About Anaea Lay

Consultant, Project Manager, Realtor - those are the boring things. Books, writing, politics, food, travel, books, people, science, parrots, and books...that's me.

Shared Faces is up at Escape Pod

If you ever wanted to know what a story about a sex bot, as penned by me, would look like, you’ll have to keep looking.  I don’t pen things – I’ve been chained to my keyboard since I was eight.  But if you’d like to know what a story about a sex bot, as banged out on a keyboard by me looks like, you should check out the latest episode of Escape Pod.

They put an adult content warning on the front of the episode for language.  There are instances of “language,” in the story.  But, in case you are somebody for whom adult contents act as more than an enticement, you should be warned that this is a story about a sex bot.  It opens with a…well…with the main character doing her thing.  “Language” isn’t what I’d have flagged as the warning for this story.

This is technically the second time I’ve had an audio version come out with the first printing of a story, but since the last time I was the one who did the podcast, this feels like the first.  That’s a very cool thing for me, what with my opinions about audio fiction.

On How Unqualified I am for Being an Aunt

Dear readers, I’ve purchased a crib mobile.

The concept was simple.  I am not my ne-creature*’s only aunt, but I am determined to be his favorite aunt.  Actually, I’m determined to be his favorite adult relative, if not his favorite adult.  I need somebody I can rely on to gently kill me in my sleep when I get old and frail, and this kid is it.  You’ve got to start on that sort of relationship early, and since the other aunts are local while I’m about as far away as I can get without leaving the contiguous 48, I have to make everything count.  Naturally, this made my choice of baby shower gift complicated.  I want something that my sister will appreciate getting and which will improve her life with baby, but which will also be loved by the kid and cherished enough to be remembered when he’s old enough to have awareness of emotional attachments.  Being the person to give the “blankie” or “teddy” object would be ideal.  But there’s no way to predict which of the blanket and stuffed animal gifts given to the kid will get the position as prime-favorite, and the locals will be better able to observe interests and target those positions more accurately.  I need a lingering adored object where there’s no competition.  I need to give the crib mobile.

This should be simple, right?  I thought so.  My first two thoughts for themes were dinosaurs and pirates.  And since I wanted to make sure my ne-creature had a mobile none of the other parasitic progeny-devices in his cohort had, I started my search on Etsy.  Very quickly I was overwhelmed by my options.  I am not the only person who thinks pirates and dinosaurs make great mobiles.  Tragically, only a subset of those people have a concept of “gender-neutral” so a number of the mobiles were out for being targeted to boys.  This needs to be a multi-use mobile, to increase the opportunities for, “Yeah, isn’t that awesome? Your super cool Aunt gave that to you,” when/if my sister decides to go in for a repeat performance.

I didn’t get this one because it’s perfect for *me* but I was very tempted

We’re all familiar with the concept of analysis paralysis, right?  Look it up if you aren’t.  I don’t usually find myself suffering crippling bouts of it outside of board games, but the mobile decision was so weighty, so important, so very vital to the success of my existence, that I was burdened by an unspeakably massive case of it.  I couldn’t even decide between my two original concepts, pirates or dinosaurs, let alone pick a specific iteration.  Then, insight!  None of the dinosaur mobiles had accurate depictions of dinosaurs.  We’ve known for years now that the visual renderings popular when I was a kid are wrong (feathers!) but the images in the mobiles didn’t reflect that.  I am not willing to win affection and adoration from the next generation on the backs of inaccurate biology training.  Dinosaurs are out, pirates win!

Relieved, I then proceeded to narrow down the pirate mobile options, settling on a custom version of this one.

I just needed to check on the colors my sister was using in the nursery so I could select card stock that would coordinate well and then….

Card. Stock.

Baby. Mobile.

Houston, we have an incompetent.

You can’t give a baby a dangling art object made of paper!  Who the hell put me in charge of this item?  Oh. Right. That’d be me.  Go me.

<Pause here for flashback>

It’s early July.  I’m in North Carolina with my entire family and Dr. Unicorn.  We’re discussing my sister’s status of “distressingly pregnant.”  I share my plot to be the favorite aunt and my burgeoning anxiety about her baby shower present created by this plot.  An unrelated conversation tangent reveals that there’s disagreement in her household about whether they should get a new deep fryer to replace one they had but which broke beyond repair.  “He says we don’t need one because we have a dutch oven, but it splatters grease everywhere and is hard to clean up,” she tells me.  “Maybe I should just get you a deep fryer for the shower,” I say.

