Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Free DIY Planner Templates
Personalize Your Organizing

The new year invites all of us to tackle those things that we didn’t get to or complete in 2008 . . . or 2007 . . .

Have you noticed how expensive some planners are? Many of them have almost cult-followings for organizing procedures that may meet some, but not all, of your needs. It can be a lot of money to spend on an organizing schema that gets you about halfway right.

To the rescue is the DIY planning website with dozens – probably more than a hundred – planner downloads. Templates come in a variety of standard sizes, from 4 x 6 note-card to 8.5 x 11 binder.

Do you need a storyboard planner for that screenplay you’ve been meaning to write? Got it. (See the creativity template.)

How about a way to track medication side effects? Diabetes symptoms? Moods? Or a dive log? Got it. Got it. Got it. There’s even a planner for your persuasive messages, based on the research of Robert Cialdini. Go to the Templates Directory.

There are dozens of suggestions for how to organize daily, weekly, and monthly planning sheets. Project planners, to-do lists, and various ways to organize shopping lists are available.

There is even an article for how to organize a prototype planner. If you want something tailor-made for your planning needs, without spending the weekly grocery budget on a planner. We also get to exercise our creativity to personalize our planner covers, if so inclined.

The best way to access the templates is from the templates tab on the horizontal menu bar at the top of the website.

Please let me know what you think if you visit this site. If you download a lot of stuff and have enough money to share and to spare, it’s nice to throw a few bucks their way to maintain the website. This is easy with a donation button. (Disclosure: I am not connected with this website, do not receive any trades from it, and I do not know the web owners.)

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Handeland's Rising Moon and Hidden Moon
Are Top Entries in Nightcreatures Series

Lori Handeland hits her stride in the last three volumes of her eight-book Nighcreatures werewolf series. The plots of Rising Moon and Hidden Moon have surprising twists, and it’s pretty hard to fool this lifelong bookworm. I don’t want to be a spoiler, so let me give an overview of the novels in order.

One thread that unites the books is the recurring presence of a mysterious secret government agency, the Jager-Suchers or werewolf hunter-searchers. A minor character in one book may emerge as the protagonist in another. These books follow the pattern of romance novels, with distracting sex scenes that contribute little to character development or plot. Handeland, nonetheless, creates an interesting multi-faceted world in these novels.

The series opens with Blue Moon and weird goings-on at a Wisconsin summer resort. Police officer Jesse McQuade and a native American professor Will Cadotte unravel the mystery. Edward Mandanauer, driving force behind the Jager-Suchers, arrives early, armed to the teeth with silver bullets in bandoliers slung across his bony chest. Jesse gets her guy; the werewolves get dead.

Leigh Tyler, a talented werewolf slayer, is the protagonist of Hunter’s Moon. The action moves to Wisconsin. Helped by Jesse, Will, and Mandenauer, Leigh becomes involved with the first good werewolf we meet in the series. Readers are introduced to Dr. Elise Hanover whose own werewolf adventure and love story is the subject of Dark Moon, third book in the series. Mandanauer’s own dark past is revealed in that tale.

Crescent Moon strikes off in a new direction. Diane Malone, a cryptozoologist, is hired to investigate suspicious disappearances in a bayou outside of New Orleans. Her sleuthing uncovers the family curse of the Ruelles and leads her into the arms of another rugged hero in the series, Ruelle scion Adam. Edward Mandanauer and Dr. Elise Hanover emerge like deus ex machina toward the end of the story.

Midnight Moon takes a minor character in Crescent Moon, voodoo priestess Cassandra, to Haiti. The nightcreatures theme broadens to include zombies and other shapeshifters besides werewolves. Devon Murphy, the love interest, is Indiana Jones with Captain Jack Sparrow beads and feathers in his hair. The Jager-Suchers and Edward Mandanauer are but a shadowy group pulling the strings off-stage.

Things really get interesting in Rising Moon, one of my favorites in the series. The action returns to the Big Easy. Private eye Anne Lockheart comes to New Orleans looking for her missing sister, meets mysterious blind jazz musician John Rodolfo, and the story goes from there. Cassandra and Devon, Diane and Adam, Mandanauer and Elise are on hand for the surprising denouement. The story also is appealing because the theme of redemption emerges with strength for the first time since weakly broached in Hunter’s Moon.

Hidden Moon takes readers to Georgia. Claire Kennedy, small-town mayor, is confronted with inexplicable happenings when a band of gypsies arrive. An element of sorcery emerges in the figure of love interest Malachi Cartwright. The theme of redemption is linked with that of love in a poignant climax (in more ways than one). Mandanauer and Elise Hanover make cameo appearances.

Finally, Thunder Moon returns to Lake Bluff, Georgia, and the theme of Native American mysticism that plays a key role in the plots of Blue Moon (book one) and Hunter’s Moon (three). Grace McDaniel, Lake Bluff sheriff, full-blooded Cherokee, and childhood friend of mayor Claire Kennedy, had a large supporting role in Hidden Moon. Now, her romance with Ian Walker, physician, Native American healer and warrior, continues to move the series away from werewolves into other permutations of shapeshifting and sorcery. Walker is revealed as a member of a Native-American society of monster hunters. The Jager-Suchers play little part and go underground, according to an epilogue.

It’s unclear whether Handeland will continue the series. The preview chapter of Any Given Doomsday does not suggest continuance of the moon-themed series. Yet Handeland leaves the door open.

To purchase all eight novels, please see my listing on ebay through Dec. 19.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

WebMage by Kelly McCullough
Is Unique SciFi-Fantasy Romp

Kelly McCullough’s first novel, WebMage, cooks up a compelling dish of science fiction and fantasy, with a dash of romance. The recipe might look something like this:

Break off parts of William Gibson’s Neuromancer series, especially episodes about jacking into cyberspace and solving code mysteries. Crumble coarsely. Set aside.

