Hello hello. What accounts for the radio silence is that these last couple of weeks we've been packing for our move to Italy. In this spare moment, I wanted to share Leah's story, and my most recent Gratitude Giveaway. Leah works in hospice which, to my mind, is like the work of angels on earth. And so, here is her tattoo story: 

I have been privileged to work in hospice for the last 5 years.  Whenever I mention that people always say “That must be so hard, working with people who are dying.”  In reality, it is an honor to do my imperfect best to help people at this stage in their life.  It seems to me that death is like life, amplified.  It can be sad, graceful, beautiful, messy, transcendental and mundane, all at the same time.  Seeing people in this stage makes me aware of the finite nature of my own life, and that I need to strive to make it the best that I am able.

My hope with this tattoo is to keep several ideas central in my heart.  First, the life I live is foremost under my control; a positive person lives in a positive world.  Second, the more love I give, the more love I get, in my life and at the end of my life.  Third, those things that I dislike most in others are the things I dislike most in myself.  So better to try to acknowledge and change that in myself than focus that negativity toward others.

Thanks to Cody Swigert at Temple Décor and Marianne Wiest Photography in Kalispell, Montana and to Leah for sharing her story and the final product!

As I reminder: I give away one expression of gratitude every month to a client whose story I find especially moving: commemorating a loved one, an act of kindness, a gift, etc. Email me with your story. And all the gallerty of tattoo photos can be found here



I know it has been a few months since the last one, but here is my latest Gratitude Giveaway client, Ben. A while back, Ben wrote: 
"I'm working on a journal that will show my appreciation for how truly remarkable my wife is (you can see her blog here). I plan to provide her with a small note every now and then, articulating a characteristic I adore about her. She can then put these notes she collects in this particular journal titled... and this is where you come in Mara :)...1,000 reasons I absolutely, positively love you.
Just a little background. Before my wife and I were officially dating (just hanging out and flirting), I told her there were 1,000 things I loved about her, which prompted a book/album a little later into our dating years that I never finished completing--I only got to 10 things! Lame-O! So, to this day she sarcastically jokes, "you only love 10 things about me?!!"
We've just completed our 6th [now 7th!] wedding anniversary, and been so busy with life (nearly 4 kids--my wife has 8 weeks left in her pregnancy--in the last 6 years) that every time I try to give the 1,000 reasons journal a little attention, it never actually gets any attention. The cover and interior I had originally put together have grown to look cheesy to me and I've wanted to change it to something more timeless (as described at the beginning)."

Ben's sweetie Rubyellen wrote a little post about receiving the gift, and what she gave him in return, over here. And here is their anniversary portrait. Her blog Cakies is such a fun read.

Here's to many more years and entries in your book!

{Photo courtesy of Rubyellen from Cakies}


Today it was raining buckets in Los Angeles. I popped in to the UCLA bookshop where students stood in line for cheaply made umbrellas that fell apart moments after they bought them. Damp, disappointed girls scurried back in with a mess of metal and nylon. "Um, I literally JUST bought this and it's, like, already broken." The cashier would say over and over again, not looking up and gesturing to the bin of identical umbrellas, "Just grab another one." Clearly, this would not do.

So I went to one of my favorite thrift stores. There, I found the platonic ideal of an umbrella-- vintage, handsewn, with a wooden and mother of pearl handle. The sturdy, smooth, beautiful beige cloth snapped into a taut bloom. Until now, I was unfamiliar with this universe of umbrellas. I eagerly started writing the blog post in my head. "Sometimes, we come across an object we never knew could be thoughtfully designed..." I waxed on about the stitching and curves and craftsmanship.

And then Steve Jobs died today, and I could not help but think that these events were somehow related. Because the elegy I would write for Steve Jobs would also begin "Sometimes, we come across an object we never knew could be thoughtfully designed..." We fall in love. There is no other way to describe it.

I was five years old. I'd just moved to Santa Fe and my parents took me to a Radio Shack. There stood a square gray box, just at my height. It looked like all of the other square boxes save for a rainbow colored apple on its face. It was electromagnetic. "Gray. Box. Rainbow. Delight." To this day, when I pass that Radio Shack, my heart races like it was the site of a first date. You had me at the rainbow, Steve, and you've had me ever since.

Wherever you are, probably in a heaven or a universe whose beauty we can't possibly imagine until, like the umbrella, we see it for ourselves, thank you.

