Happy birthday Harry

July 31, 2011 – Diehard Harry Potter fans already know what today is, but for all of you muggles out there who may not be aware, the boy wizard turns 31 today.

Potter was born on July 31, 1980, most likely because it is also writer J.K. Rowling’s birthday. She was born in 1965.

According to Rowling it took well over a year for her agent to find a publisher for the Harry Potter series as it was repeatedly turned down. Makes you wonder if those crazy editors are still employed after making such a blunder.

Happy birthday, Harry and J.K.!

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Banana Republic goes mad

July 30, 2011 – Next month a retro style clothing line hits Banana Republic stores inspired by the hit television series “Mad Men”.

Created by the same Emmy Award-winning costume designer who dresses Don and Betty Draper and the rest of the talented cast, Janie Bryant’s collection is expected to arrive in stores on August 11. The pieces include ladylike sheath dresses, classic trenches and high-waisted A-line skirts.

“Mad Men” is a big hit with fans, but is this a style the public will embrace? According to a recent NYT article, an overwhelming 77 percent of the survey responders say yes.

Just goes to show you that if you keep something long enough, it will come back in style.

Fiction Friday: The world of Dolores Price

July 29, 2011 – There’s a great line in the movie “As Good As It Gets” where a woman asks Jack Nicholson’s character, who happens to be a best-selling novelist, how he writes women so well.

His reply? “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”

The scene is played for comedy, but that question should actually be posed to Wally Lamb, author of “She’s Come Undone”. He captured the essence of a young girl at 10 years to a woman turning 40 and every age in between flawlessly when he created his character Dolores Price. For a man that’s practically an impossible thing to do unless you carry large amounts of estrogen, or perhaps grew up with a lot of sisters.

Last weekend, I finished Lamb’s coming-of-age story about Price, a tough as nails (at least on the outside) but loveable heroine, although it hit bookstores almost 20 years ago in 1992. Price struggles with many issues that are common to young women, among them divorced parents, an absent father, and a strictly religious grandmother. But she also deals with rape, death and a long stay in a mental facility during her journey to find peace and emotional liberation.

I picked the book up after hearing many of my friends and colleagues sing its praises; many even touted it was the best book they’d ever read. It didn’t quite reach the pinnacle of my favorite book (for me it’s still a toss-up between Janet Fitch’s “White Oleander” or anything by Rebecca Wells) but it was definitely worth my invested time. Once I was pulled into Lamb’s world on page one, it held my interest until the last word.

Rumor has it that a movie is in the works. There haven’t been too many books that have translated well to film, and since the book spans 30 well detailed years of the character’s life, the director has a tough job. Still I’m curious to see how it will play out.

Who will play Dolores? Reese Witherspoon, according to most sources, an actress I like but can’t imagine in the role despite her fine acting chops. The role, however, would be bigger than most actresses in Hollywood today, which is why it may have been better to go with an unknown.

There’s no release date scheduled yet, but if you haven’t read the book yet – and I can’t be the only one who missed it the first time around – do so before you even consider seeing the movie.

20 questions with Jane

July 28, 2011 – It’s not often I get to interview myself, so here’s part of a rare conversation I just had with me last night.

Confused? Don’t be. The Plain Jane truth is that I received these questions from a friend and answered them to help her out with a survey/statistics project. They took a long time to complete, so I thought they’d pull double duty and act as a blog post as well.

  1. What are you dreading right now? Getting my car inspected on Saturday. That always stresses me out, which is why I typically wait until the last possible day.
  2. Do you celebrate 420? No, I never have. Honestly, I just learned what 420 was a few years ago. I don’t have a problem with legalizing marijuana, though.
  3. If anyone came to your house on your “lazy days” what would y’all do? First, we would not get showered or dressed until nearly 3 p.m. or so. We’d spend the morning watching bad talk shows or movies, and probably take a nap or two in between.
  4. Do you own a pair of Converse? Not now, but they were a staple of my wardrobe when I was a teenager.
  5. Do you eat raw cookie dough? I’ve been known to eat my share of raw cookie dough. But only if I make it myself. I would never eat cookie dough ice cream or anything like that.
  6. Have you ever kicked a vending machine? Kicked, no. Pushed or pounded on, yes.
  7. Are you cocky? I don’t think so, but those who know me may answer this question better than me.
  8. Could you live without a computer? My first instinct is to say no, but that’s crazy. I don’t want to live without one, but I could if I had to.
  9. Do you wear your shoes in the house? Never. Not even in the winter. My toes enjoy plenty of freedom and fresh air.
  10. What do you do when you’re sad? Put on sad music, listen to it loudly with my earphones on, and cry. Before I realize it, I’ve switched to upbeat music, I’m dancing around with a smile on my face, and I forgot what I was sad about. Just ask my ex-husband…I used to do this after an argument with him and it drove him nuts because he wanted me to stew just like he did.
  11. Is anyone on your bad side now? Yes, and you know who you are!
  12. When was the last time you left your house? Last night when I went to the Phillies game. They lost!
  13. Do you return your cart? Absolutely. It’s a big pet peeve of mine, especially when folks leave them free in the parking lot very close to a drop off point.
  14. Would you survive in prison? This is just like the computer question. I know I wouldn’t like it, but I would find a way to survive.
  15. If all of your friends were going on a road trip, who would most likely over pack? Easy one. Me!
  16. Do you know anyone with the same name as you? Same first and last name: other than my mother, no. Same first name: yes, a few people, but not many. Jane may be a plain name, but it’s not very common these days.
  17. Do your siblings ever pay for stuff for you? They have at one time or another. I typically don’t like it though and they know it.
  18. Who would play you in a movie about your life? In my younger days, I would say Meg Tilly because a lot of people thought we looked alike when she was in the “Big Chill”. Today, there isn’t an actress who could handle the role, so I would star in it myself.
  19. Ever been to Georgia (the state)? Yes.
  20. What song best describes your life right now? “She’s Come Undone” .