Create a thick stew of spells, goblins, dragons, faeries, trolls, castles and warriors. I like the Harry Potter series for this purpose. Beat in some Greek mythos from Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Season with wisecracks from Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Bake for several hours.

The story posits web links where the world of the Greek Immortals overlaps that of geek mortals. For those of us who grew up when making a copy meant pounding out a document in carbon triplicate on an upright typewriter, praying that we’d make no typographical keystroke mistakes that could not be fixed with WhiteOut, the world that computers bring to our fingertips makes coding pretty darn close to magical spell casting anyway. So it’s a short leap to blend cyberspace with the Olympian space occupied by the gods and goddesses of ancient mythology. This is especially true if one had to take two semesters in ancient culture, as did I.

The plot concerns a fight for free will for humans and their webgoblin companions, as Eris, goddess of discord, battles the Fates, guardians of order, one of whom happens to be our hero’s great-great into ancient time grandmother. Our hero, Ravirn, experiences a value and identity transformation in the endlessly changing cosmos of chaos-verses-order. This may sound like a task for a brooding, romantic hero. Ravirn is more like a film noir detective, a man (figuratively speaking, for he is not human) of action, ready for anything, a quip on his lips while facing down death.

His is not the film noir world in which right and wrong are hard to distinguish admidst moody shades of gray. Rather, our web sorcerer’s reality is the brightly colored light dance of our times, in which colors and images flicker before his eyes in a dizzying and sometimes confusing array of cross-cutting. Truth, right and wrong, are still hard to discern as impregnable values.

WebMage popped off the library shelves as I was looking for a entirely different book by another author -- a happy happenstance. As it turned out, the other book was not to my taste, and I am returning it mostly unread. Not all fantasy worlds are created equal, and Cheyennne McCray’s witchy series includes S&M and too much predictable sex for my taste. If you have a taste for cyberpunk fiction or sword-and-myth fantasy, WebMage may be for you.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pieces of South Florida Sky

November 29, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Florida, My Florida: Home Again & It Feels Great

South Florida makes me smile. Blue sky, warm sun on my skin. Sunglasses out of its case for the first time since I left Fort Lauderdale five days ago. Four days in the Northeast is about all I can stand.

There’s something to be said, I am sure, for a brisk walk in the crisp air, the feathery spikes of frost on a window pane, a blanket of white snow carpeting the ground, trimming the trees, and piling high on power lines. I am not the one to say it. I remember standing swaddled in a nylon snowsuit, snowbanks towering over me. I thought God had put me with the wrong family; surely I belonged with one in Florida. I moved South of the Mason-Dixon line as soon as I was old enough to do so. Baltimore was not warm enough, so eventually I moved to South Florida with little more than a Doberman and a dream of being able to stay. It has not always been easy.

My plane left Albany on a morning as gray as all the others of my Thanksgiving stay. Approaching Fort Lauderdale, the noonday sun reflects off canals and catchment lakes, turning them into sheets of hammered gold. Swaths of green are cut by black ribbons of roads as the plane descends. Grand homes on large lots yield to those closely huddled around cul de sacs.

In the first flush of leaving the terminal, all my gripes, fears, worries and concerns vanish in a rush of agape for this place. I love the feel of vitamin D soaking into my skin. The air kisses my face. I am home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Text Messaging: Connection or Illusion?

I don't get it: text messaging, I mean.

I have officially reached old fogey status with my complete lack of comprehension for this convenience. Using my thumbs to communicate with people in hieroglyphic abbreviations is not so much not-doable as not appealing.

It may be useful in some situations, but I do not fall into any of the categories that suggest themselves to me. For example:

  • A working mother who cannot take time out to talk on the telephone every two minutes with children but who wants to keep tabs on them and respond to their needs.
  • An emergency medical technician taking a class but who must remain on call and similar work situations.
  • A husband at work waiting for a call to take his pregnant wife to the hospital and other medical situations.
  • A stock day trader (if there are any left in this sorry market) who must see the prices scrolling past moment by moment.
  • Barack Obama, isolated behind intense security and constantly on the move in a campaign bus, keeping in touch with family and friends.

I grew up in an era when Be Here Now was the philosophy. My goal is to be deeply rooted in the moment. I want my body-mind-soul to be aware of their space-time connections. I do not want to splice off parts of my consciousness to text message. I'm not even all that fond of the telephone.

Moreover, I suspect that the messages I am most likely to receive are those that I least want. These would include late-night questions from students when I am too tired to care about their success in my class and scary announcements about elder relatives’ well-being that would jolt me awake in terror.

Text messaging has advantages: it less expensive than cell phone time, less obtrusive in many situations, can be used to answer a question quickly without the small talk or distractions of a conversation, and may consume less time than talking. My millennial students say that text messaging makes them feel connected to the world at all times. My philosophy is that connectedness starts within, not without. Test messaging is an illusion of connectedness, not the real thing.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Books
Beat Handeland's Werewolf Nightcreatures

Lori Handeland has my respect as author; anyone who can make a living turning out novel after novel deserves accolades. This isn’t about trashing a penwoman. Rather, it’s an investigation into why I find one fictional world compelling and the other boring.

I am so enthralled by the world Harris creates in her Sookie Stackhouse novels (source of the HBO Trueblood series) that I became concerned about polishing off the eight novels too quickly. I can tear through a typical airport novel in a day. Handeland’s werewolf series earned many complimentary reviews on I purchased the Nightcreature novels as a set on ebay.

I have finished the first four novels in each series. Here’s five reasons why I love the world Harris has created.

Harris creates interesting, appealing multi-dimensional characters.

Heroine Sookie Stackhouse is so unique that 150-year-old vampire Bill Compton asks her several times, “What are you?” Sookie is a small-town waitress, psychic, and brave, but she has off-days like anyone else. I may be 35 years older than Sookie, but I can relate to her concerns, such as how to afford gravel for the driveway or a new coat to replace one splattered with the brains of a shapeshifter who tried to kill her.