(And a reminder to listen to Steve Jobs talk about how calligraphy influenced Apple's design here.)


{See Part I and Part II of this story}

And then last week I got this email from Catherine with the update:

Hi Mara,

All healed up, and home from a week down in New England - a memorial for my grandmother at the Bridgewater Town House in New Hampshire (a wild looking building) and the internment of her ashes on the land she saved for our family - on top of a mountain - land that's been passed down for at least five or six generations. That's where I'm standing in these photos. It felt appropriate.

We gathered at our family cabin there en masse for a time and celebrated her in a lot of little ways - the women sitting in a circle and dividing her piles of costume jewelery and scarves and dresses among us, and tracing the family lineage as far as we could.My family loved the piece and continue to get compliments on it wherever I go - and tell the story of the whole thing proudly. I get comments in the weirdest of situations - most oddly from a security guard at a casino while I threw down roulette chips.

Most importantly - I love it, and it feels almost as if it's always been a part of me.

I've set up an annual donation to the Canadian Opera Company in her memory. Her nephews opened the memorial service with a duet on trumpet and stand-up bass - a sweetly arranged aria she particularly loved.

Thank you again for contributing such a big part to the end of this story.


Let me say that when I started Neither Snow I couldn't have dreamed up that I would one day receive a photo of a beautiful woman trying on the clothes of her beloved grandmother in the New England summer air, with a relative helping her button the blouse, and with my calligraphy forever etched on this delicate arm. There are inumerable moments in my work when words fail me, and this is one of those times.


With a full heart and a check in the mail to the Canadian Opera Company in honor of Mary Heron, I am unspeakably honored to have been a part of this collaboration and grateful to Catherine Heron, her remarkable family, Tyson Ward at Passage Tattoo in Toronto, and photographers Andrew Thuss and Mawgan Lewis.


As a reminder: i give away an expression of gratitude every month. Please contact me with a candidate + story if you would like to be considered.




Back in June I received this email from Catherine Heron with the photos above (from top to bottom: Shapleigh coat of arms, Mary Heron, Mary and her son, Charles.)

Hi Mara,

My grandmother died a week ago tomorrow. She was 98 1/2 years old.

She was 1 of 12 living daughters of a Union Civil War vet. At an impatient 3 she headed downtown alone, then graciously allowed a neighbour to accompany her: the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" of the Titanic. She was in Saltzburg when the Nazis came. Her Detroit friends included Louis & Suzanne Chevrolet. She escaped a marriage of politics and convenience by fleeing alone to a Nevada "divorce ranch" in the thirties in the middle of the night. Because of her stories, I know I am connected to all of history and humanity. 

She was positively fierce, fierce in her opinions - petitioning to save greenspaces, fiercely liberal... fiercely proud of my career as an artist, fiercely independent - fiercely supportive, nay - instrumental in encouraging me to get out of relationships I was miserable about. She was University educated, keeping her mensa-member husband of 50+ years on his toes constantly - learning perpetually. Skype-ing herself in to my cousin's west coast lesbian wedding so she could share her genuine joy for both women.

A true practitioner of unconditional love, she always listened intensely, with vital interest. She taught us that grace, charm and compassion are what make a lady; to never stay in a passionless relationship; to have treats at the ready for your guests; to blaze a trail doing what is right; that love is the answer.

Through her, I was a descendant of the Shapleigh family - who arrived in Kittery, Maine in 1623 - three years after the Mayflower. The qualities and aspects of her that I've described, I have always been told, are "100% Shapleigh." In conversations with my aunt - her daughter - we've talked about the qualities of the women of this line, this "fierceness," quickness, compassion, energy, freedom. My name is Catherine Shapleigh Heron.

I had told my grandmother a year ago I had been playing with the idea of getting a scallop shell tattooed on  my wrist - the scallop being the symbol on the family Coat of Arms, the original, from Devon. She loved this idea, and on a $26 birthday check wrote "FOR A SHAPLEIGH TATTOO??!" in the memorandum line. But now that she has passed, I've thought it over and would simply like to get the Shapleigh motto (also from the coat of arms) done up the inside of my arm.

The motto is "Fideli Certa Merces," which translated, is "to the faithful, reward is certain."

I was touched by Catherine's email for many reasons: the beautiful prose, the specific memories of her grandmother, and Mary's $26 birthday check (my own grandmother sends me $25 every year). So Catherine became June's Gratitude Giveaway winner and we endeavored to create a tattoo worthy of Mary Heron. The terms: that we would each donate $26 to a charitable cause dear to Mary's heart.

