The End is Near



No, I am not a survivalist predicting the end of the world as we know it, although I do happen to look fetching in mossy oak camo and make a delicious tree bark stew.

The end I am talking about is the end of the long process of writing and editing, editing, editing, editing (did I mention editing?) my manuscript for my soon to be published novel, In Search of Beef Stroganoff.

I can hear a collective sigh of relief from all you bloggers out there about not having to listen to me moan and complain and rant about how the editing process is endless. I could always find sentences in my manuscript I wanted to tinker with, things that needed to be added, sections to toss on the garbage heap, or scattered typos left in the wake of my editing.

My dear friend and fellow blogger, also happens to be a librarian with a fancy schmancy Master’s Degree in Library Science. She read a draft of In Search of Beef Stroganoff over the summer and gave me fantastic feedback, asked hard questions, and told me she HATED the ending. I took her comments to heart et voila (how French of me), the manuscript was in a state where I was happy with it and could quit gnawing on it like a pit bull. I could finally say . . .

Enough is enough.

It is finished.

Quit picking at it.

There is no earthly reason to change the word “happy” to the equally boring word “glad.”

I honestly didn’t think that day would ever come.

I sent the manuscript off to a talented and knowledgeable editor, who many of you know as the fabulous Madame Weebles of blogging fame. She is an editor with a keen eye, nose for accuracy, delicate touch, hears when dialog is stilted, and chewed up and spit out sentences that didn’t ring true. She used all five senses while editing my manuscript and I think she used her sixth sense as well. She gave the novel the polish it needed. The story is the same, but she helped me smooth out more than a few bumps.

My gifted and artistic (and may I be so bold as to add, beautiful) daughter is a graphic designer extraordinaire. She created a stunning cover for the book, but she won’t let me reveal it . . . yet. Because she is like her mother, she is never happy until something is perfect. She wants to play around with the design some more, but in my mind, it is already perfect. It captures the essence of the story.

Because, as I said, I leave typos in my wake when I edit, the manuscript is now in the capable hands of my best pal. She can spot a typo at a hundred yards. And by the way, she has found a few. Once she is finished, it is publication time.

Woooooooohooooooo! I will soon be doing a happy dance and I hope you all join in!

After doing much handwringing, gnashing of teeth, and hours of research, I decided to self-publish using Lulu Publishing Services. Have any of you used them? If so, how did it go? From everything I’ve learned about Lulu, they are author-friendly, you can do eBook and print book versions, and they don’t demand your first-born child as payment.

I considered trying to get an agent but it seemed like an impossible dream. The numbers are against anyone who would like to be traditionally published, except if your name happens to be Stephen King. There are so many talented writers out there. My goal is to hold a copy of my book in my hands, not to be rejected by an agent.

Stay tuned. I’ll be around the blogosphere more now and will try to not bore you with the details of getting my book in print. But I can’t make any promises.

So . . . enough about me. How have you all been?


Spending the Night with Paul McCartney


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Anyone who has followed this blog for twelve months seconds knows I am a huge Beatles fan. I’ve been a fan since I was, as my mom would say, knee-high to a grasshopper.

My ever-so-thoughtful husband surprised me with two tickets to see Sunday night’s Paul McCartney concert with our daughter Jill. The way that sentence reads, it sounds like our daughter was in concert with Sir Paul. What I mean to say is I went to the concert with our daughter. Damn semantics.

Said thoughtful husband also booked a room for us at the Omni Hotel next door to the sold-out concert venue, Petco Park in San Diego. Our 19th floor room looked smack-dab into the stadium. Had he known that, my husband might have scalped our concert tickets and said, “How ’bout you watch the concert from your room? Here is a pair of binoculars.”

Who needs tickets to the concert with a view like this?

Who needs tickets to the concert with a view like this?

While enjoying a pre-concert beverage, Jill and I noticed a crowd gathered behind barricades lining the driveway leading to the backstage area. Whaddya know? A few minutes later the crowd erupted in cheers as a motorcade of black Escalades rounded the corner. Paul and his mates (how British of me) had arrived at the stadium for the sound check. My daughter and I screamed (yes, screamed) when Paul rolled down the passenger window and popped his arm out to wave to his fans. I would know that arm anywhere.

Adoring fans or creepy stalkers? Your call.

Adoring fans? Creepy Paul stalkers? Your call.

Jill and I proceeded to a rooftop bar near the stadium for additional pre-concert beverages (hmmm, I sense a theme here) where we could listen to the hour-long sound check. Unlike many other rock stars, Paul does his own.

The stadium was packed, and I mean packed, with 42,000 Beatles lovers. The youngest fan I saw was five-years-old or so, and the oldest fan was using a cane. Talk about a broad fan-base.

Paul packs the house.

Do you suppose Paul still has any fans?

Sir Paul looks and sounds amazing. He and his talented band played (and I mean really rocked) for three solid hours. I can’t do anything that uses that much energy for three minutes, let alone three hours. Paulie-boy won’t be offended here if I remind you that he is 72-years-old. You would never know it. He is trim and fit, stylish as ever, winsome smile and wit are ever-present, and his voice is true and strong.

I’ll add here that other rock stars of Paul’s generation look like they have been chewed up and spit out by their partying lifestyles. Think Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, or Justin Bieber. Our Sir Paul still has élan. What other 72-year-old man can look alluring while sporting suspenders? My daughter said, “It is a little disturbing that I have a crush on a guy that old.”

The concert was an excellent mix of Beatles and Wings material, as well as a few songs from his new album. But the sweetest part of the evening was then he sang, “Yesterday” directly to my daughter and me. I’m not sure how he found us in the crowd, what with his aging eyesight and all.


At close to midnight, we exited the stadium for the one-minute walk to our hotel. Even at that late hour, we were too amped by the energy of the concert and there was no way, Jose, we could just go to bed. We joined dozens of our fellow concertgoers in the hotel bar for post-concert beverages. The energy in the bar was just as electric as it was in the stadium.