The vampires are a mix of evil and good, like humans. I can move almost seamlessly from my world into the one Harris has creates for Sookie and her herd. Each Handeland heroine, on the other hand, has two interests: killing werewolves and having great sex with the guy in her life. Handeland also created a writing conundrum for herself by writing in the voice of a new heroine in each book. Handeland gets around the similarity in voice of the first two protagonists by playing it up. They become best friends. The third book was so by-the-numbers that I finished it in three hours while standing in line to vote, skipping over anything that made me yawn.

The Southern vampire stories are lightened with humor.

Sookie Stackhouse is a kind-hearted misfit. She tends to think charitably of those around her, living, dead, or supernatural. Her humor is more often self-deprecating than unkind to others. Handeland’s gals are tough, alienated, and often bitter. The humor often denigrates others and, most of the time, I don’t find what I am told are humorous asides particularly funny.

The Southern vampire plots are full of surprises.

In the course of four novels, Sookie has (not necessarily in this order) single-handedly foiled vampire drainers, exposed a vampire embezzler, broken up an evangelical group that burns vampires, traveled to Mississippi with a werewolf, hidden a vampire sheriff who has lost his memory from evil witches, participated in several bloodbaths, rescued her lover vampire Bill from being tortured, and become a valued friend of a pack of werewolves and a family of shapeshifter panthers.

Handeland’s heroines have killed werewolves and had sex. Once a Handeland heroine has a good lay, she is hooked forever on the guy. It does not matter if he’s a werewolf or the devil himself, she is in l-o-v-e.

Sookie Stackhouse is not ruled by sexual desire.

It’s tempting to dismiss the sexual obsession of Handeland’s heroines as the follies and hormones of youth. Sookie is young, too, and she is not ruled by her glands. Sookie rescues vampire Bill from his former lover, but she does not return to his arms. Sookie has something going on above the waist.

Sookie’s unexpected affair with vampire Eric, when he loses his memory and becomes uncharacteristically sweet, was inspired. Sookie quickly reject continuing the liaison when Eric returns to being his arrogant, confident, demanding self.

Handeland novels have the typical romance-novel plot: hunky hero, an obstacle that makes the heroine doubt him but not so much that she does not continue to fall into bed with him every time she's near him.

Harris treats sex scenes with a light touch.

Romance novels that started out with purple prose in the 70s have evolved to soft-core pornography. Aching loins. Swollen throbbing manhood. Got it. I don’t need five or six pages of details, thanks anyway Lori. I prefer my porn hard core. By the time I got to Crescent Moon, fourth Nightcreatures novel, the characters and sex was so predictable that I skipped the center, turned to the denouement, and wrapped up the novel in under an hour.

In summary, my unread Charlaine Harris Southern vampire novels are tucked away, a special treat to be anticipated and savored. Appealing characters, original plots, a touch of humor and tasteful sex make this series a winning combination.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting Was Torture in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Voting was torture. It took three hours. The Florida day was dank and cool. I was close to tears by the time I reached the polling booths, from the pain in my hip and the arthritis in my neck and shoulders.

I finished the last three-quarters of a trashy werewolf novel and had time to knock off a few pages in an internet marketing book I am slowly reading.

A man started standing next to me as I read. He didn’t seem to have been there before. I whisperingly asked the older woman behind me if he’d always been there. She said no. As he inched in front of me, I softly said, “Sir, I was wondering where you came from. Because I’m right behind him (I gestured to a man with a baby in carriage), and she’s right behind me.”

“I was always here,” he said.

The elders in line started shaking their heads at this bald-faced lie. “No, you were back there,” several gestured. He didn’t fall back, but waited where he had been standing as we moved forward. I expect he’d try to find another unaware person – as he must have thought I was buried in my book – or a more timid soul than I who would not challenge him. My hip simply hurt too much after two hours in line to put up with a young buttinsky.

Just as we reached the door into the voting room – a cafeteria in this small development of 10 condominium apartment buildings that served three districts – a busload of handicapped elders came in. They were given chairs and ushered into line before us. I mentioned that I was in severe pain, even though I wasn’t handicapped. People even older than I who had been standing near me also started to grumble. the woman behind me insisted that she go to the check-in ahead of two people who were pushed in front of her. She was 70, at least.

No one wants to be unkind to the handicapped, but after two and a half hours on our feet, our own aches and pains were screaming for attention.

I will never again vote at a polling place. Never, never, never. Absentee ballots are inconvenient, because often they are due before I have all the information I need about the local propositions and local candidates. Nonetheless, when a 19th century voting system is in place, absentee ballot is how I shall have to do it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Amazon 4-for-3 sale & Savings

I am not getting any kickbacks, payments, or freebies from these folks. This is strictly my frugal shopping at work. has a four-for-three sale right now. Not all books and home products qualify. If you buy four of those that do, the cheapest one is free. Select SuperSaver Free Shipping, and it can really add up. I've just made my second purchase since the sale started. I'm collecting all of the Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse novels.

I also was pleasantly surprised to save about $800 on auto insurance by switching to GEICO from Hartford/AARP, without losing anything much in coverage. Hartford/AARP is supposed to give a price break to people over 50. At first, it did. But over the years, it has jumped by leaps and bounds. I've had a clean record for more than 10 years, knock on wood.

I like the Hartford approach of issuing a policy for 12 months, not six. I've hesitated to switch, because a teaser rate for the first six months can quickly jump when it comes time to renew. If that happens, I will feel ripped off, and I will leave GEICO so quickly, it will make a scampering ghekko look like a turtle poking along. In the meantime, I will have saved a bundle, so it was worth going through the paperwork. GEICO also made that easy with online and telephone help.