And so...


153 - 154: 6.3 + "this is very important"

One of my very favorite paper stores in Berlin was Druckerei J. Müeller (Neue Schonhauser Str. 16) in Mitte. The shop is tucked away in a courtyard and offers a charming mix of very official looking rubber stamps, old metal type, and products they produce in-house. Here, three of my favorite. First, these blind press note cards that I sealed with some washi tape (bought at  R.S.V.P, a reader suggestion -- thank you Surfire!) for gratitude letters 153 + 154. Second, and not a product per se, the stamped bag they give you, in Fraktur font, to contain your purchase. The owner folds the flap, punches a hole and inserts a brass clasp. So thoughtful. And finally, they print these quittungen, or receipt books, on an old mechanical letterpress. I. and I ventured back to the printing area and talked to the man overseeing the production. He took a receipt, turned it over, held it toward the light and delicately stroked the back, where the impression could be seen. "For the people who use these," he said (and by people he means service people, business owners, shop keepers, etc.) "this is very important. Being able to feel these lines, and feel the texture." (And yes, the photo of this dear man standing next to his press didn't come out). The front of the receipt says "Original Letterpress    Druckerei J. Müller Berlin-Mitte." The man said that, even to his surprise, his customers refuse to use mass-produced receipt books because the seonsory experience, craftsmanship and paper quality is so important. This revered labor-intensive process for such an ephemeral product very much reminded me of the letterpress fax cover sheet Emily of EmPrint made for the YU Contemporary artspace (also the location of her studio). Emily, you have a septuagenarian kindred spirit thousands of miles away.


I am so beyond, beyond honored to share February's gratitude winner with you. Projects like these remind me of just how fortunate I am to do the work I do. Back in January I got an email from Stephanie, a 25 year-old cancer survivor who is getting her PharmD. We collaborated to create the design for her tattoo, pictured above.

Stephanie's story embodies all that I hope to celebrate with Project Gratitude and the gratitude giveaways. How lucky we are to be alive. And to have inspiring role models like Stephanie who face adversity with such strength and grace.  Thank you, Stephanie, for the opportunity to work with you, and for sharing these heartfelt words.

Four years ago, at the age of 21, I found out I had Extraskeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely rare form of cancer which happened to be attached to a spinal nerve.  I had just completed a difficult semester of pharmacy school, and a tumor removal surgery revealed cancerous tissue.  The next year and a half would be filled with chemotherapy and radiation.  To put things into perspective, every other treatment consisted of six days in a hospital with a continuous infusion of chemotherapy flowing into my body.

I have numerous scars on my body: nape of my neck (from the tumor removal), left upper chest area (port site to administer chemotherapy) and under my left arm (previous collapsed lung).  I’ve had an incredible history of medical issues, including an additional spontaneous pneumothorax with pleural effusion, basically fluid in my lung cavity.  Yet, after all of it, I tend to feel like it was fortunate these things happened to me because someone else may not be able to endure the pain.

I believe in la vie en rose, the French equivalent of “looking at life through rose-colored glasses.”  There’s always a good side to events in one’s life, whether it be for your own good or someone else’s.  The events that have happened in my life may not be ideal, but I know I am unique and stronger because of them.  This tattoo means just that for me.  I wanted to remind myself to maintain my innate positive outlook, and I wanted to put my own mark on my body.  I also secretly insist I was meant to be Parisian, but that’s another story.  La vie en rose reminds me that these marks are beautiful, they are unique.  Some people wish they had interesting scars and marks on their body.. And, at the age of 26, I do - some by chance and one by choice.

Stephanie says she hopes hopes to share health and joy with others through pharmacy and event planning.

Special thanks to tattoo artist Kim Durham, and photographer Denny Kim. Your work is stunning.

As a reminder: I give away --for FREE!-- an expression of gratitude (a letter, a tattoo, a quote, etc.) every month. Please contact me if you have someone in your life who deserves thanks and recognition. I'm without a winner for March - May and would love to hear from you.  

And you can read more about tattoos here.

4.10:100 + 4.11:101 + ELLEN SILVERMAN

This stunning photograph by Ellen Silverman inspired today's thank yous to K + C (100) for an unforgettable dinner party in NYC and to W. (101) for opening up the beautiful Tudor City apartment which is one of my favorite places on earth, filled with so many memories never really falling asleep and sleeping talking with A.