Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The #AtoZChallenge - More Topics You Could Use

Time is ticking away!

The A to Z Challenge is coming up in April.  While some choose to write as they go, those with other projects or time constraints often start writing posts ahead of time. So I thought I'd offer a few suggestions for anyone casting about for ideas. ( For my list last year, go here. )

26 different:
  1. Food additives, what they are and what they do. (Bonus: letter X is taken care of with xylitol.)
  2. Brands of beer. (Start doing your research drinking now. Oh, and you might have to brew your own for X.)
  3. Riots throughout history.
  4. Cool internet sites
  5. DIY projects that really are do it yourself.  Most of us can't weld.
  6. Automobiles (anyone remember the Yugo?)
  7. Worst covers of great songs 
  8. Haunted places
  9. Places/cities (real or fictional) featured in songs, movies and/or TV shows
  10. Things that people collect (Bob Gibbins has the world’s largest collection of "silicone companions".)
  11. Unsolved mysteries or crimes
  12. Cool things from a bygone era (inventions, fashions, foods, artwork, etc.)
  13. Celebs who shouldn't be celebs (careful - you don't want Beliebers or Directioners hunting you down)
  14. Environmental disasters
  15. Foods from countries around the world
  16. Strange/unusual place names 
  17. Games throughout history
  18. Sayings or catch words that make your toes curl (selfie? twerking? amazeballs? Wow. Just. Wow.)
  19. Movies which never had a prequel or sequel - but should have
  20. Parks and wildlife reserves around the world
  21. Theme/amusement park rides
  22. Unusual flavors of ice cream, potato chips or other snack foods that shouldn't taste like fish or squirrel
  23. Free things to do in your city, town or region
  24. Faith based posts Share your knowledge of world religions, saints, theological terms, holy sites
  25. Citizen science sites (bonus:  Z is taken care with Zooniverse)
  26. Alien races from sci-fi books/shows (Star Trek alone gives you Q, Vulcan and Xindi)
  27. Periodic elements (you can include the new element Ununpentium. Just make something up for Z)
  28. Math stuff from Abscissa to Quantity, from Venn diagram to Zero, math has got it covered.
  29. Scholarships help students find tons of cash to finance college. From Asparagus Club scholarship to Tall Clubs International to Jay-Z's Scholarship (real name: Shawn Carter).

So, those are just a few suggestions to get your A to Z creative ideas flowing.  No, no, don't thank me.  Just remember that my last name starts with V, if you're stuck for a post. :-)

If you choose (and commit) to one of the above ideas, maybe you could note it in the comment section below to let others know.

To sign up for this year's A to Z challenge and meet the hosts, click 

Conclusion #TuesdaySerial

(If you have not followed from the beginning, please read Part 1 HERE first.)

A Brilliant Little Fire - Conclusion

Mayor Joseph Grey wiped the sweat from his face and cast a final glance over the town of Renaissance.

“Ladies and gentlemen: a hearty good morning to you, and welcome to Ashefallen Day!”

He pushed the plunger. A series of deafening thunderclaps rolled over the valley as the buildings exploded or caught fire, one by one.

The townspeople broke into applause.


“Renaissance is that brilliant little fire that burns within us all, that lives only for those moments when we reach perfection.”

Anna reached for Aaron's hand. “That's beautiful.”

“Not mine. The quote is from Richard Bach, and the first word is Jonathan, not Renaissance. But it seems fitting.”

“Will would have loved it. And the fact that his last breath was drawn upon Ashefallen Day.”

They had carried his body home, and placed it in his favorite chair before joining the crowds on the edge of town. What remained of Will would drift slowly as ashes over Renaissance, the place which he had helped to create so many times through the years.

“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind them. “What's going on? Is everyone mad? Has the Sickness come here as well? Is that why you're burning the town?”

Anna turned to face the distraught looking woman.