I had GEICO many years ago, and I had no trouble with them, so I hope it works out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dreamworlds of Literary Space
Are Haven from Economic Bad News

Maybe it's the economy, but I am plumb wore out on posting any opinions about the news of day. More and more, I am making time to sneak into the dream worlds of literary space. Last night's outing kept me up until three in morning, which meant I guiltily skipped my tao yoga group.

My adventure was in the cyberpunk dreamworld of Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward. I was impressed with his second novel, Spares, a tauter and more cohesive cyberpunk novel that I read at least five years ago. I can see how the themes of Spares are improved variations of those in Only Forward.

I am hoarding the remaining Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse series books. Like an addict with a limited remaining supply, I am afraid that I will tear through them too quickly.

Another current diversion is Diana Vreeland's autobiography, D.V., published in 1984. I'll comment on that at Fashion After 50. I hope you'll visit there to read my most recent post about this fabulous button coat, a scanned copy that appear here without publisher's permission. This fiber art creation is by Mario Rivoli.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Water Mall, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The best thing I do for myself all week is attend a tao yoga class on Sunday mornings. It is located in an unusual mall that attracts many alternative health businesses.

There are four buildings, arranged as if a square had been bisected in each direction. The buildings are built on two levels, one slightly higher than the other.
The center X is formed of fountains and waterways that run the length of the buildings. Water flows from higher pools to lower ones, over the escarpments. Visitors cross the waterways with steps and bridges. In some places, the trees seem as carefully trimmed as stunted Japanese plants. Oh, I wish I could think of the word for that careful asymmetry. Here are the photos.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Literary Space: Experiences
& Quotations

There have not been many times in recent years when I have found a literary space compelling and longed to escape there. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series and the HBO rendition Trueblood are having that effect on me. I feel a little silly, because I have decided that a woman of a certain age should not be seduced by fiction.

The times when I have fallen so completely under the spell of another world created by a writer are memorable. One summer when I was working part-time, I read the entire, more than 1,000-page version of The Count of Monte Cristo, by Dumas Pere. Accompanied with Chardonnay and perhaps a bit of hashish, it was amazing.

In graduate school, I entered the cyberpunk world of William Gibson in the Neuromancer trilogy. It was a bright new way to look at the computers we in newspapers had been using for typesetting and layout for decades. Gibson coined the word cyberspace. He later said in an interview that his cyberspace world was richer because he didn’t really know much about computers at the time.

Here are some quotations related to creating and entering literary space.

  • I read a great deal. It’s the only way we have to live more than lives than one.

-- Bonita Hersch, in John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink

  • Why cannot one make one’s books live except in the night, after hours of straining? and you know they have to be your own books too, and you have to read them more than once. I think they take in something of your personality, and your environment also . . .It is that specially which makes one need good books: books that will be worthy of what you are going to put into them. . . . if you can get the right book at the right time you taste joys – not only bodily, physical, but spiritual also, which pass one out above and beyond one’s miserable self, as it were through a huge air, following the light of another man’s thoughts. And you can never be quite the old self again. You have forgotten a little bit: or rather pushed it out with a little of the inspiration of what is immortal in someone who has gone before you.

-- T. E. Lawrence, John E. Mack's biography, A Prince of Our Disorder

  • That’s a great gift, my boy, to tell a story the way you did, a story that is not quite true but that sounds true. That the point in story-telling. Making people believe the story is true.

-- B. Traven – a man whose whole life is a story of false identities, stories told so that they sound true, a man whose life was as much an adventure as his stories – in The Death Ship

  • Never trust a writer. They think they can do atrocious things and then just tear them out of the typewriter, throw them away and start afresh.

-- William Kotzwinkle in The Queen of Swords

  • The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book published. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate.

-- William Faulkner, in the Paris Review Interviews, Writers at Work, 1958, edited by Malcolm Crowley

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fort Lauderdale Cheap Thrills:
Broward Boulevard and Beyond

Some places, like some people, make one’s heart skip a beat. I rarely enter a library without a feeling of excitement at the treasure hunt that lays before me. I almost never enter a place of worship without a feeling of wonder at the magic of faith that has inspired humankind to both art and depredation for so long. And although I my life no longer includes the sight of thoroughbreds galloping around a race course at dawn, the sun gleaming off their shiny coats, I can never see those athletes of such power and elegance without thinking of the words of racing handicapper Clem Florio, “You gotta love this life.”


The Fort Lauderdale Main Library, just off Broward Boulevard in the heart of the museum district, is an architectural relic of the 1960s. The entire non-fiction collection fits on one floor.

If you have spent time in a university library of any size, or one of the great libraries such as Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Fort Lauderdale Main Library is not much. However, I spent much of my teenage years ransacking the shelves of a neighborhood library that occupied the space of a pharmacy which had built a larger, modern accommodation across the street. Pharmacies were changing from dispensaries of pills, salves, ointments, bandages, and hospital equipment to the popular vendors of everything from auto motor oil to T-shirts and teddy bears that we know today.

No matter how small the library, I never despair of finding true treasure on its shelves. The day did not disappoint. As I searched for architectural guides to South Florida, I discovered a photo illustrated volume of the architecture of the South. I do long to take a little expedition one of these days along the Natchez Trace and into the heart of the Mississippi Delta blues juke joints.


Nothing beats free when it comes to cheap thrills

Adjunct professors are paid beggars’ wages, but a perk of my job is free parking on Broward College campuses. The downtown campus is across from the Main Library.

The seventh level of the parking garage is free if you have a staff or student window hangar. The climb to the top is perilous, with young students whipping cars recklessly around the hairpin curves, despite traffic driving two ways. But the elevators are air-conditioned and clean. And the price definitely is right.


Hot Dog Central at 4200 West Broward Boulevard in Plantation is an old-time drive-through with a quaint outdoor deck, pictured above. The Top Dog comes with homemade corn relish and mustard and is a winner.