I said earlier that the sweetest part of the evening was when Paul sang “Yesterday.” That statement is utterly incorrect. The sweetest part was spending the evening with our daughter Jill and that my husband made it happen. Thanks, honey.

On my flight home yesterday, a woman about my age sat next to me. Without a “Good morning,” “Is this seat taken?,” “Move your damn purse,” or whatever, she blurted out . . . “I was at the Paul McCartney concert last night.” Guess what we talked about the entire flight home . . .

Life’s Little Mysteries


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There are so many mysteries in life. I’m a deep drinker thinker, but I just can’t wrap my brain about some things. You guys are smart. A little help here?

When the driver gets off the bus, who closes the door?

Why do we turn down the car radio when we are looking for an address?

Where is all the information on the Internet stored?

What do blog spammers possibly hope to accomplish?

Does anyone own a Ginsu knife?

Who was the first person that looked at an oyster and thought, “Yum-o. That looks delicious. I think I’ll eat it. Better yet, I’ll add a dash of Tabasco and eat it raw.”

How do weeds grow in the cracks of the sidewalks yet some flowers in my garden are struggling?

Excuse me while I gag, but who in their right mind thinks having gauge earrings is a good look?

The list goes on and on, but my last one for you is a really poser . . . a stumper . . . a noggin’ scratcher. Albert Einstein failed the entrance exam for Mensa because he couldn’t answer the question.

Drum roll please.

How can I have the wherewithal to write 76,000 +/- words in my manuscript but I can’t compose a query letter?

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

That is not Herr Einstein. It is me after trying to write a query letter. Photo credit: Wikipedia









Strong vs Weak Words ~ Part 43 ~ When


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Strong vs Weak

Thought you saw the last of the damn Strong vs. Weak Word posts, right?

Me too.

I didn’t think I had another one in me. But lucky, lucky you . . . be prepared to be edified or anesthetized. Your choice.

I was 20-stinking-pages from the end of my FINAL read-through of my manuscript before sending it to a blogging friend for copy/line-editing. Then WHAM-O, I noticed something was WRONG-O. Seriously WRONG-O.

When the main character did such-and-such, then the next thing happened.

A lot.

146 of the sentences in my manuscript started with the word “when.” Good grief. The better part of yesterday was spent reworking those blasted sentences and now, I am the proud owner of a mere 21 “when” sentences.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean, and how “when” can be exorcised and replaced with something more interesting.

When Robin finished her blog post, her followers took to the streets and cheered.

Yeah, right. Sure they did.

Robin finished her blog post and her followers promptly sent her hate mail.


When Robin had a power-lunch, she always downed three martinis.

Gin or vodka?

A martini was Robin’s beverage of choice in order to get hammered over a business deal.


When Robin returned home, she poured herself another drink.

What a souse!

Returning home to a cold and empty house, Robin warmed her spirits with another martini.


Enough of that.

The other thing I discovered was I used “when” to avoid starting yet another sentence with “I.” “When” became this writer’s crutch instead of working to find a more interesting way to say what I wanted to say.

When I stared into the abyss of my computer screen, I wanted to cry.

Oh God. I know the feeling.

Staring into the abyss of my computer screen, tears of frustration threatened to short-circuit my keyboard.


When I stormed out the door, the agent chased after me to offer a book deal.

What is the name of your agent?

The agent shredded my offer for a book deal because I stormed out of his office.


Maybe this ain’t no kinda problem for you, but “when” was sure a whopper of a problem for me.

As I have said before in these posts, the difference is subtle, but there is a difference. Try searching your manuscript for sentences beginning with “when” and please report back what you find. I’m curious.

As a bonus for you, trying looking for sentences starting with “after” and “before.” As in:

After/before the main character did this, that happened.

96 of those babies in my manuscript.

Happy writing!

What Not To Wear



My husband is an avid cyclist. Avid with a capital “A.” Avid as in his idea of a good time is riding his bike 72 miles with 4.2 million feet of elevation climb. Avid as in owning a fleet of bicycles with a combined value of the national debt. Avid as in . . . well, you get the idea.

What about that looks fun?

What about that looks fun?

I, on the other hand, am an avid avoider of all things involving two wheels and my sweat in order to operate it. Until recently, that is. I finally caved under my husband’s bicyclist enthusiasm and let him buy me a bike. Why? Because the bike was darn cute. Heck, it has a basket and a bell! Here is said bike:

No, that is not a picture of the Wicked Witch of the West.

No, stop it. That is not a picture of the Wicked Witch of the West.

But something was missing in my quest to feel passion for the sport. I couldn’t put my finger on that certain je ne sais quoi until today. I don’t have the right outfit! Now if I could just get my hands on one of these uniforms . . .

Who in the world thought that was a good idea?

Colombian Cycling Team. Who in the world thought that was a good idea? Was the designer on Columbian drugs?

IRS Phone Scam ~ Don’t Fall For It!


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I don’t get some people.

Imagine devoting your life’s work and precious time on this earth to scamming people out of their money. How do those people sleep at night? What does their mother think about their career choice?

Like I said, I don’t get people. Don’t even get me started on the Ray Rice (aka wife-beater and all-around thug) elevator incident.

This rant is about a threatening phone message I picked up today, allegedly from our friends at the IRS.

I had heard about this scam on the news, but even if I hadn’t, the message reeked with no-good-ed-ness. An automaton voice said,

“Return this call the very second you receive this message. I need you, or your retained attorney of record, to return the call. The issue at hand is extremely time-sensitive. I am Officer Julie Smith from the Internal Revenue Service and the hotline to my division is 415-251-6983. Don’t disregard this message and do return the call before we take any action against you. Good-bye and take care.”

First of all, since when did IRS agents start saying “take care” when they threaten action against a taxpayer?

Secondly, I know IRS agents are stiff, but they have become androids too? (My apologies to any non-stiff IRS agents out there.)

