Thursday, January 31, 2013

Do you hear the people sing?

I know I'm a little late and to comment on the film version of Les Miz, which hit the silver screen more than a month ago. But the world moves at a slower pace in the Keys and I just got a chance to see the show this week. I'm overwhelmed.

Let me start by saying Victor Hugo's story captures more than the misery of a time long ago. It's the misery of all time. And over the years, the songs by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil have become so much a part of that universal story that I think of them as one. But the intensity of the movie version is even greater than I imagined. I mean these are songs that can snatch your soul in the third balcony when the people look like fireflies flitting across the stage. But when Anne Hathaway's shamed face is spread across the wide screen like a map of the world, you can't escape the horror that blankets the room.

 Unfortunately Hugh Jackman's singing voice isn't as good as I had expected. And Russell Crowe's isn't as bad as I'd feared. But Hathaway deserves every award she's received and more. In "I Dreamed a Dream" she delivers every ounce of hope and disappointment packed into those powerful lyrics. Samantha Barks (Eponine) deserves a healthy helping of praise as well. "On My Own" is unforgettable.

 I never missed a realistic setting in the stage version, but my imagination never provided the impact of Director Tom Hooper's cinematography. "Look Down" takes on a whole different meaning in the movie's enormous shipyard, as does the reprise with a sea of begging hands. Oh, the visual stench of of the Paris sewers. And building a barricade with furniture raining down from fifth floor apartment windows adds a whole new chorus to hearing the people sing.

The timing is never quite right to capture the physical fun of the Thenardiers, the conniving innkeepers who are always such a delight in stage productions but are overly made-up clowns in the movie.

 Still I cried. I cried for Fantine and all the single mothers everywhere abandoned by their husbands and trampled by social conventions. I cried for Eponine and all the broken-hearted whose love is not returned. I cried for Cosette and all the frightened, lonely abused children in the world. And the"little people" like Gavroche who get swept up and spit out. I cried for Javert and all the narrow-minded people tortured by devils of their own making. But most of all I cried for all the idealistic young men fighting and dying for freedom and justice, year after year, war after war. All those "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables."

But Les Mis wouldn't be the iconic story it is if it were only about misery. It's about triumph and redemption. So I cheered for the Bishop of Digne and all the faithful who let Christ's light shine through them. And I was inspired by everyman Jean Valjean who didn't deserve the trouble life handed him, but he worked hard and overcame. He makes tough choices and accepts responsibility. I feel like they should be playing this movie in welfare offices across the country.

As I walked into the night, the departing movie patrons were singing about freedom and when tomorrow comes. I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, all those people didn't die in vain. Maybe we are a little closer to justice and freedom in the world.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sock (it to 'em) Hop

Remember sock hops? Back when I was in junior high and high school, sock hops were all the rage. The well chaperoned dances were held in the school gym, which hosted the other rage of the era -- basketball games. The gym floor was polished until it shone like glass, the pride of the whole school. No one would dare walk across it with street shoes. So when the dances were held, we took off our shoes outside the painted boundaries and wore only our socks for dancing...hence the title "sock hop."

I went to many Valentine's Day "sock hops" but this year I'll be participating in the 21st century version -- a Bloody Valentine's Day Blog Hop. Canadian author A.F. Stewart has asked several Indie authors to join her in posting the sour side of romance instead of the sweet and sappy stuff other sites will be posting.

This is a challenge for me because even though I write murder mysteries, I'm a romantic. A serial killer bumps off 14 in my book Great News Town and yet many of the reviewers comment on how the horror is softened by the community response.

I have no idea what I'll write for the blog hop, but I will be participating along with 15 other authors (most of whom probably aren't old enough to remember disco let alone sock hops!) Thanks to modern technology (and my tech savvy son), you'll be able to "hop" from one post to the other right from Laughing for a Living. So mark your calendar and join us for a Bloody Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Full Moon Friday

Officially the full moon comes tomorrow, Saturday, January 26, at 11:38 p.m.. But the monthly Full Moon Paddle, sponsored by Big Pine Kayak Adventures, was tonight. I went with my friend and house guest, Sue Willison, to paddle into the sunset and watch the moon come up.  We were already signed up before I realized that makes this Full Moon Friday, the title of my next book.