<Back to current timeline>

I have, after an embarrassing amount of time spent mobile shopping, just now come to the realization that I should be looking for baby mobiles, not generic mobiles the likes of which might be delicate, fragile, or full of small parts ready to choke individuals with poorly developed motor control and optimistic expectations of their digestive tract.  Etsy’s not so useful for this, so I turn to Amazon.  There aren’t great hits for pirate mobiles there.  I start searching more broadly.  There are some cool star and planets ones.  Not really baby proof, though.  After a while I get fed up because while Amazon has a lot of mobiles, they’re all tacky, clunky, or cheap.  At one point I emerged from my office, shaking my fist with righteous indignation and declared, “I can’t give any of these to my ne-creature!  They all look like they’re designed for children.”  However much disgust you’re picturing in my inflection on children, ramp it up another notch.  Nope, one more notch over that.  There you go.

Then I listened to what I said.  I went back to one of the mobiles with stars.  I can’t tell whether or not it’s made of paper, but it’s so much classier than everything else, maybe I should just get it.

Exhaustion and shame at how hard this very simple task has been convince me that yes, this is what I should do.  I just need to pick out a color scheme.  I am, astonishingly, clever enough to realize that I can find out what the color scheme is by checking the registry to see what colors the things she registered for are.

What do I see on the registry, even though she’d said she didn’t plan to register for a mobile and I’d said, “Good, don’t, I’m getting it for you,” when we were talking things over?  A mobile.  A really boring, drab, clearly made for babies, mobile.  The sight of this mobile made me sad, and not just because if I’d started with this step I could have saved myself hours of idiotic internet shopping.  Nobody is going to think I’m cool or awesome or worth risking homicide charges for over this mobile.  But I’ve committed to a mobile, and this is the one my sister wants.  I am not going to be the person who decides I know what she wants better than she does.  I order the boring mobile.  I am sad about this, but there’s time.  I start plotting baby’s best Christmas present as a recovery.

Several days later, in phone conversation with my sister, she says something like, “I know you don’t like children, but it’s nice you’re being supportive of me and stuff.”  When my hysterical laughter dies down, I come clean about the rabbit hole I fell down while shopping, in part because the same is weighing heavily on me, and in part because it took me so long to get through she might not even have the mobile in time for the shower.

“Oh,” she says when I get to the bit about her being registered for a mobile.  “I forgot you’d told me not to register.  We didn’t actually want that mobile, it’s just the one that was made to go with the other bedding.  The one we want was too expensive to register for.”

I am alert.  I am attentive.  I am, dare I say it, hopeful?  But she won’t tell me which one they did want, because it’s too expensive.  “But show me the neat ones you were thinking about,” she says, since I had waxed at length about some of the cool mobiles I’d found.  I showed her inaccurate dinosaur mobiles, and the neat bird mobile that I could order with specific song birds, and the cool chandelier pirate mobile.  “Wait a minute,” she says.  “Those are expensive.  If you’re willing to spend that much, you can get me the mobile we want.”

YES DARLING SISTER, BUT WHICH ONE IS THAT?!

Baby shower came.  I was there.  I ran the logistics and made some of the food.  The mobile wasn’t, but anybody who gave something meant to dangle over the baby’s head got a death glare and threats of violence from me.  This included my 93 year old grandmother who’s never threatened anything other than a garden snake in her life.  I’m pretty sure I continued my running streak of accidentally slighting my sister’s sisters-in-law. I kept the list of who gave what to facilitate ease of gift card giving.

“I half expected the mobile thing was a ruse, and I was getting a deep fryer,” my sister said when it was all over.

I’d actually meant to do that, too, but between the analysis paralysis, remodeling a bathroom, and spending a week in Seattle getting a job and a place to live, it sorta slipped through the cracks.  But now I have a new plan.

You see, being my ne-creature’s favorite adult is super important, but it’s marginally less important than being my sister’s favorite person.  I mean, if I can’t Stockholm Syndrome somebody into adoring me when I had fifteen of their most impressionable years to work with, what kind of manipulative evil person am I?  My reputation is on the line.  So I wait, somewhat patiently, as her due date comes and goes and her first kid is showing all possible signs of turning out like his maternal Aunt, i.e. three weeks late and belligerent.  (Who was a C-section after 36 hours of labor? That’d be me!)  I start pointing out that if she crosses her legs and holds her breath, we can have a Halloween baby.  She points out that “We’re” not having anything, and they’re going to induce on the 21st.