Smelling a rat, I Googled the phone number, and of course, it popped up as a scam on several message boards. One person who commented on the board said he called the number back 25 times in one day just to hassle the scammer! I’d like to meet that guy and shake his hand. You gotta love his pluck.

What troubles me most about this scam is there are many people who might fall for it, for example, my 91-year-old dad. A call like that would scare the bejesus out of him and I could see him immediately calling the number back and forking over money. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, an estimated $5 million has been lost to these scams. Tragic.

Picture this scene:

A scammer comes home from a hard day at the office and their June Cleaver-ish wife asks, “How was your day, dear?”

“Excellent! I bilked another sap out of his life savings.”

This information is hot off the IRS website:

Characteristics of this scam include:

Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.

Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

I will add here, the IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by phone ~ they always send written correspondence first.

This was my public service announcement of the day. Oh and yes, I did file a report to the FTC.





Paper or Plastic?


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You know I don’t like to get up on my high horse. Much. But I am troubled by something so vast, the problem is not likely to go away in our lifetime, or for that matter, during our great-great-great-great grandchildren’s lifetime.

Stealing a couple of lines from The Graduate, “I just have one word for you. Are you listening? One word. Plastics.”

Have you heard about this?

There is a floating mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean that is roughly the twice the size of Texas. TEXAS!

For that matter, there are boatloads (no pun intended) of plastic bags, bottle, spoons and whatnots in all of our oceans. And the junk ain’t going anywhere, anytime soon. The plastic just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces until it is microscopic plastic dust. Marine life unwittingly ingest the stuff.

When we were in Belize in March, we witnessed the problem firsthand. Every day at dawn, the resort had a crew of Belizeans rake up the truckload of plastic that had washed up on shore overnight. Talk about job security for those guys.

We snorkeled every day in pristine waters. No plastic trash to be seen. However, on one of our trips, something was up with the tide or the vortex of waters and we were right in the thick of swimming through plastic city. It was disconcerting to see a CVS bag float by. Sickening is a better word.

What a waste.

According to renowned marine biologist and my new hero, Dr. Sylvia Earle, a whale washed ashore the California coast and the poor guy had 400 pounds of plastic in its stomach. No one wondered why it died.

I’m not saying plastic is a bad thing. What we are doing with it is a bad thing. Man is not the only culprit. Mother Nature plays a part when she unleashes tsunamis what sweep tons of debris, including plastic, into the ocean.

Those clever scientists who worked tirelessly on the development of the seedless watermelon ought to now focus their energies on how we are going to fix the problem of plastic in the ocean.

I won’t load you up with statistics and sad facts here. All you need to do it consult Mr. Google and search for “plastic in the ocean.” Reading up on the issue will keep you busy and off the streets for days. I do, however, urge you to watch this brief video on Plastic Ocean’s website.

I hope our next generation of children will not understand the question, “Paper or plastic?”

Okay. I’m off my soapbox.

Belize panorama

Don’t let this beautiful Belizean scene fool you. Plastic lurks out there.

Look what the cat dragged in . . . Robin is back!


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Hello, dear blogging friends! I have had a full plate with no time to blog or read blogs for some time now. I won’t make excuses, whine, or pretend that I am busier than the rest of you. Goodness knows, we are all busy.

With all good intentions, I stepped back from my blog to focus on finishing my novel. Here is what I did about that thing called my manuscript. Squat. Zilch. Nada. Zippo.

But here are a few of the things I did manage to accomplish:

  1. Fixed the crisis in the Mideast. I got the nicest thank you note from the president.
  2. Solved the world hunger problem by whipping up several batches of my famous beef stroganoff. That stuff sticks to your ribs.
  3. Figured out why the Kardashians are popular. Oh, wait. That question will never be answered.

With all those heady issues resolved, I am happy to report that I am writing/editing again.

My novel was all but finished so why the heck wasn’t I taking it to the finish line? Why work so hard on telling the story and then leave it moldering, languishing, and mildewing in a file on my laptop? (Do computer files mildew?)

So, I dusted off my manuscript and with a fresh eye and renewed spirit, set about finishing what I started so long ago. I did a read-through and was thrilled to find out I didn’t hate it and want to throw the mildewed bather in the trash.

With the help of a dear friend, who has a keen eye for holes in the story and incongruity, I polished the sentences, added depth where the story was thin, and deleted stuff that just didn’t make literary magic. I am forever in her debt

Now the burning question is how to get the damn thing published. Agent? Self-publish? Assisted self-publishing? Running off mimeo copies of it and passing it out on the street corner? The whole process of getting published makes the writing part look easy.

Plagiarizing my own blog, I wrote this a long time ago:

“The discussions on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing and the changing industry are robust with good information. Just when I think “Ah ha! I have a game plan,” I read something else counseling that Game Plan B is better. Then I read another article with the advice that the sure-fire way to go is Game Plan C. And on and on it goes. Without sounding like I am whining (well maybe a little), I’d like to be adopted by someone who says, “Here honey, I’ll handle it for you.” Since being adopted is unlikely at my age, I’ll forge ahead on my own for now.”

Like in Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, I wish someone would hand me this:

how-i-did-itAnyhoo, for those of you who have navigated the rocky road of publication, any advise for moi? If no advise, please stop by this blog for a cup of tea and a chat. I do miss you all.

Belize it or Not ~ Part 3


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If you are following along, this is the third post in a series about our trip to the beautiful country of Belize. See here for a riveting post about our adventure to Mayan ruins. Here are a few final notes about our Mayan trek I feel I must leave with you.

A stone’s throw from the dock where we caught the boat is a three-acre riverfront property for sale. It boasts several outbuildings, houses, and a nice looking boat dock. The asking price is $800,000. The developer of the McAfee Anti-virus software, John McAfee, is the owner and he is motivated to sell. You would be too if you were on the run from the law for the alleged murder of your Belizean neighbor.