“Ah, another stranger among us. You are welcome. No, there's no sickness here; you will be perfectly safe. Today is Ashefallen Day, which we celebrate every five years. You see, long ago, survivors came together to build a town. Neighbor cared for neighbor, everyone shared what they had, worked together, suffered together. They shared a vision of a community which would be close-knit, loving, self-sufficient. And it was so for a while. Even in the old world, the same phenomenon was observed; disaster brought out the best in everyone. But sooner or later selfishness and greed, crime and politics, bigotry and hatred came to call and then moved right in. The same thing happened here. And so it was decided that our town would be destroyed every five years and then rebuilt. The fire cleanses and the spirit renews. We are unlimited in our visions of the future; the town can be redesigned exactly as we choose, and each of us is entitled to a new beginning as well. What you see before you is the formation of yet another clean slate. Welcome to Renaissance.”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fallout Girl - Memoir - #FridayFlash

     Some of you are old enough to remember the Cold War.  Maybe you even experienced "duck and cover" drills in school;  the idea was to crawl under your desk and cover your head when the warning bell went off.  Surely they knew that it would provide zero protection from radiation, although it might keep debris from falling on our heads if the building was close enough to be rocked by a shock wave.  I suppose that doing something felt better than just sitting and doing nothing.
     It's hard to convey the anxiety that the US felt at the time.  The Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev pointing his finger and saying "We will crush you,", the construction of the Berlin wall - the spectre of a nuclear apocalypse haunted not only our government but our families.  The fallout shelter sign posted above indicated that the building upon which it hung had a basement or secure area specially designed to protect occupants from radioactive debris or fallout.  Underground mass-transit and subway tunnels could serve as bomb and fallout shelters in the event of an attack as well.  Families with enough income built their own shelters, and some of them were quite elaborate.  There was one underneath a house in my neighborhood which had a generator, air purification system and food for maybe 7 or 8 people for a few months.  (As a kid, of course, I always wondered the most about toilet facilities.)  I also speculated on how they would decide who to let in. How do you tell Grandpa Joe or Cousin Valerie that there's no room? Would you hold a lottery?  Make a list of who gave you the best Christmas gifts, who smelled weird, and who ate more than their share at holiday dinners? And what about the dog and the hamster?
     My parents are very practical people.  Dad figured 2 scenarios:  either there would be very little radiation in our area, in which case we could stay in the basement for a little while, or there would be a ton of radiation, in which case it would take more than a lifetime for it to be safe to go outside. Unspoken was the fact that in the latter case we'd probably be dead anyway.
     I was pretty sure Mom was hoping for the latter.  "If I had to spend months in the basement with your father's snoring and you kids fighting and complaining... "  But I became determined to set up our basement as a proper shelter.  All of Dad's hunting and camping equipment was stored in the basement;  I added my Girl Scout supplies, batteries, and a deck of cards.  We began storing extra canned goods down there too.  I took great pleasure in rotating the inventory and lining things up on the shelves.  (First indication of future OCD tendencies?)  There were also first aid supplies and sewing kits left from Dad's service in Korea, which I enjoyed looking over.
     Even though the Cold War went on for decades, the feeling of imminent peril seemed to gradually recede in the late 70s and 80s.  The school drills stopped, and you didn't see many magazine articles on emergency preparedness and DIY shelters anymore.  My teen years were consumed with girl drama, test anxiety and occasional brawling with my older sister.  Then, in 1979, radiation raised its head in a different form.
     Wednesday, March 28 was a warmish spring day.  I had a biology practical which I was not looking forward to;  I had no difficulty with dissecting a frog and labeling its parts, but I did have a problem with the student next to me who was squeamish and gagged repeatedly every time she had to touch something.  To make things worse, class was in the afternoon right after lunch.
     The chatter as we filed into class was at the usual high decibel level;  Mr. K warned us that every minute he spent quieting us after the bell rang would be subtracted from our exam time.
     "That's not fair!"
     He smirked.  "It's not fair that I wasn't born 7 feet tall so I could play in the NBA."
     The phone on the wall rang.
     We referred to this as "the Bat Phone", as it was a direct line to the office and usually heralded bad news.  Someone was probably going to be sent to the office.  We could hear the phone ringing in the lab next door as well.
     "Bet Kraybill's got detention again," whispered the guy behind me.
     Mr. K hung up the phone without having said anything into the receiver.  Then he called to Steve and Russ.  "Close the windows and drop the blinds.  Now."