And then I spend a day obsessing over harassing her via text because she’s in labor and I’d really like reports every five minutes of, “I’m still alive and fine,” but I know that’s unreasonable so instead I try to make an actual conversation and not come off as an obsessive paranoid person.  Followed by a day of not pointing out that while everybody keeps talking about how healthy the newborn baby is, how much he weighs, how long he is, etc. etc., and this is definitely a situation where saying nothing implies there’s nothing to say, nobody has actually said that my sister’s fine and healthy and not bleeding out or dying of infection or soaked in a morass of postpartum depression.  As soon as I hear that mom and baby have clear bills of health and will be going home from the hospital, I betake myself to the internet and enact Operation Supportive Sister.

“I just found an interesting package on my doorstep,” says a text message I receive from my sister.  “You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you?”

I wasn’t 100% sure, post birthing, she’d find it funny.  It appears she did.  She even took the hint.

NeilFryerMmmm, deep fried baby.  It was hard, to give up on my dreams of having a young relative who will do right by me in my future decrepitude, but my sister’s happiness is just more important.  Also, if I had that much trouble making decisions about gifts before he was even born, I don’t want to think about what Christmases and birthdays will do to me.

And I can attest that my brother-in-law knows his way around a deep fryer.

EatingNeilThat is one tasty baby.

*The official term for niece/nephew, coined by me before then-Erasmus had genitalia. Also note, Erasmus was the name of the ne-creature in fetal form. He’s got a new name now.  Future fetuses will also be Erasmus.

The Mixer Repair Story from Hell

This story has been long in its making.  It was long in its making before blogging fell so far down on my priority list that it stopped happening ever except for rare moments of import. This story was long in its making because it’s one of those tales of things spiralling into tiny chronic persecution for months.

Pieces of this story start last October when, as part of my November grocery shopping, I find myself standing in the aisle at Costco with a problem.  The problem is this: I’m out of yeast.  I’ve gotten into a weekly-ish bread making habit and have gone through the jar that spent a long time sitting neglected in my fridge at an alarming clip.  At a loaf a week, it’s reasonable for me to buy yeast in Costco portions, especially since it has a three year use date.  The problem?  I already know that I’m going to be moving.  My traditional philosophy of, “I’ll use it eventually,” is no good any more.  I don’t yet know where I’m moving to, or when I’m going, but I know it’s less than three years away, so this yeast purchase will, in fact, be affected by my relocation. (Everything was affected) Buy it in Costco quantities, and risk wasting it, or spend the same amount on significantly less yeast at the grocery store with a much lower risk of bacteria-death on my hands?

I bought the Costco package.

By late March, when the next piece of the story happens, I knew that three years had been an absurdly optimistic time line and I was, in fact, moving before the end of the year, before winter, even.  I had a lot of yeast to use.  An absurd amount of yeast.  I started making bread for friends.  All. The. Time.  We have a standing date to watch TV? You get bread. I met you once but you taught me Hanabi and I’m going back?  You get bread. We were in the same room for a while and you looked like hunger might be a physical sensation you once experienced?  BREAD.  I was, in fact, in the middle of having my mixer knead a loaf for the Hanabi folk when it started to make a horrible noise, then stopped turning.IMG_6932

I removed the bowl, it turns fine. I put an empty bowl in and set it going. Fine. Set the dough hook to have it knead? Nothing.  My mixer has died, and I get to hand knead my dough like somebody who bakes to bake rather than as a mildly absurd time management system.

Later, I go to the internet.  It’s a KitchenAid, which means it’s immortal, right? Nope. But it does at least have a lifetime warranty, right? Nope. But it is something I can fix, right? Yup! The internet says that this is a thing that happens to KitchenAid mixers all the time, because there’s a gear designed to fail when things are getting worn so you don’t burn up your motor.  Just pop the mixer apart, replace the gear, slap it all together and you’re good to go.  Easy peasey!

<insert crazed, hysterical laughter here>

IMG_6933

I didn’t even think about fixing the mixer until I was back from L.A.  Or a few weeks after I was back from L.A.  Or until May.  Basically, it took the weight of all the yeast I wasn’t using, weighing down on me with tiny little yeast shrieks of “You bought us and we’re going to be wasted and never fulfil our culinary imperative to make things fluffy!” to put this high enough on my priority list to deal with.