Spitting distance the other direction from the boat dock is a Belizean dichotomy, or maybe someone’s idea of an insensitive joke. A rehab center sits next door to a rum distillery. Really? Must one rub a poor abuser’s nose in the temptation of a midnight run next door for a rum and Coke?

On a side note, the rehab center is in need of some major rehab itself.

Remember the helpful cab driver who played our tour guide/historian? While we did the Mayan ruin tour, he apparently did a tour of the local bars and came back schnockered. On the drive back to our hotel, he drifted into on-coming traffic, passed buses with reckless abandon, and I watched him in the rearview mirror as his eyelids grew heavy and he nodded off to sleep. My husband spoke sharply to the driver and that sobered him up a bit. We made it back to the hotel safely and just in time for our own stiff drink.

On another side note, if you are tempted to climb a Mayan ruin, may I suggest you enter an Olympic training program for at least one year prior to your climb? My legs were sore for days afterward making the simple process of standing up an Olympic event.

I leave you with some Belizean signs that made me chuckle.

I like how Belizeans think.

I like how Belizeans think.

Now why didn't I think of that?

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Excellent philosophy.

Excellent philosophy.

Those Belizeans are ever so polite.

Those Belizeans are ever so polite.

Paris is a mere 4,641 mile swim from Belize.

Paris is a mere 4,641 mile swim from Belize.

As a teaser to what is coming up next in this adventure, here is a shot of the un-Belize-able view from our island resort. The view would be a heck of a lot better if I could figure out how to Photoshop me out of it.


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Belize It or Not ~ Part 2


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Part 1 of this series about our trip to Belize armed you with trivia so you can nail the “Belize It or Not” category when it pops up on Jeopardy. “I’ll take Belize It or Not for $500, Alex.”

Part 2’s fascinating installment is about our day-long trek into the wild jungles to see the ancient Lamanai Mayan ruins in northern Belize. No one told me I needed to pack a machete.

We hired a tour guide/driver to take us to the boat dock where we would then hop on a boat and go up river to the Mayan ruins. Our tour guide/driver was a wealth of information about Belize and it made the hour and a half drive pleasant, if you turned a blind eye to the evidence of poverty all around. The houses became sparse the farther we went into the countryside, but the unifying theme was laundry flapping on clotheslines in the Belizean breeze.

I have to say this. Belizeans know how to keep their whites white.

The driver pulled over to a collection of outbuildings that looked like they would collapse if you sneezed in their general direction. As it turned out, it was the put-in point for our boat ride to the ruins. I had my doubts about the wisdom of taking said trip at this point. But, a dozen or so not-insane looking people also waited to get on the boat to be sold up-river. Hey, I’m game. Or stupid. Pick one.

Our jungle port of call.

Our jungle port of call.

Our boat driver/Mayan ruin tour guide was charming and knowledgeable about the river’s flora and fauna. It was a tad disconcerting that the trip took us through crocodile-infested waters and under a tree canopy filled with snakes ready to pounce (can snakes pounce?) on us, bats looking batty while clinging to branches waiting for nightfall, and spider and howler monkeys up to their usual monkey business. The iguanas looked bored with the whole affair.

Do you get the feeling we are being watched?

Do you get the feeling we are being watched?

It was like the Jungle Ride at Disneyland but the animals were real. Or like the movie African Queen. Or Apocalypse Now. Or Indiana Jones.

The Lamanai site was home to the Mayans for 2,000 years until the civilization’s collapse. There are burial pyramids, ceremonial temples, and the remnants of the royal quarters. Only a mere fraction of the site has been excavated. A Canadian dude did two major digs, but without for funding the project, most of the site is still succumbed to the jungle.

I’m not going to give you a lecture on the lost Mayan civilization. I’m no expert but I found the Mayan story fascinating. If you have a chance, look them up. They probably have a Facebook page.

Our boat driver/tour guide led us on an hour-long hike through the jungle to the various ruins and promised we could climb up the tallest one, aptly named, High Temple. Those Belizeans are so clever.

Anywho, our tour group gathered around our guide at the base of High Temple in anticipation of a few words about the pyramid. Here is what he said. “Listen up, guys. Be very careful climbing up the face of the temple. Two days ago a woman lost her balance and fell 85 feet. She was air-lifted out with multiple broken bones and it is likely she will not survive the fall.”

The arrow shows how far the woman fell.

The arrow shows how far the woman fell.

What kind of a send-off is that!? “Enjoy the climb but don’t fall to your certain death!”

Climbing the pyramid was something my husband and I always wanted to do and we weren’t about to delete it off our bucket list while standing in the ruin’s shadow.

It is hard to tell from the picture, but the side of the pyramid is precariously steep. They installed a rope to hang on to for dear life while scrambling up the side. While the steps look innocent enough, they are high and it is like doing vertical lunges while clinging to a flimsy rope.

We made it to the top but my knees were shaking from the exertion as well as paralyzing fear. The top of the pyramid was too damn high for my liking and all I could think about was the poor woman who fell. I also swear a Mayan ghost was considering pushing me off the pyramid as a sacrifice to one of his virgin-loving gods. Then he realized I was the mother of three and backed off.

Those aren't ants on the ground. Those are people.

Those aren’t ants on the ground. Those are people.

I am haunted by the fate of the woman who fell and will let you know if I hear how she is doing. The tour guide fears the Belizean government will shut down the site or no longer allow tourists to climb the pyramids. Frankly, I am surprised you are allowed to even touch the pyramids. I guess they figure they have lasted this long, they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

No, that is not a self portrait of me carved in stone.

No, that is not a self-portrait of me carved in stone.

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Belize It or Not ~ Part 1


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My husband and I have been on a treadmill set at warp speed over the past year or more. Most of the life-workout has been wonderful and I’m not complaining . . . travel, family, adventure, etc. Some parts were not so good . . . failing parents, the death of my uncle after his slow decline, and the sound of my writing coming to a screeching halt.