     The intercom hissed and a warning chime rang.  "Attention, all students and staff.  There will be an unscheduled early dismissal today beginning at 1:00.  You are to stay in classrooms until your bus is called, at which time you will report directly to your assigned bus and board.  Walkers, report to the cafeteria immediately.  Any students who were to be picked up this afternoon report to the front lobby.  No students or staff are permitted outside of the building at this time."  A few whistles and cheers came from the hallway, but for the most part there was just a low buzz of queries.
     Mr. K raised his hand as we grew louder.  "Listen. LISTEN!"
    We grew quiet.
    "I don't have any more idea than you as to why we're dismissing. You get an extra night to prepare for the lab tomorrow, so make use of it. In the mean time, I expect you to stay in your seats and keep it down until your buses are called."
    Lynne raised her hand. "What's with the windows?"
    "They don't wanna see your ugly face," someone called out.
    Mr. K yanked open a desk drawer.  "OK, since you can't occupy yourselves I happen to have some worksheets here.  Put your books away and get a pencil."
    It's hard for today's youth to comprehend what times were like before the advent of smart phones and computers.  We could only rely on word of mouth.  The restrooms were the high school equivalent of the water cooler, and so what Mr. K termed "the potty parade" began.  Eventually, someone somewhere in the school leaked the information that there was a problem at the nearby Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor site.  Hence the closing of the windows and the warning that no one was to be outside unless entering a vehicle.  Shades of duck and cover.
    The bus ride home was a mixture of bravado and fear.  No one wanted to admit that they were scared, and so there were kids sticking their heads out of windows (look! now I'm gonna grow a third arm!  am I glowing yet?) and speculating on whether or not we'd have school the next day.  (We didn't.)
    When I got home Mom had the news on, although she was somewhat miffed that her soap opera had been interrupted.  Dad would be leaving work a little early.  My sister was at nursing school, and not inclined to come home;  the students were safe indoors.  I assumed that she wanted to be on hand to assist in the emergency.  I wanted to go in the basement and check the supplies.  Then I went through my closet and packed a suitcase in case we had to evacuate or live in the basement.  (Because when you're 16 it's important to look good, even if you're underground in survival mode.)
    The next five days were rough.  Information was often conflicting.  There's great danger, we have it under control, no need to evacuate, pregnant women and infants should evacuate, there's been no meltdown, there might be a meltdown, there's been a little bit of a meltdown.  Nothing has leaked.  We released 40,000 gallons of radioactive water into the river.  It's only a little radioactive.  There's a hydrogen bubble that might burst and blow the reactor apart.  The core might melt through the concrete down into the earth.  We released some radioactive gas.  Just a little.
     Relatives called from Indiana and Florida, offering us shelter.  Friends from Ireland called, and I briefly entertained the hope of an overseas vacation.
     Mom nixed that flatly.  "What would we do with the dog?"
     The Dog thumped his tail lazily and went back to snoozing.
     "And your sister's still at school."
     Well, she could be a pain in the ass anyway.
     "And there could be looters."
     Frankly, I didn't see much that a looter would want. 
     I spent the next few days in my room, bored out of my mind.  There was my transistor radio (look it up, young 'uns), a stereo, and books.  Cards to play endless solitaire.  And that was it. There was an old TV in the basement, but back then daytime programming consisted of Captain Kangaroo, Good Morning America, and game shows, broken by news updates.  (There were only 3 networks.  No cable channels.  I hear some of you gasping.)
     The longer it went on, the more convinced I became that I couldn't survive a nuclear disaster.  I would die of sheer listlessness. 
     Eventually, the reactor was brought under control and the clean up began.  President Carter visited the site;  I developed a sore jaw from clenching my teeth every time someone pronounced nuclear as "nucular".  Today, the TMI-2 reactor is permanently shut down. The reactor coolant was drained, the radioactive water decontaminated and evaporated, radioactive waste, reactor fuel and core components shipped to a Department of Energy facility.  TMI-1 reactor is still operating, and is set to continue until at least 2034.
     I remember Chernobyl.  I watch Doomsday Preppers on occasion, and my son brings up the idea of building a shelter or bunker sometimes.  The old fear, and the old questions surface.  How do I choose who to save?  Could I really retain my sanity, living in a confined space for months, or years?  Would I want to come out, if it were ever "safe", knowing that everything in my previous life was gone?
     I don't think so.  We never know, until a situation arises, how we will react.  I might turn out to be a "life at any cost" type person.  But I can't see myself huddled in a bunker eking out an existence on canned beefaroni and playing cards either.
     Let's just hope that none of us ever have to find out.
Just for fun:  here's the ABC daytime lineup in 1979, which only started at 6AM. Before 6 there was a picture of the American flag.\
6:00AM Local news
7-9:00 Good Morning America
9-11:00 Local programming
11:00 Laverne and Shirley repeats
11:30 Family Feud
12:00 The $20000 Pyramid
12:30 Ryan's Hope (soap)
1:00 All My Children
2:00 One Life To Live
3:00 General Hospital
4:00 Edge Of Night
CBS and NBC were pretty much the same, just different repeats and different game shows/soaps.

