raised on Tasha Tudor’s books. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I was first introduced to her through the pages of Victoria magazine, which has done a number of features on Tasha’s life and work over the years. I became captivated by this artist and author who, with her talent and resources, could have enjoyed every modern convenience, but chose to live her life as a woman of the 1800s.

Tasha Tudor 3Beginning with The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a series of books about her lifestyle was released in the early 1990s with elegant photographs by Richard W. Brown showing Tasha going about the daily business of milking her goats, cooking on a woodstove, spinning wool into thread, and quilting in front of the fire. Blurring the line between life and art, she found beauty in the simplest tasks and once said, “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” Convinced that she’d lived before in the 1830s, Tasha said that everything from that period came easily to her. She seemed to excel at any craft she attempted, whether basket making, woodworking, knitting, or weaving, but her favorite pastime was gardening.

Tasha Tudor 4Tasha lived in rural Vermont in a house that was built by her son. Although constructed in the 1970s, her home was modeled on a 230-year-old house and erected using hand tools, so it looked—like Tasha herself—as if it belonged to another century. The magnificent garden she cultivated on her vast property was her pride and joy. It was celebrated in the book Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and featured on an episode of the ABC news program Primetime Live in 1997. She called it “Paradise on earth!”

Tasha Tudor 5Although she was in her early 90s when she passed away in 2008, Tasha never lost her childlike spirit and sense of wonder. She had a lifelong love of marionettes and dolls, and the contents of her immense dollhouse were put on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1996. Christmas was her favorite holiday, for which she began preparing months in advance. She wrote and illustrated several Christmas books and created annual holiday-themed images to be made into Christmas cards and Advent calendars.

Tasha Tudor 6

Tasha also had an affinity for animals, but was especially fond of birds and Welsh Corgis. She produced a popular series of books about the fictional town of Corgiville and christened her home Corgi Cottage in honor of her beloved dogs. Animals appear frequently in Tasha’s art, which she drew from life. With inspiration all around her, images of Tasha’s home, garden, children, pets, and household items can be found in the works of art she created by a window in a small corner of her kitchen.

Tasha Tudor 7Tasha’s conversation was peppered with quotes from books she’d read or people of note. Her favorite came from a letter written by Fra Giovanni in 1513 and included the lines: “No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!” It is from this quote that the titles Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor and Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas were appropriated for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.

Tasha Tudor 8While she enjoyed quoting others, Tasha was highly quotable herself. She once said, “I think I’ve done a good job of life,” which is more than evident to anyone who has read her books, seen her paintings, or had a glimpse into the idyllic world she created in the New England countryside. A believer in reincarnation and the fluidity of time, she declared, “When I die, I’m going right back to 1830.” For all we know, she’s there right now (or, rather, then), tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.Tasha Tudor 9

Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake from her “receipt” book to celebrate a woman for whom life itself was a work of art and whose indomitable spirit didn’t let a little thing like the 20th century interfere with her desire to live in the 1800s.

Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.

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Books by and about Tasha Tudor can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For original art, prints, rare books, and other Tasha Tudor collectibles, visit Cellar Door Books. Explore the Tasha Tudor Museum to learn more about her life and art.

You 6E Thing

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature

You 6E Thing 1During the past year, I have been swooning over a pair of novels about a beautiful, young woman with a tragic past…who just happens to spend most of her time fantasizing about ways to kill people. The woman’s name is Deanna Madden—aka The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre. The book was a Top Pick in RT Book Reviews and, since they rarely steer me wrong, I got a copy shortly after it was released last summer.

Deanna is the narrator of her story, and she brings the reader up to speed right from the outset. She has voluntarily sequestered herself in apartment 6E to protect society from her murderous urges. Her only physical interaction with the outside world is to speak through her door to the addict she pays in drugs to lock her in at night and the UPS guy who delivers the necessities of life that she orders online. To support her unusual lifestyle, she works as a sex cam girl, offering virtual thrills to everyone from the computer hacker she hires to shield her true identity to the therapists she consults off the clock about her deadly obsession. She has made the best of her situation for three years until events conspire to lure her out of her safe haven…

You 6E Thing 2When I read The Girl in 6E, I thought it was a standalone novel, but a sequel was released in April and received another Top Pick from RT. I found the first book thrilling, but Do Not Disturb had me on the edge of my seat—or, rather, the edge of my street. I listened to the audio version on my nightly walk and was so caught up in the story that I would often take another turn around the block so that I could keep “reading.”

For someone who doesn’t get out much, Deanna certainly leads an exciting life. The sequel picks up right where The Girl in 6E ends and it is a wild ride with several unexpected turns. Instead of Deanna heading toward danger, danger is now headed for her, and we get more insight into the other characters in her orbit. Despite the tense and sinister events of the novel, there is an amusing note at the end of Do Not Disturb, which makes it clear that readers owe a debt of gratitude to the author’s husband. It turns out that A. R. Torre’s imagination is, at times, even darker than her protagonist’s, and we have her husband to thank for pulling her back from the brink.

You 6E Thing 3Deanna Madden has been compared to a female Dexter Morgan, but this is not merely a rehash of that series from “broad” perspective. There are certain parallels between the two characters, but Deanna inhabits her own world, both within and without. I found the descriptions of the sex cam profession fascinating, and Deanna’s desire to lead a normal life, coupled with her take-no-prisoners (well, maybe one or two) attitude, had me rooting for her.

If You Dare, the third book in the series, is scheduled for release in November, and A. R. Torre announced last week on YouTube that The Girl in 6E will be made into a feature film, but before you dive into this series, take note: these books contain raw language, graphic sexual situations, and some instances of disturbing violence that are not for the faint of heart, so those with delicate sensibilities may want to steer clear (we promote figurative swooning only).

To help me endure the wait for the next chapter(s) in Deanna’s life, I think I’ll reread the series, so if you see me with a book in hand or my headphones on, please—do not disturb.

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The Girl in 6E
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The Girl in 6E and Do Not Disturb are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The audio versions can be downloaded from Audible.


11/22/15 update:

Click here for my review of If You Dare.