We needed a time out. Big time.

When we vacation, we usually cram every minute visiting landmarks and museums, walking our feet off, and savoring local food. We collapse at the end of the day and hit repeat the following morning. We aren’t sit-on-the-beach-and-contemplate-our-navels kind of people.

After red-lining life for so long, we were in the mood for a vacation that included rum drinks with umbrellas in them, sandy beaches, sea breezes, and limited Internet.

We considered Hawaii or Mexico, but while doing research on tropical destinations, I came across a resort situated on an atoll 25 miles off the coast of Belize. For those of you who are geographically challenged, Belize is on the east coast of Central America with Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south.

Map of Central America displaying Belize (red)...

Caribbean paradise. Photo credit: Wikipedia

The sole resort on our vacation island boasts 18 private cabanas on a blindingly white beach, no television, radio, or paved roads, three meals provided daily, and world-class snorkeling and SCUBA diving out the front door. Think Gilligan’s Island with Internet access only available in the Skipper’s hut.

Over the next few posts, I will do my best to not bore you with an endless slide show of the hundreds of pictures we took while in Belize. But first, not knowing a damn thing about the country of Belize, I did due diligence research (what did we do before the Internet?) and read some things that made me scratch my head.  Did any of you guys know this stuff?

Belize’s barrier reef is second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Who knew?

Mr. Wick E. Pedia casually mentions that chewing gum was invented in Belize. Listen, buddy, you can’t drop that bombshell and not give us more details about the who, what, when, where, and how Belize came to be the birthplace of Bazooka Bubblegum.

Belize City, the largest city in Belize, is little more than a slum. Actually, calling it a slum is an insult to the word slum. It is a pit. The ramshackle houses look abandoned until you notice the fresh laundry hanging on the line. Dozens of buildings are mere shells. Vacant lots are strewn with garbage and worse. Dental work appears to be an unheard of luxury. The abject poverty is sobering. Fortunately, we were only in Belize City for one night before heading to our island paradise.

In stark contrast to the poverty, the literacy rate is 77%. Local churches run the schools and the kids wear immaculate uniforms unique to their particular school. Belizeans may not have money for dental work, but they take a great deal of pride in their educational system and starched uniforms.

A large population of Mennonite farmers settled in Belize because the government granted them freedom from religious persecution and exemption from military conscription. The Mennonites are the nation’s farmers, producing goods for the general population as well as for export. They pretty much stick to their farms, but we saw a few couples shopping at the pharmacy in Belize City. It was like the cast members from the movie The Witness made a wrong turn and landed in a ghetto.

The country is rich in Mayan ruins dating back as early as 900 B.C.  Archeologists estimate that at its peak, the Mayan population was one million. Keep in mind there are only 334,000 people living in Belize today. More on the Mayan ruins in a future post.

They may be poor, but the Belizean pride in their heritage, culture, and the country’s beautiful landscape is apparent. One last thing . . . Belizeans are warm and welcoming souls. Even with teeth in dire need of orthodontia, they have the most beautiful smiles.

As a preview to future posts about our trip, here is a teaser photo of the view from our cabana.

Who needs Internet when you have this . . .

Who needs Internet when you have this . . .

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Coolest Beer in the Coolest Place Photo Contest


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The ever so talented Paige Coyle, resident graphic designer, took the Valentine’s Day “Coolest Beer in the Coolest Place” contest entries and made them all fancy-like. I submit the photos for your consideration.

For those of you who haven’t been playing along, shame on you, However, here is a recap of what the contest is all about.

My husband gives each of our girls a wad of dough for Valentine’s Day and challenges them to buy an interesting beer and then take a photo of themselves drinking the beer in an unusual location.

You lucky people get to vote on a winner. Maybe this is how we should do the presidential election from now on. I ask you . . . what is more democratic than a beer contest?

Entry Numero Uno

We were in Newport Beach (Los Angeles area for you non-California-ites) in January and it was 80 degrees. Yes, I said January. Yes, I said 80 degrees. Sorry East Coast friends. My husband named his yacht you see over his shoulder, “Rockin’ Robin.” He is sentimental that way.


Entry Numero Dos

Amanda took a 4-hour beer geek tour of the Sierra Nevada brewery and when the staff found out about the contest, they pulled out all the stops (literally) for her and let her drink right out of the barrel. It is just like how she used to drink milk out of the carton when she lived at home.


Entry Numero Tres (When did I start speaking Spanish?)

Jill lives in Colorado and in the dead of winter she was brave enough to don a bikini and trek through the snow to a natural hot spring. It should be noted that her name is Jill Marie and the beer she found was named J. Marie. Coincidence? I think not.


Entry Numero Quatro

Last but not least, Paige is in the final days of graphic design school before graduation. Needless to say, she is hog-tied to her computer while on the final stretch. But she has good company . . . a cold beer and our Uncle Mitchell watching over her while she does her work. For those of you who have read about my uncle, that is his photo over her shoulder.


Okay, it is up to you folks. Vote for your favorite “Coolest Beer in the Coolest Place” photo!

Doing Something That Scared Me


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My husband lives by these words . . . “Do something that scares you every day.” Sing in public, enter a bicycle race, or wrestle with a cougar ~ that sort of thing. (No snide comments about me being a cougar.)

I totally disagree with his philosophy. My words to live by are more along the lines of, “Why do something that scares you every day when you could be drinking a perfectly good glass of wine.”

Well, yesterday, I did something completely outside of my comfort zone.

I went scuba diving.

I am a firm believer in not scuba diving. Why? I hold these truths to be self-evident.