Be sure to read the paper menu if you go. I craved some fresh coleslaw but didn’t see it on the menu next to the order window. The paper menu brags about the fresh-made slaw. Another menu brag is the fresh-cut fries.

A chicken salad sandwich was on the special menu today. Regular menu features include burgers, Philly cheesesteak, veggie wrap and even a chopped salad.

Hot Dog Central is well off the tourist path, just west of S.R. 7/U.S. 441. It closes at 5 p.m. and on Sundays.


When was the last time gas was $2.89 a gallon? Cash only and expect to wait in line about 20 minutes. I passed up this real deal yesterday, hoping the lines wouldn’t be as long on a workday as on Sunday. It was worth the drive even though far, far from Broward Boulevard, on University Drive between Riverside Drive and McNab Road.

I returned to my lair just as the afternoon rains were starting.

It’s been a good day, of unexpected small pleasures and treats -- the best kind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Georgette Heyer, Mark Twain, Tom Robbins & More Quotations for Our Times

Dorothy Parker reportedly answered the telephone, “What fresh hell is this?” (See for example, Marion Meade’s biography of that title.) Many of us have felt this way in recent weeks.

Dumas pere, in the Count of Monte Cristo, implied that the ancients had it correct when they named “Mercury, the of merchants and robbers – classes which we in modern times have separated if not made distinct, but which antiquity appears to have included in the same category.”

These trying times call for wisdom greater than my own. For example, Tom Robbins, in Still Life with Woodpecker, reminded, “A successful external reality depends upon an internal vision that is left intact.”

Along similar lines, Mark Twain commented, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

J. B. Priestley, in The Magicians, succinctly stated, “When you’re bitter, you’re beat.”

Eastern philosophy is always a good place to turn for bracing ideas. Swami Sivananda, in Divine Bliss, explained the concept of mental austerity or tapas:

To keep a balanced mind in all conditions of life, to bear insult, injury and persecution, to be ever serene, contented and peaceful, to be cheerful in adverse conditions, to have fortitude in meeting danger, to have presence of mind and forbearance, are all forms of mental tapas.

I have often rallied myself with this quotation from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, “You have fallen into a fit of despondency, and there is not the least need! In fact, nothing could be more fatal in any predicament! It encourages one to suppose that there is nothing to be done, when a little resolution is all that is wanted to bring matters to a happy conclusion.”

I whiled away many afternoons as a teenager with Heyer, lying in a hammock. My ex-husband used to say that the reason I liked to read costume novels was because, “You imagine that you will be would have been the royalty. But you wouldn’t have, you know. You’d be the kitchen maid.”

He probably is right. My father’s family was potato farmers in the old country. My maternal grandfather came from the illegitimate second family of a wine merchant. The family was well-off but those are not credentials that gain admittance to the castles of lords and ladies.

I remember where I was when I learned of Heyer’s death: reading the Times-Picayune in a corner diner, eating breakfast, on my first trip to New Orleans, my first separation for the husband of the snarky quote above.

The point of reading novels is not to weigh the words on the scales of reality but to slip through the veils of imagination into the literary space created by the writer.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris & Her Southern Vampire Series, HBO's Trueblood and Literary Space

I took most of the day off from work and entered what Ruth L. Hubbard called “literary space” in a 1969 research article. My territory was the world created by Charlaine Harris in her Southern Vampire series, which is receiving vast public attention since used as the basis for the HBO series Trueblood.

Sookie Stackhouse is the hero of this compelling world, which occupies a small corner of northern Louisiana. The tall, dark, handsome love interest in the first novel, Dead Until Dark, is the vampire Bill, who just happens to be dead – until dark.

I entered this steamy world from about 10 p.m. last night until 1 this afternoon, with some time out for sleep. The experience of so fully entering a fictional world that blots out the here-and-now reality set me to thinking about what makes the experience of watching the TV serial qualitatively different from reading the book.

Hubbard’s article (Inner Designs in Language Arts, volume 66) has shaped my thinking about the experience of reading long past the influence normally held by academic research. Hubbard interviewed seven- and nine-year-olds with open-ended questions. She found that children, like adults, enter into what she calls "literary space," defined as that mental area in which the story events feel as if they are happening to you even though you know they're not. It is a state of mind in which the distinction between oneself and the story blurs. It is characterized by complete concentration on the book that blocks out attention to the outside world, and the sense that what happens in the story "fells like" it is happening to you.

Obviously, I am influenced by my experience watching Trueblood, because a month ago I didn’t know who Charlaine Harris was. Now, I’ve read the first book and avidly await the arrival of the next four.

One way that the books are different from watching TV is that I can enter the literary space of the novels and occupy it for hours and hours.

I also enjoy imagining the characters, instead of seeing the writers' and directors' visual interpretations. Anna Paquin’s Sookie structured my imaginary Sookie, but my vampire Bill is as much influenced by Anne Rice’s Lestat as actor Stephen Moyer.

Rice’s vampire world became overly convoluted in Queen of the Damned and her writing overwrought. Tale of the Body Thief redeemed her quartet of Vampire Chronicles. Down-to-earth Sookie Stackhouse’s common sense will, hopefully, be a counterweight to Harris going in that direction. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next escape into the literary space that Harris has created.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lauderhill, Florida, Evening Walk

I know there are places more beautiful than South Florida. It's hard to believe that, though, when I catch a photo like this of clouds reflecting off one of the many ordinary, ordinary canals that are a part of our drainage system.

This resident coaxes birds to live on Easy Street in many charming houses. These photos show a few.

The curve of the lake contrasts with the angles of the skeleton of this tree.