The book will have nothing to do with kayaks or the Keys, and everything to do with those crazy crank phone calls received at newsrooms, emergency rooms and police stations every time there's a full moon. The third book in my Jordan Daily News Mystery series is just in the early planning stages. I've been collecting actual full moon stories for inspiration but I  haven't written one word at this point. Except the title. I announced the title of the next book inside One Shoe Off, my recent release.

Perhaps this Full Moon Friday is an omen of full moons to come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Camp Runamuck

Remember Summer camp?
Well, I've been getting a refresher course this week. The National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key has been conducting its first annual day camp for adults. They don't say senior citizens, but down here in the Keys that's pretty much an assumption. "I don't ask people what they do, I ask them what they did," one man said. We just assume that everyone is retired or "Quitired".
And now we are campers.

 On Monday we went to the beach, which doesn't look like the expanse of sand you might expect. Here the beach is kept mountains of seaweed... because it hides miniature shrimp that the sea birds feed on. The beach, as well as everything else on the island preserve is here for the benefit of nature. Which is a pretty good cause, right?

We also learned about seabeans that look like a miniature hamburger on a bun. The silly seed floats all the way to Florida from some vine in South America. Wait till the Columbians find out. They'll be stuffing them with cocaine!

On Tuesday we studied scat -- poop -- and passed it around like it was a gourmet treat. We listened to a recording of frogs like it was a symphony and heard a discussion of the importance of controlled burns to the life of the pinelands. Did you know there are some butterflies ( Barttram's Hairstreak) that can't exist if one plant--the pineland croton--disappears? So the preserve needs to plant this plain little croton in the sunny spaces at the edge of the pineland to keep that butterfly alive.

We returned to the beach today to make plaster casts of the many footprints we found in the soft dirt there...sea birds, deer, raccoons. The average age of our campers is well over 60 but we acted more like 6-year-olds, taking our strip of Coke carton and making a collar to surround our selected print. Then mix plaster of paris and water in a baggie--be sure to get all the lumps out -- and pour it into the mold. Wait! You've got to spray the print first with Pam. Who's got the Pam?

While we were waiting for our plaster to set, we went back to the "nut farm" and planted a tree which will provide a home for native birds.  The ground is such hard coral rock here that we had to use an axe to dig the hole. Then we went to an old farm on No Name Key and learned about Sapodilla, a fruit that was grown here at one time. Looks like a fuzzy apple but has a white, sticky sap like gum.

It rained briefly in the morning, which the No-see-ums love, so they chased us all day off the beach and nut farm and woods, no matter how much bug spray we sprayed. But bug spray, sun screen and bug bites made it seem like the summer camp I remember from childhood.

We returned to the beach, picked up our prize paw print plasters, and headed home like smiling, scratching kids. Tomorrow is the last day of camp. Sort of the graduation. We're going kayaking. Can't wait. Summer camp is such fun.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Don't resolve, solve

Writing books is one of my goals
Most folks consider new year's resolutions a joke. The annual lose-weight/stop-smoking promise that doesn't make it through the month. But I have a different story to tell. On New Years 1998, I started a system of goals and evaluations that I have continued every January for 15 years. I won't say it has completely changed my life but it has chronicled, and to some degree controlled, some of the biggest changes in my life.

In those 15 years, I changed career from assistant features editor at The Press to theater reviewer, retired from that post in 2009 and  published three books. I returned to my maiden name, lost my father, moved across town, changed churches, saw my son marry and move out on his own and learned to make pottery.  The preparation for all those changes is reflected in my annual goals.

That first year, the year I would turn 50 in October, I made a broad assessment of who I was and what I wanted out of life. And I wrote it down. I decided the purpose of life is to know God better and everything else is just a step toward that goal. No sense making a small goal if you want a long life!

I divided my quest into two main realms: self improvement and world interaction. Self improvement includes Spirit and Physical. The world includes Finances, Career, Experience, People and House. Last year I added Earth.  Under each category I listed smaller goals and areas I wanted to improve. Some were easily attainable and measurable such as "call Mom every week" while others were elusive, such as "lose 30 pounds." 

Every January I look at the goals I set for the previous year and list those I have completed, as well as listing accomplishments for the past year that weren't part of my "plan."  Then I list a set of goals for the coming year. If a goal for the past year wasn't accomplished, I decide whether it is still something I want and if it is, it gets added to the new list. That 30 pounds, for instance, was carried over year after year with little progress. Each year I would add suggestions about how the goal might be achieved with daily walks, or a new diet, or whatever. Finally in 2011, through doubling my exercise time and reducing meal portions, I lost 15 pounds! Losing the other 15 was on the list for 2012 and I have to admit it didn't happen. But I kept off the original 15, and the second 15 are back on the list for 2013.