  • If God wanted us to breath under water, he wouldn’t have evolved our lungs into gills. (Are you allowed to mix creationism and evolution in the same sentence?)
  • (Cue the music from Jaws.) A blockbuster movie star lives in the ocean and he was capable of eating Robert Shaw and turning Mr. Shaw’s fishing boat into splinters. Mr. Great W. Shark then used one of the splinters as a toothpick.
  • A bevy of creepy things live in the ocean and their sole purpose on this planet is to sting, bite, or generally smother humans.
  • Why swim with the fishes when you could be reading a book?

I could go on, but you get the gist.

So why, you ask, did I go scuba diving? I asked myself the same question.

My husband and I are soon taking a much-needed break from the dreary 70 degree weather we have been having in California and are going to a resort on an atoll off the coast of Belize.

My idea of a fun time in Belize is lollygagging in a hammock on the bungalow’s veranda with a cold beverage in one hand and a good book in the other. My husband’s idea of fun is being eaten alive by a creature of the deep. It is a wonder we ever thought we were compatible enough for marriage.

My husband said, “We are going to a scuba diving mecca, so don’t you think we should scuba dive?” My first response was, “Hell, no.” That was the same response the second through one-millionth time he asked. But like Chinese water torture, he wore me down and we took an introduction to scuba class yesterday. (Side note here. He is a certified diver but went to the class with me for moral support and in case I needed CPR.)

The only reason I relented, in addition to the whole water torture thing, was I knew there isn’t enough time for me to get certified before we leave for our trip.

About half of the 3-hour class was taken up with strapping 500 pounds of scuba equipment on our backs. Call me crazy, but it seems counterintuitive to weigh yourself down before going into the deep end.

The indoor pool was 92 degrees and the consistency of used bath water. Smart girl that I am, before I dipped one toe into the pool, I checked for sharks in case the teacher wanted to give us a true feel for the scuba experience.

We started in the shallow end of the pool, which is an excellent place to not drown. We practiced various maneuvers designed to keep you alive underwater. I was all ears for that.

Once we mastered breathing underwater through the regulator (the mouthpiece thingy where you get your oxygen, that life-extending essential), filling our masks with water and clearing it out, and removing and replacing our regulators, the class set out to the deep end. I set out to the medium end and hung near the ladder.

When the panic subsided, I discovered one very important thing. The bottom of a swimming pool is pretty boring. I think that is an evil trick of the dive school. They want you to sign up for more classes so you can learn to dive where the landscape is covered with creepy things that want to sting, bite, and generally smother you.

I’ll be waving to my husband from the veranda, once I set down my cold beverage, that is.

~ Note my death grip on my husband's hand.

Valentine’s Day and Beer ~ A Match Made In Heaven


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Valentine’s Day is upon us. How do I know that? While I was making dinner last night, a bell pepper told me. Who knew oracles come in the form of vegetables.

Be still my bell pepper heart.

Be still my bell pepper heart.

Many traditions and symbols are associated with Valentine’s Day . . . a naked flying baby who is armed to the teeth, giving tacky heart-shaped boxes filled with inedible chocolates that are more lard than cocoa, and gifts of red roses that cost more on Valentine’s Day than what it takes to run a developing country.

Here at the Coyle house we have a long-standing Valentine’s Day tradition, and well folks; it is that time of year again.

For the third year running (perhaps three years doesn’t exactly qualify for long-standing status . . . but my blog, my rules), my husband sends each of our girls a bag of See’s chocolate hearts, cold hard cash, and issues a challenge.

In years past, the challenge read thusly:

“Take some of this money and buy a cool beer. Submit a photograph of you drinking said beer. Entries are due Valentine’s Day. No sooner. No later. Mom’s blog readers will determine the winner because they know a good beer when they see one.”

This year, because my husband is a man of few words, the challenge was this:

Beer ChallengeNothing says Happy Valentine’s Day better than a cutthroat competition.

I will humbly submit the entries for your vote in a few days.

This Valentine’s Day Beer Challenge is soon to go viral. Click on the links below to my previous brilliant posts and you will learn how to impress your friends by starting it in your community. If I do say so myself, I’m not the brilliant one . . . the competitors are.

Valentine’s Beer Photo Contest

Valentine’s Day Traditions

Maybe I Should Write a Beer Blog

One final thought. What is up with the See’s Candy uniforms? I couldn’t work at See’s because I don’t look good in a nurse uniform and bow tie.

See's Candy Uniform

Robin, all ready for work!

250 Blog Posts, Beatlemania, and my Uncle are Somehow Related?


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This post marks two huge milestones . . . unlike anything seen before in our lifetime.

The first, which is sure to rock the world o’blogging, is that this is my 250th blog post.

Please hold your applause.

The second milestone is that 50 years ago today, The Beatles invaded the United States. No, silly, not a swarm of locusts, but those lovable mop-heads, John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan show and once again the world was rocked. Not by one of my stellar blog posts, but by Beatlemania.

Coincidence? I think not. Cue the music from the Twilight Zone.

How could it be a coincidence that The Beatles’ most devoted fan hit 250 posts on such a momentous occasion?

Just so you know exactly how old I am, I was five-years-old 50 years ago when The Beatles sang “All my Loving” on Mr. Sullivan’s television show. (I’ll wait while you do the math.)

Well, it is rumored that they sang. No one really knows for sure if they belted out a tune or not, because screaming teenage girls drowned out every other sound with their histrionics. Old Eddy boy was screaming as well, and had to be revived with smelling salts.

Back to me as an adorable kindergartener . . .

My beloved Uncle Mitchell came to our house for a visit on the wake of The Beatles’ long-hair, guitar-playing, blasphemous debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Well, that review of The Beatles’ debut, of course, was according to my father.  After watching their performance on our black and white television, my Dad muttered under his breath, “What is this world coming to?”

Oh, Dad. If you only knew what was in store for us in terms of radical rock stars. Think, Lady Gaga wearing a meat dress and Miley Cyrus twerking.

Back to me as an adorable kindergartener and Uncle Mitchell’s visit . . .

Uncle Mitchell arrived wearing Beatle boots and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.


You have to admit it was pretty cool.