Its National Sleepy Head Day

July 27, 2011 – If you live in Finland or are of Finnish decent perhaps you’re celebrating National Sleepy Head Day today.

Finally a day made for me, and one I can get behind 100%!

The origins of National Sleepy Head Day are based on a Finnish folk tale that tells the story of the Saints of Ephesus who slept in a cave for more than 100 years. This occurred during the Middle Ages when the Saints were hiding from the Roman Emperor to avoid persecution.

To commemorate the day the last person in Finnish households, who is dubbed as the laziest, is woken up either by being thrown into the sea or a lake, or having water thrown on them.

Why not try that on someone today and see what kind of reaction you get. Just make sure you wish them a Happy National Sleepy Head Day to take the sting away.

How to estimate the down payment on a home

July 26, 2011 – The down payment of a mortgage loan is a portion of the sales price paid by a buyer upfront, with the understanding that the balance will be paid later. Requirements for down payments are determined by the lender and are represented by a percentage of the purchase price of the home. Here are a few tips to help you determine out how much you will be required to put down when buying a home:

  • Ask your lender for a mortgage credit pre-approval before you begin your home search. They will run a credit report and give you the amount you’ll most likely qualify for so you know what price range to shop in, and what price to use to estimate your down payment.
  • Find out what the minimum down payment requirement is from your lender. Typically they run between 3 percent to 20 percent or more. If a 5 percent down payment is required on a $200,000 home, for example, multiply $200,000 x .05, which equals $10,000. In this scenario the down payment would be $10,000.
  • Lenders will ask you to cover the risk on lower down payments with private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects them against losses should you default on your mortgage payments. PMI is usually required for loans with less than 20 percent down. The cost of PMI will be reflected in slightly higher monthly payments and, possibly, an additional fee at settlement.
  • Borrowing money for a down payment is not typically permitted. If you fall short, however, lenders will allow money from a friend or relative to be used as a gift as long as no repayment is expected. A letter, written by the friend or relative stating the money does not need to be repaid, should be sufficient as proof of the gift.
  • While larger down payments may make more loan options available to buyers, there are federally sponsored loan programs from FHA and VA that may allow you to buy a home with minimal or no down payment at all. Ask your lender if there are programs that can help with a down payment and/or closing costs.

Job interview prep: your personal brand

July 25, 2011 – One of the most important questions you’ll be asked during a phone or in-person interview is usually the first one.

“Tell me about yourself.”

It sounds simple enough, but if you stumble on this question you may as well consider the interview over.

To answer this question the way a potential employer expects you to, it helps to have a 30 to 60 second elevator speech prepared that flows naturally. Some experts refer to this as your personal brand, while others call it your 30-second commercial.

Either way, it should incorporate the following pieces of information:

  • Your most recent position
  • Years of experience
  • Major responsibilities
  • Proudest accomplishment
  • Reason for leaving your last job or why you want to leave it
  • What you are looking for

Here’s an example:

“I am a marketing and communications professional with 15 years of experience in the financial industry. Most recently I worked for ABC Corporation where I was a communications manager handling internal communications for 11,000 associates. This involved working with senior executives to create business updates, Powerpoint presentations and employee messages. I also acted as managing editor for the corporate intranet. I left the company in September due to downsizing, and am currently looking for a position where I can use my exceptional writing, editing and organizational skills.”

It may seem like a mouthful, but if you take your time and speak clearly your personal brand acts as an icebreaker and creates a pleasant interview experience.