A sign points the way home to our apartment buildings, named after European cities.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Las Olas Boulevard: A Backyard Tourist's Photos

I am richly lucky to live in a subtropical paradise. I played backyard tourist this afternoon, after the morning's downpour stopped, and wandered down to Las Olas Boulevard. It's a center for restaurants, jazz clubs and nightlife, as well as shops and galleries. This waterfront restaurant on the New River epitomizes the South Florida experience.

Las Olas is close enough to the beachfront hotels, just across the Intracoastal Waterway, to attract tourists. But the area also is home to many of Fort Lauderdale's more prosperous citizens, including a substantial gay community.

This building is a newer structure. Its steamboat balconies overlooking both the New River and the boulevard are undoubtedly among the priciest in the building.

Stucco walls and voluminous foliage seclude this mansion on a quieter stretch of Las Olas -- and even closer to the Intracoastal Waterway. Spanish Mediterranean architecture was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Next door to the mansion -- and separated from it by the walls, are a row of a half dozen townhouses.

Each is tucked away behind its own gated entranceway and foliage. They are chicly European.

The gate creates something much like a foyer, as seen from the sidewalk. Two of the residents want even more privacy and added these canvas curtains to shield the tiny yards from view. I had to alter the colors a good deal to make the dark green fabric visible.

It would be lovely to live in a spot that was simultaneously close to restaurants, shopping, museums, the main library, the Riverfront walkway with its beautiful parks, and the beach -- yet so beautifully hidden. The pricetag? I saw a listing for a new townhome on the New River in a real estate office window for a well-groomed eyebrow under $1.7 million.

All gates are not created equal. This one shields a ground-floor suite in a new building that appears not fully occupied. What were they thinking to use wooden paneling of a completely different architectural mood?

These three charming slight buildings huddle together as new structures crowd them. I expect they have been there for many decades.

Careless colors and a jumble of signs evoke the nearby Caribbean islands in a building turned to multiple uses.

The building (above) has good bones, with a substantial upstairs veranda. It could easily be rehabilitated with an ironworks upper deck in the French-Spanish style of New Orleans and Savannah.

The courtyard entrance to an upscale restaurant, at a different location on Las Olas, would be at home in the French Quarter.

Purple trim properly emphasizes the artistic details of this art deco apartment building (below).

A trompe l'oeii mural adds interest to the exterior of this bar and restaurant.

Even a parking lot is beguiling (and barely noticeable, at the left in photo) when festooned with palms and lush subtropical foliage.

Ironically, there will be no tomorrow for this interior design business. Notice the shop's prominently displayed name and the for-rent signs in the windows.

Signs of the economic downtown are apparent in closings along the boulevard. This handsome cabinet, inlaid with a variety of woods, will be in a property auction in October.

A plaid front inexplicably decorates the facade of Hound and Herringbone,also shuttered and out of business.

On a happier note, a festive table painted in the Haitian tradition delights the eyes. Whimsical dancing figures add to the merriment.

Next door, a stuffed Siberian tiger hangs out with real ice that can't melt in a jewelry store window. Window glare adds a fantasy quality to these photos.

So I'll close with this shot of an entrancing gown, probably circa 1920s, that emerges like a shimmering ghost from this lavish window display. May the national troubles we seem to be facing vanish like the chimera of bad dreams, so we dance like giddy flappers until dawn.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Federal Bailout Won't Work; Martial Law Would Not Surprise Ordinary Gal

Considering that every single prediction the Bush administration makes is dead wrong, I simultaneously do not believe is a federal bailout is necessary to resolve the economic crisis -- and I doubt that an bailout will work, if the economic picture is this bad.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the free marketers only become socialists when the need arises to rescue their rich friends from bad decisions. My hunch is that my frugal life would remain pretty much unchanged if the market shake-out were allowed.

I would not be at all surprised if the country is in sufficient chaos by inauguration day -- should Senator Barack Obama win the election -- for the current administration to declare martial law. On the other hand, I believe that the administration is illicit anyway. Gore won in 2000, and the Supreme Court overturned the results. The computer balloting of 2004 also is suspect by conspiracy theorists.

I hope there are some glad hearts out there to tell me how nuts I am.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain Squirms as Debate Approaches

Sen. John McCain is trying to squirm out of Friday’s presidential debate with a claim to doing the public’s business.

I don’t doubt that the country is in serious economic trouble. I’m very uncomfortable with socialism for the wealthy and bailouts for the Wall Street high rollers. It’s strange how these are the same folks who reject all plans to provide socialized medicine for we who need. Nor do I see any relief coming down the pike for those of us who have lost half the values of our homes but can afford to pay our mortgages. I tried negotiating with my mortgage holder on the basis that they hired the appraiser, so half the mistake is theirs. Nopesy. The debt is all mine.

Questions are being asked in Congress about why the trouble escalated to the point that Congress is being asked to rush a $7 billion bailout through in one week. As Stephen Colbert pointed out on The Colbert Report last night, Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, who has asked to administer this unprecedented governmental slush fund without oversight, is a former employee of Goldman Sachs himself. This is a lot like Wiley Coyote says only he can protect the henhouse; just trust him.

Until today, The Idiot In Chief said he wouldn’t sign the bill – the bill he is so adamant must be passed – if limits were placed on executive salaries.

The whole thing stinks.

Like his Republican Party counterparts who are exploiting the economic downturn for personal gain, McCain is exploiting the so-called crisis to avoid debating a contender who is smarter and better prepared to deal with complex economic situation than he is.

Let the housing market crash. People will find apartments to rent. People with savings will buy the homes at reasonable prices. At last. No bailouts for the wealthy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mama Duck Saves Her Brood

This mother duck was quietly enjoying a lawn picnic with her ducklings when I happened by. Some were so comfortable, they were lying down while snacking on insects. The vigilant mama was distressed by the whirring-click of the camera.

She appears to be giving marching orders in this photo.

There they go. Mama conveyed the distinct impression that she is in a huff at how rude I was to interrupt their dinner with my clackety intrusion.