Pair of Beatwear Zip Boots in Black Calf Leath...

Beatle Boots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of us of a certain age (old), there is no need for a definition of Beatle boots.  To humor those of a more tender age, The Beatles wore ankle-high boots with a side zipper, bit of a heel, and a pointed toe.  In the 1960s, they were considered avant-garde and edgy. By today’s standards, they were about as tame as milquetoast.

Uncle Mitchell passed away at age 93 in October. We were braced for it, but it was still a blow. His sense of humor, story-telling timing, and sharp wit was enchanting and wacky.  He found joy in every moment, loved life, and it showed.  It was contagious.  If I could have just half of positive energy he exuded, I would consider myself a lucky girl.  But in reality, where I feel most lucky is that he was a rich and colorful part of my life.

My uncle had a decades-long career on Broadway as an actor, director, playwright, and stage manager. He worked with some of the finest in the theater . . . Ian McKellen, Woody Allen, Tom Stoppard, Tony Randall, Maggie Smith, Al Pacino, and Tennessee Williams, to name only a few. In his words, Uncle Mitchell was “born to theater, drama, and performing.

That explains the Beatle boots.

To give you an idea of the kind of person he was, let me tell you a story. Uncle Mitchell never met a stranger. While he was at our house a few years ago, he called his sister and brother-in-law (my parents) to tell them to be sure to watch the Kennedy Center Honors on television. When he realized he misdialed and got a wrong number, he said to the person who answered the phone, “Let me tell you why I was calling my sister. You MUST watch the Kennedy Center Honors on television tonight. The show is supposed to be fantastic!”

He had 10-minute conversation with a wrong number. So like Uncle Mitchell.

So, in addition to this post being a tribute to my 250 posts of utter brilliance blather, and a salute to the band that changed the world of music, it is an overdue homage to my uncle.

To borrow a line from the novel The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, “The only word for goodness is goodness, and it is not enough.” Uncle Mitchell was the coolest guy ever and life was his stage.

Bravo, Uncle Mitchell.  Encore. You too, Beatles.

Not you, Robin. You should go sit down.

Coolest Uncle Ever!

Coolest uncle ever. See above. See below.

My cool Uncle Mitchell.

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English: The Beatles wave to fans after arrivi...

Coolest band ever taking over the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taking it Easy with the Eagles


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My husband and I forked over half of the money in our Swiss bank account and purchased tickets to see the Eagles in concert at the Forum in Los Angeles. We wanted to see them in concert before they split up for good or kicked the bucket.

I’ve been a fan of the Eagles for more years than I can count, and I can count pretty high. The soundtrack to my high school years is an Eagles playlist.

Picture this:  I’m 17-years old, my girlfriend and I are driving home from a day at the beach, and sand is stuck to our Bain de Soleil smeared skin. With the top down on my mom’s Mustang convertible, our bikini-clad nubile bodies turned heads while we cruised home. “Hotel California” was blasting from the car’s tape deck and we were singing our hearts out until people started throwing sharp objects at us. Ah . . . those were the days.

The Eagles put on a great show and you almost forgot that they are senior citizens. But we were reminded of their advanced age when they took a 15-minute intermission for a restorative swig of Geritol and a light rub-down of Bengay. Gone are their days of a swig of Jack Daniels and rubbing cocaine on their gums during intermissions.

The only disappointment about the concert was that they didn’t play my favorite song, “Desperado.” I think it was because they forgot the lyrics.

Looking around at our fellow attendees, I was struck by something odd. If you want to feel like a youngster, go to an Eagles concert. Sure, there were a few young pups in attendance, but the majority of the crowd was comprised of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. And beyond. Think walkers, canes, and wheelchairs

This proves two things.

  1. You are never to old to rock out.
  2. I am officially old.

During the intermission, a young girl (I’m guessing 10-years-old, or so) a few rows in front of us stole my heart. As soon as the house lights went up, she whipped out her book and began to read. I was dying to ask her what she was reading. That, my friends, is an avid reader.

~That must be a good book!

~That must be one good book!

The ever rocking-rolling Eagles ended their encore with “Take it Easy.” The song is 42-years-old and the band may be pushing 70, but the song made a young girl put down her book and listen to greatness.

It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford . . . slowin’ down to take a look at me.

Stand Up Straight!


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stand up straight

Me, standing up straight. (Photo credit: nicknacknickers)

Are you like me and miss the days when your mom would slap you upside the head and say, “Stand up straight!”

Ah . . . those were the days.

Well, long no more. There is a new product that will stand in for your mom. It is called the Lumo Lift. There is a similar device called the iPosture.

Lumo Lift is an electronic sensor you wear on your upper body and when you slouch, you get zapped with something akin to a cattle prod.  Perhaps it is more like a gentle nudge, but you get the idea. The bolt of electricity through your body reminds you to sit or stand up straight. The device also measures how many steps you take and how many calories you burn each day and sends the data to the NSA.

The makers of Lumo Lift say you will look slimmer, be more attractive, and your confidence will improve. Sign me up! It sounds like the miracle drug I’ve been trying to concoct in my garage.

All joking aside, I think every writer should buy the Lumo Lift. I’ll hazard a guess and say that along with a penchant for drinking scotch at two in the afternoon (because it made Hemingway look cool), all writers slump over their computer. My aching shoulders will attest to that. Look, I am slouching right now.

Now you know what to get me for my birthday.

Everyone can make a good posture

For a writer, that misfortune is writer’s block. (Photo credit: Viorentina)


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No Corkscrew? No Problem!



Picture this tragic scenario.

It is 10 in the morning and you are pouring blood, sweat, and tears into your manuscript. The words aren’t flowing and writer’s block is setting up camp in your brain. Just when you are about to succumb to the depths of despair and defeat, you remember you hid a lovely bottle of wine in your underwear drawer. Not one of those screw cap jobbies, but one with an honest-to-goodness cork.