Goals, I discovered, are not a "to do" list but a "doing" list. Using a DailyWalk Bible, with readings divided into daily chunks, I've read through the Bible, cover to cover, three times in the past 15 years. And still I read verses that I don't remember reading before.

So how am I doing on knowing God? I'm only more in awe. But I know myself better. That first year I discovered I had a problem with anger that I had never addressed and I'm still working on it. I know so many of God's people better because my career shift got me out into the community more, and I'm consciously working on maintaining better relationships with family and friends. My career has blossomed in exciting new ways. Retirement has expanded my world in directions I never expected back in 1998, including spending a quarter of the year in the Florida Keys with a wonderful man who has taught me so much about love and myself.

And when I look back in my folder of annual goals and accomplishments, it's all there.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

See no Evil!

Even my screened porch office isn't safe .
The thing that bugs me most about the Keys is something I can't even see.

We hadn't been at our place in the Keys five minutes when I got my first bite from a No-See-Um. Sometimes you don't even feel the bite, you just find your legs covered with red bumps like a bad case of measles. And they itch like crazy. They don't bite everybody. Steve is evidently immune. But when they are biting I can't do anything.

Usually they are only active in the early morning or after dark. But today we went to the Saturday morning flea market. It was really muggy and cloudy and I guess the bugs consider that the same as dusk. I was getting so many bites that I could barely pay for my purchase and run back to the car. I felt like a swarm of them was chasing me.

Screens do not deter them. They chase me out of the screened porch sometimes. And they bite me so badly in the house that I can't sleep. I woke up the other day and my hand which had been outside the blanket was covered with so many bites that it felt swollen.

No bug spray works either. I've tried them all. Some swear by DEET. Some say Avon's Skin So Soft works. The worst attack I ever had was when I put Skin-So-Soft on my legs. The bugs were swimming in it.

Friends give me anti-bug Christmas gifts. Steve bought me something called a Thermo Cell, which has a miniature butane burner that creates its own DEET-infused fog. I was having trouble reading a book on my screened porch so I fired up the new thermo cell. It seemed to be working and I was reading in peace, although I could smell the fumes from the Thermo Cell. Then I could taste the fumes. Then I realized I was getting woozy from the poison. I went and got the package:
If inhaled: Move person to fresh air. If person is not breathing call 911.  Well, duh!
Reading about No-See-Ums on the Internet only frustrates matters. One post said you can't use bug spray and sunscreen at the same time because the DEET in the bug spray neutralizes the sunscreen, and neither will work. Well, since my dermatologist has me under orders to wear sun screen every day, I have to chose between bites or skin cancer. I'm thinking it over.

I  shower twice a day to clear off all the preparations that are accumulating on my skin. Today I sprayed bug spray on my feet and legs, sun screen on my arms and shoulders, and a combination sunscreen/moisturizer on my face. When I came home I itched so bad all over, I slathered on an "ocean of calamine lotion. "

But nothing seems to work for long to ease the itch. I take benadryl at night but during the say it leaves me too groggy to function. I've had the best luck with an ice pack. People who know me know that I advocate ice for every ailment: headaches, backaches, bum knee. And yes, an ice pack will numb the burning itch of no-see-um bites.

The bites are everywhere. Between my toes. On my ear lobe. Behind my knees, On my scalp.  Cheeks. Ankles.Fingers.  In my butt crack. Along my jaw line. Everywhere. Bites last a week or more. Sometimes they get all festered with yellow liquid. Usually leave a scab when they finally dry up.

The most frustrating part is not being able to see the enemy. You can't swat them or shoo them. I desperately want revenge. I want to watch them writhing in the fumes of the thermo cell. Hear them sizzling on the bug light. You didn't know I had a sadistic side, did you?

The good news is they say you build up a resistance in three or four weeks. It did seem to get better last year. It's been three weeks today since that first bite when we arrived, so I'm probably at my peek accumulation. And if you asked me today, I'd be hard pressed to think of anything nice to say. Sun, sand, blue skies and warm weather are not worth much when all you can do is scratch.