The first part was easy.  That was just removing the decorative metal band that hides the screws holding the top on.  I figured out how to do that without even looking up repair guides.

IMG_6936

The inside of the mixer is pretty cool.  I may have set it to run with the top off just to stare at it and see how the different bits interacted long enough to justify embarrassment.  (May have. Certainly didn’t.)  The horrible sounds had been coming from the front of the mixer, which is at the left of that picture, so I pushed onward in my disassembly.

IMG_6938

Dude, there’s been stealth steampunk hiding in my kitchen all this time!  Also, hooboy does that grease get everywhere.  And there’s a lot of it.  A whole lot.

IMG_6940

“This is seeming pretty straightforward,” you’re saying to yourself.  “Why is Anaea making such a big deal out of it?”  You’re a jerk for thinking that, by the way. Everything that follows is your fault for doubting me.

You see, we’re at the point where, without help, I’m stuck. The gear I need to replace is one of the ones on the left in the earlier photo.  The one on the bottom, specifically.  I cannot, grab, grapple, beg, or twist as I may, cannot get the top gear off.

To the internet for directions! The internet is full of repair manuals for KitchenAids.  They’ve been made since forever, and are all put together essentially the same way, so there are tons and tons of copies of the official repair manual.  There are videos,  There is a universal consensus that what I need to do is get the planetary, the rotating bit that the various attachments hook onto, taken off.  There are even diagrams about how to do this.

IMG_6946

There exist specialized pliers for getting that ring off, but I didn’t have them and I was in a hurry, so between two screw drivers and a pair of scissors, I mange to work it out of its groove.  Except…yeah, that’s not doing it.  And when I look at the diagrams more closely, they don’t quite match up to what I’m actually seeing with my mixer.  I have, in fact, managed to buy the one mixer that isn’t assembled like every other KitchenAid on the planet.  When I start googling its model number, I turn up user guides, but no repair manuals.  I am screwed.  (But not kneaded.)

It is now July.

After weeks of plaintively pointing houseguests toward my mixer and saying, “There’s a prize if you can figure out how to get the gears off – careful of the grease,” I poke at the grease a bit.  And stare.  And cuss.

IMG_6948

Do you see it?  The tiny ring on top of the top gear, holding it in place against rotational forces and incompetent bakers?  It’s been there, thwarting me, the whole time and I’ve never spotted it because it was so covered in grease it looked like just a lump of it.  But now my problem is solved, so I break out the screw drivers and scissors and…IMG_6950It is now August.     I went to three different hardware stores, and finally broke down and ordered them from Amazon because the hardware stores were not helping.  I only needed one of these, and will never need them again, but I have them now.

The yeast voices, begging to be turned into bread before I pack up all the possessions I’m keeping and flee to Seattle, leaving the rest behind, are constantly sobbing at this point.

Armed with pliers, I do it.  I get the gears off, I put new ones in.  I have a whole can of new grease I use to coat everything.  I put it all back together and it rotates and is lovely and works.  I make brownies.  Delicious!  I make bread.

Two minutes into the kneading cycling, there’s a horrible grinding noise, and then the mixer refuses to rotate.  At all.  Even if there’s no resistance.  My mixer is now more broken than it was in March before I started repairing it.  I have no idea why.  I also don’t care. I haven’t had troubleshooting/repairing a problem go on and spiral like this since I switched to Ubuntu lo these many years ago.  I’m calling in a professional.

The professionals say they’ll charge half as much as the mixer costs to buy new.  That still saves me half of the price tag on a new mixer, but it’s not exactly the level of frugality I’d been hoping for.  The questions start.  Do I still even need this mixer?  Will I make bread in Seattle like I do here? Wouldn’t I rather just walk to some delicious local bakery and buy their bread all the time?  Will this mixer even fit in my future unknown kitchen?  I would decide to wash my hands of the whole thing except the yeast. The giant packaged of unused yeast. I will never, ever use it if I have to hand knead every loaf.

Despairing, I make one last, plaintive phone call to Costco.  “Hi.  I bought a KitchenAid mixer from you six years ago. It’s stopped working.  The worm gear is bad. Do you do small appliance repair or anything for these?”

“Just bring it back.”

“What?”

“Just bring it back. You still have all the parts, right?”