I felt guilty at disturbing this brood. It is late in the year to see Muscovy ducklings. Some South Floridians do not like the Muscovy ducks because of the wattles on their faces and the dirt they leave on the walkways. I am glad to see what I can of nature in our cityscapes.

Here is the catchment lake just a few yards from these ducks. There are many places for them to hide and sleep beneath the branches of trees and in the cattails.

These pine trees were stripped bare by hurricane Wilma in 2005. Even now, they have a strange, denuded appearance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

AIG Holds Pension Funds for Milliions of Public Service Employees in Many States

News of the AIG federal bail out only scratches the surface of what is going on. Millions of schoolteachers, firefighters, and other government employees have 403bs managed by AIG.

The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund inaugurated a lawsuit against AIG in May of lying. According to Reuters, the fund “accuses New York-based AIG of repeatedly but falsely assuring investors that its risk management and diversification insulated it from credit market turmoil in 2007. Credit market problems led AIG to suffer a $7.8 billion first-quarter loss.”

Google links suggest that the California Public Employees Pension Fund, the largest in the country, was considering suing AIG for similar reasons.

MSNBC reporters and online sources are assuring people that FDIC savings and checking accounts are safe. Retirement funds typically are stock funds that are not insured by the FDIC. This misdirection by newscasters is not helpful; it does not answer the questions that people are asking: Are my AIG retirement funds safe?

AIG representatives are not returning phone calls. My did not, and I see posts on the Internet that other clients are getting the same treatment.

I am trying to move my funds into a different fund. The representative warned me that it is going to take time. Tens of thousands of people are also rolling over their funds from AIG into other accounts.

With the economy in meltdown, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of us wind up, like those poor Enron employees, with nothing. My mother is reminiscing about the great depression. Her father had six children and was jobless. The landlady kept track of missed rent, and the owner of the deli down the street provided food on on credit. “What can people do when no one has money?” my mother asks.

The end of defined payment pension funds and the inauguration of IRAs, 401ks, and 403bs, is turning into a huge swindle of hard-working Americans. We worker ants have routinely been salting away a percentage of our paychecks, forgoing cars and vacations, to save money for our old age.

On the other hand, some people bought homes they could not afford based on the fast talk of mortgage loan officers who promised that everything would turn out right in the end. These loans were made out of the funds that we worker ants were plowing into our retirement funds.

Now, those who wanted to live beyond their means are asking the federal government to bail them out. I include in this category the person who was working an ordinary job and wanted a 2,000-square-foot home, with swimming pool, hot tub, and two-car garage, purchased at 105% credit with escalating interest payments. I also include in this category investment bankers and brokers who have have been living the high life in New York and other investment capitals, looking out on cityscapes from million-dollar lofts and driving Ferraris. At least part of this money is that of those of us who have slogged through jobs we didn’t really like.

We did what we were supposed to do. We fulfilled our obligations. We lived responsibly. Now the rules of the game are changing. We are being told that it's too bad things didn't work out like we were promised they would (at least, not for us); so sorry that you lived modestly and sacrificed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Funky Sculpture Near Fort Lauderdale Beach

This colorful sculpture at Art & Design on Commercial Boulevard near the Fort Lauderdale beach is simultaneously funky and contemporary.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palms Are the Poodles of Trees

Palms are the poodles of trees – tufts of fronds at the end of slender stems.I wish I could claim that thought as my own, but I read it somewhere so long ago I cannot remember the source.

They are useless for shade. Queen palms and several other varieties drop nuts that are remarkably fertile, causes sprouts everywhere that must be weeded. When the nuts are especially thick, they ferment, creating a odorous, slick paste that must be carried away. Only the coconut palm provides a useful fruit.

I am fascinated by the palms in front of this church complex on Federal Highway (U.S. 1) in Fort Lauderdale. The palms perfectly mirror the steep slopes of the roof. It was gray out, from the bands of hurricane Ike circulating in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. I experimented with different lighting effects on these shots.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Empty Mall Contradicts McCain's Assurance of Sound Economic Fundamentals

If John McCain really believes America's underlying economy is fundamentally sound, he is not living on the same planet as I am. I invite him to visit the strikingly empty Boynton Beach mall – a once bustling retail center centrally located in an area of average families and retirees.

Boynton Beach is by no means a tourist mecca on the order of Daytona, Fort Lauderdale, or the Keys islands. Sandwiched between the old wealth of Palm Beach and the nouveau riche of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach is an area of mostly newer and more affordable single family homes, over-55 duplex villas, condominium apartment and mobile home complexes.

Boynton Beach Mall has grown in size since the last time I was there, circa 2004 when I moved from Palm Beach to Broward county. It has a new Muvico multiplex, a grand Starbucks, and a TooJays Delicatessen – a favorite in these parts. I was shocked to find the mall all but empty on Wednesday at 1 p.m., as these photos show.

Is this sad? This is not an out-of-the-way, dilapidated strip mall. It is a major commercial retail center that serves a large, densely populated middle-class citizenry.

Another customer at Ritz Camera store said he’d gone to Delray Beach on Sunday where Atlantic Avenue’s many restaurants attract Sunday brunchers. “The roads were empty, and I had no trouble at all finding a parking place,” he said. Usually, one has to drive around to find a spot.

I grumbled that my 403(b)s have lost so much value that I may never be able to retire. “Don’t even go there,” he said. “I’ve lost so much that I will never gain it back in the remainder of my lifetime.” Of course, the economic Big Boys have been playing fast-and-loose with our retirement monies, investing in FreddieMac and SallieMae (according to NPS's Marketplace, even when it appeared these massive housing market lenders were in trouble). We were promised that we would be oh-so-much better off when we didn’t have to rely on fixed income retirement plans. Hahaha.

Earth to McCain: The economic fundamentals are not good for us who cannot afford $313,000 designer ensembles.