Sure, it is Two Buck Chuck, but no matter. It is wine . . . your favorite writing tool.

But alas and alack, in a brash and ill-advised attempt to curtail your 10 am drinking habit, you removed all the corkscrews from the house the day before. What is a writer to do!?

Fear not. I can help you out here.

Go to your closet and grab a shoe. You heard me right. I said a shoe.

Watch the educational video below to learn how you, yes you, can open a bottle of wine with a shoe. I kid you not.

You can thank me later.

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I Know a Thing or Two About Writing


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Listen up, people. You may have heard otherwise from your sources, but they are wrong. Dead wrong. Trust me. They are as wrong as wrong can be.

I am here to tell you that I know a thing or two about writing. Don’t scoff. I do.

I know exactly two things about writing. Yup. That is it. Two things.

  1. I know what I like.
  2. I know what I don’t like.

Why is it that since I dubbed myself a writer, I am more critical of the books I read?

"Put down that damn book."

“Put down that damn book.”

In the middle of reading so many books lately, I find myself saying to the empty room, or to the dog, “This book is stupid.” I love that the dog always agrees with me. Sir William The Dog gives me a look that says, “Put down that damn book and give me a belly rub.” Oh wait, it was my husband who said that.

People Magazine, that bastion of all-things literary, named The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, one of the top ten books of 2013. Oh, please. In my opinion, the only interesting about the characters in The Interestings was that they were utterly, completely, 100%, no bones about it, uninteresting.

Oh sure, it was readable enough, if you have a thing for hyperbole (I have no idea what that word means but I like how it sounds), but I found the book insipid and pedantic (two more words I like but don’t quite know their meaning).

I’m sure fans of the book, The Interestings, are unfollowing this blog faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket. But I’m sorry. It is how I feel. (Chime in anytime here, Audra!) The book sold something like 4 bagillion copies, is a top pick for book groups, and the literary savants at People Magazine liked it. Who am I to judge, right?

I don’t mean to pick on just that book. If I had the time and space and a loyal readership, I would harp on and on about many other books I’ve wasted time reading this year.

My point here is this . . . being hypercritical of my own writing has made me a more keen-eyed, spit-wad throwing, eye-rolling kind of critic of other writing.  Present company excluded, of course.

Speaking of keen-eyed, let’s take a look at this excerpt from that moneymaking machine, Dan Brown.

The Da Vinci Code, Chapter 5

Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.”

Really, Danny Boy? Really? It takes a keen eye to spot a “hand-tooled mitre-crosier appliqué?” I could spot one at 50 yards.

Back to writing, with each sentence I write, I roll it around on my tongue and ask myself four questions:

  1. Does it smack of cliché? (Oops, I believe that is a cliché.)
  2. Does it propel the story forward?
  3. Are there weak words lurking in dark corners?
  4. Does it say something?

I don’t want to waste words or a reader’s time by spewing words on the page that serve no purpose.  None (well, almost none) of the words in The Interestings served much purpose and I wasted precious reading time while I waited in vain for something to happen.

“Hang on a cotton-pickin’ minute, Robin. Are you saying your writing is literary brilliance?” Hell no. I’ve written grocery lists more entertaining than some of my writing.

So you don’t think I am a negative gas-bag who looks down her nose (or turns up her nose, depending on which cliché you want to use) at any writing but her own, here is a smattering, a potpourri if you will, of a few books that knocked my socks off (in a good way).

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Here is a favorite line from Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close:

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train that I wanted to be on.”

The author packed nostalgia, longing, and regret in one simple sentence and made it look easy while he was at it.

Gosh, I wish I could write like that.

Are Libraries with Books a Thing of the Past?


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The words “curling up with a good book” evoke cozy thoughts of finding a quiet corner of the house, the company of interesting characters weaving a story of intrigue, romance, or struggle, a crackling fire, and a cup of tea by your side. Or a vodka tonic.  Your choice.


Like my new fuzzy slippers? Photo credit: Chapendra

“Curling up with an electronic device” doesn’t have the same power of imagery.

When Amazon announced the introduction of the Kindle and promised it would change with way we read books forever, I scoffed.

Yeah, right. Books a thing of the past? Never.

How could an eBook, made of plastic, glass, and radioactive electrodes, replace the feel, smell, and magic of the printed word?  There is something comforting in the heft of a book in your hands. Or the knowledge that the dog-eared copy of your favorite book is on your nightstand to soothe you back to sleep in the middle of the night should a bad dream trouble your slumbers. 

Well, I was wrong-o about my opinion of eBooks and their power to change our relationship with books. I own a Kindle Fire and love everything about it. I scoff no more.

Being the great and powerful oracle that I am, I also pooh-poohed the Internet the first time I used our painfully slow dial-up modem. As the prophet of all things technological, I said, “This will never catch on.”

Make note: Don’t listen to any of my predictions. 

Now, eBooks are revolutionizing our beloved libraries as well. San Antonio, Texas is home to the first 100% bookless public library. By bookless, I mean nary a printed book to be found.

According to an article by the Associated Press, “Texas has seen the future of the public library, and it looks a lot like an Apple Store: Rows of glossy iMacs beckon. iPads mounted on a tangerine-colored bar invite readers. And hundreds of other tablets stand ready for check-out to anyone with a borrowing card.” Even the librarians are dressed in “that standard-bearer of geek-chic, the hoodie.”

I thought the hoodie was the signature style of Treyvon Martin, not techno-geeks. But I digress.

Back to the issue at hand . . . think the idea of all-digital libraries is pretty darn coolio. However, I have one caveat. Let’s not scrub real-book libraries. They are wondrous places that offer non-narcotic mind-blowing trips to magical places via storytelling on the printed page. Plus, Marion, Madame Librarian, doesn’t look good in a hoodie. 

This post is for you, Audra!

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

Now that is what I call a library. The main reading romm of Graz University Library (19th century) Photo credit: Wikipedia

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