“I still have the box it came in. But I bought it six years ago. And I did use it a lot. I’m a bread maker.”

“Yeah, bring it back.  We’ll take the return.”

IMG_6953I went to Costco.  I turned my old broken mixer into a brand new, very shiny mixer.

I should have given up in March.  Also, Costco is the best.

Fund Drive Season

I have an office again, and soon, it’ll even have internet and I’ll be back to blogging.  But, in the mean time, it’s a very special time of year and I want to make sure you remember it.  That’s right, the annual Strange Horizons fund drive has started.  You give money to fund another year of a fantastic magazine, and in the process you get entered to win fabulous prizes and unlock bonus content.  What’s not to love?

Unlike last year, where I was scrambling to make sure I recorded the extra content faster than we were raising money, I got all the bonus podcasts done early.  Hurray!  Then again, I managed that because I was (correctly) expecting to be more or less out of commission for the entire month, so you won’t be able to check with me for our current status.  Fortunately, you can check the fund drive page for all the information you need.  Fill up the rocket, because a full rocket is a happy rocket and happy rockets are full of kittens.

So Inflamed, I Have Left: Now in Penumbra!

It’s been quite a summer, and I plan to tell you parts of it to make up for getting boring and absent, but to tide you over, if you miss me you can go check out my latest publication, this time a return to Penumbra as the featured story.  What does it mean to be the featured story?  It means your name gets really, REALLY big.

Given my proclivity for cheerful, upbeat stories, finding something to fit the pain theme was a real challenge, let me tel you ;)

Ken Liu Will Make you Cry, and I Helped

Quie a while ago something really nifty happened: I got an email from Podcastle asking whether I’d be willing to read a story they bought from Ken Liu.  I read the email while out to dinner with friends, because I’m the sort of rude jerk who does that.  

“Is something wrong?  You seem to be pondering this very seriously,” one of my dinner companions said.

“I’m trying to figure out how many exclamation points to put after the ‘OMG, hell yes,'” I replied.

I like Ken Liu stories because they’re really good at making people cry.  He’s got a knack for the well delivered emotional gut punch.  And this story of his at Podcastle?  There will be tears, people.  Many, many tears.

Because it’s hilarious.

You should go check it out, unless of course you don’t like laughter and joy.  In that case, since I’m usually against them myself, I’ll understand.

Dear Wisconsin

It’s probably pretty obvious what I’m going to say, writing to you today, but I need to say it, and you need to hear it.

I’m leaving you.

It would be fair to say that I was always going to leave you, but that’s not true, is it?  There was a while there where you were acting like somewhere I’d be willing to make my home permanently, and I accepted that from you.  Ours was an arranged marriage from the start – I left Chicago to come here not because I wanted you, but because I was broke and in debt and needed the job only you were willing to offer me – but it could have grown into a love match.  We could have been partners and allies and lovers into my gray years.  I’m hugely allergic to you, and you’re just about the only place I seem to have allergies, but I was willing to overlook that to have what you were offering.

You know what I’m talking about.  You did it on purpose, a lure designed to soften me to your charms and offerings.  You got me invested.  You got me interested and involved.  You made promises.  And then you were too ham-fisted, fumblingly incompetent to deliver on them.  You were weak.  Your were pathetic.  You were embarrassing.  That is a seven point spread I will hold against you forever.

Make no mistake – I am angry with you.  I have been angry with you for two years.  I am going to be angry with you for a long, long time.  I worked hard for you and you betrayed me.    You have some serious, deep, self-loathing issues and I am beyond caring about what that does to you because first, I’ve got to deal with the fallout of what it did to me.  I am finished with you.  I’m out of here.

Two years is a long time to wait.  You could call me petty, or unforgiving for holding onto it this long without doing something before.  That’d be fair.  I shouldn’t have trusted you, shouldn’t have stopped clearing my exits just because it looked like we might have a permanent thing going.  I shouldn’t have gotten so invested that even now, two years later, I can barely have a civil conversation about what went on between us.  That’s on me.  I’ll accept that.  But the right solution is the same.

I don’t care what you do in your next election.  Go hang yourself.  I’ll be making my way out to Seattle.  Washington has its own set of problems and issues, but we’ll be starting on better terms, and at the very least I won’t be compromising on my basic infrastructure preferences and my ability to breathe for three quarters of the year.

I’d wish you the best going forward, but I really don’t care as long as you’re not my problem any more.