Footnote: I stopped by a local Salvation Army before going home. It was Wednesday Madness, with half-off on everything. The parking lot was full, and the store was mobbed. There were lines at the register, even though the store's air-conditioning was out. That is a big deal here in South Florida, when outdoor temperatures are in the high 80s and inside can top the 90s. But we cannot eat T-shirts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Politics of Fashion: This Ordinary Gal is Galled by Cindy McCain's RNC Bling

The politics of fashion is not an appropriate topic for Fashion After, I've decided. But I am one very ordinary gal who was galled at the ostentatious show of bling by Cindy McCain at the Republican National Convention.

Vanity Fair editors estimated that McCain's designer shirtdress ensemble on the first night would ring the cash register at an eye-popping $313,000, according to Melanie Coffee for the Associated Press.

I cannot a house that expensive -- even wit a 30-year mortgage. Remove the diamond earrings, the dress, shoes, watch, and accessories would total around $20K. Geez, I couldn't even buy a luxury car for that paltry sum.

Reporters cover the candidates' wives as if they are engaged in a fashion throw-down. Michelle Obama favors Chicago designer Maria Pinto. You'll find lots of photos of Obama in Pinto styles at The Black Snob blog. CNN commentators (Sept. 5 morning news) said the pricetag for Obama's dress for the closing night credits at the Democratic National Convention was $1,250. Have these people heard of T.J. Maxx? Beall's Outlets? I think not.

Amanda Fortini's article, "The Semiotics of Convention Fashion," suggests an intellectual treatment of the topic for
The New Republic. Fortini does not seem to fully understand the concept of semiotics. The article is packed full of fashion details, but the cultural analysis is missing.

If you want to understand the semiotics of style, read Real people understand how really silly spending this kind of money on fashion is, when young people are dying in strange lands, families are losing their homes in America, and the economy is in crisis.

Perhaps no writer was more incisive about the relationship between economics and culture than Roland Barthes in the landmark volume,
Myth Today (1972). Umberto Eco eviscerates American cultural pretensions in Travels in Hyperreality (1985), continuing the great tradition of the semiotics of culture from an economic perspective. Propeller readers understand this analytical approach: it is the semiotics of real life.

Most papers are hedging their bets in the fashion throwdown. The New York Post, for example, compares Cindy McCain's flashy, high-end fashion statements with the classic, easy glamor of Michelle Obama. The language allows for the styles to be evaluated as separate but equal. The United Kingdom's Guardian qualifies both as polished dressers ready to be a stylish First Lady.

Project Runway judge Tim Gunn had no trouble taking a strong position. He observes that Obama seems comfortable in her clothing and has some snarky things to say about McCain.

Even though my interest in the politics of fashion of presidental candidates' wives is recent, as early as February, Bean at asked, "Why Are Blogs Evaluating What Political Wives Wear?" The question is, of course, essentially contradictory: discussing the question adds to the buzz about First Lady wannabe wardrobes.

There are even paper doll books that allow us to dress the senators McCain, Obama, and their wives, according to Adam Tschorn,
Los Angeles Times writer. McCain in his undies? Thanks but no thanks, I said.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fashion After 50 Launch

A free fashion archetype quiz is now available on my website, Fashion After 50. Until there is enough traffic to hire a information technologist to make the quiz interactive, you'll have to use pencil and paper. It is based on my several years of reading about Jungian archetypes and goddess archetypes. I'd love to know how accurate you find the archetypes so that I can fine-tune them.

The website is about how to dress attractively after we reach a certain age, as the French so refreshingly term older females.

There is a lot more work to be done on I am trying to figure out how to integrate a blog that will feature photos of attractive older women. Do you know how hard it is to find stock photos of older women for sale online? Fuggetaboutit. Even though I have written some scholarly analysis about the absence of older women from popular culture, even I was astonished at thoroughly all sign of us is erased every place but the AARP monthly magazine.

I was not planning on making Fashion After 50 a place for political expression, but my first entry is about Cindy McCain's $300,000 Republican National Convention outfit. Sigh. You can count on not finding any expensive designer togs touted by Fashion After 50.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Everglades Canals Are Swollen
From Tropical Storm Fay

The canals along Alligator Alley through the Everglades are more filled with water than I have seen them. Tropical storm Fay crossed and re-crossed the state at a slow 12 miles an hour, flooding some areas. Now the River of Grass is doing its job – draining the excess into the ocean.

You can see how the water comes all the way up the boat ramp to the parking lot at this rest area along highway 75. The other photos also were taken there. These canals would normally would have visible sides, rather than spilling into the grasslands. One shot, taken out the car window, shows standing water in the highway media, almost enough to be a canal in itself. On other drives, the median has been dry.

The Everglades usually appears as a dry sea of long grasses, with an occasional island of trees popping out here and there. One knows that there is water under the grasses, a swampy and complex ecosystem. I have rarely seen that water. Now, however, lakes have formed on the surface in a few places.

The magnitude of the flat grassy swamp is as awe-inspiring, in its way, as the Grand Canyon, the glaciers of Alaska, or the desert stretches surrounding Death Valley, California. Even this vast river or bay area outside Bradenton fills me with wonder at the beauty of Florida. I love this place.

Three more storms are lining up in the Atlantic. Hannah is expected to make landfall in the Carolina. It will skim the east coast of Florida. I do not expect much water from that. Josephine is dissipating off the coast of Africa.

Ike is the one to watch. Landfall is expected early next week. The hurricane meteorologists are not sure of Ike’s path. Already a cat(egory) 4, Ike will blow through the Bahamas, leaving destruction in its wake. Whether this storm will land in south Florida, bump northward along the east coast, or rush into the Gulf of Mexico is not known. If Ike enters the gulf, the storm will be Somebody Else’s Problem but could do great harm elsewhere in the United States or Mexico.