Top songs:  What A Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers), Don't Cry Out Loud (Melissa Manchester), Tragedy (Bee Gees), Lady (Little River Band) and I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

What happened to all of those public fallout shelters?  You still see signs in cities and small towns.  Most are no longer stocked, as the original supplies of food and medicine were tossed when they expired and the perceived threat of nuclear war has gone down.  Some are used for secure storage of valuables, documents, or equipment. (That's what our local courthouse uses it for.) I'd be willing to bet that some are forgotten and remain as time capssules of the 50s and 60s.  And yes, I'd love to find one of those and have a look around. :-)


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Part 3: Aaron #TuesdaySerial

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

 A Brilliant Little Fire

Part 3:  Aaron

Aaron made his way up the hill toward the two figures. The first rays of the sun felt pleasantly warm on his back; later, he knew they would cause his wounds to itch and burn. He cautiously approached the elderly couple on the hillside and raised a hand in greeting.

The woman's lined face broke into a smile.

“Good morning, Aaron.” She beckoned him closer, and he seated himself on the wet grass.

“Have you recovered from your flogging?”

Aaron felt his face flush, and yet there was nothing but an inquisitive look on Anna's face. The ways of Renaissance were still a mystery to him; all crimes were punished by public whippings, painful and humiliating, and yet afterward the perpetrator was treated as a member of the community once again, as though nothing had happened. Some took it as a blood baptism, a chance to start over with a clean slate. Others, who could not or would not change their behavior, sustained beating after beating until they were either incapacitated or died. Still, it was a system that seemed to work. His scars would remain as a reminder to himself, and everyone else, that he had both erred and paid his dues. Today would be a new beginning, to do with as he chose.

“I'm sorry,” he muttered to her, still feeling embarrassed. A newcomer to the town, he'd crept through a window in their cottage a few days before and stolen things that he'd needed; food, a blanket, a lantern. And one thing he hadn't needed; a leather bound book he'd found lying on the table. The Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire. A touchstone from the old world, where life was nothing to him but an opportunity to drink, chase girls, and drag himself to boring lectures every day. A careless existence, until it had been swept away in a matter of days along with the bodies of his dead mates. He fancied a whiff of those long ago funeral pyres was tickling his nostrils.

Anna shifted her position, laying her husband Will's head in her lap and kissing him gently on the cheek. He was deeply, irrevocably, asleep.

“I would have given those things to you, had you asked,” she said sadly. “However, it's done, and so we move on.”

“I wish I could, you know, make things up to you both.”
“It isn't necessary for us. But it is, perhaps, for you. And so there is something that you can do.”

Aaron descended from the hill, the lifeless body of Will Mentzer draped tenderly in his arms. At the edge of town, he stopped.

“Go on, Aaron,” she urged. “There's nothing to be afraid of. He died a peaceful, natural death and that will be obvious.”

“It's not that,” he said miserably. “I can feel the blood on the back of my shirt. I hate the idea of everyone staring at me, knowing.”

“Dear boy, nearly everyone in Renaissance has flogging scars.” The rumble of Mayor Joseph Grey's voice reached them from the loudspeakers.
“Even the Mayor.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Part 2: Anna #TuesdaySerial

Read Part 1 here

A Brilliant Little Fire

 Part 2:  Anna

“It's time” said Anna, watching as her husband brought a spoonful of porridge to his lips with a shaking hand.

His face went slack for a moment, then lit up with joy.

“Goin' to see the grandchildren!” he exclaimed, waving his spoon in glee.

Anna's heart contracted painfully.

“No, Will, I'm sorry. You remember, today we're going for a little walk. Up the hill, to have a picnic. The air will do you good.”

“A little walk”, he repeated doubtfully, and then resumed prospecting for raisins in his bowl.

Anna had already labeled their boxes MENTZER FAMILY and placed them outside the door. The first rays of dawn entered through the kitchen window, illuminating the hand-hewn beams of their cozy little cottage. The joins were a little crooked, and a few deep cuts in the wood hinted at the lack of expertise in construction. Still, those flaws had names: Levi Lapp, Andy McElroy, Dustin Craley, Joseph Grey. Men who sweated and swore and laughed as they raised building after building, conjuring a town and planting it in the dust and ashes of another. It was wrong to cling to something as ephemeral as a house, however; if there was one thing which she had learned, it was that life could take everything from you at one fell swoop. Everything.

Draping a warm woolen blanket over Will, she led him outside into the chill morning. The town was waking up and swirling in mass confusion; twice they were nearly knocked over by neighbors scurrying this way and that, calling after children, rounding up scant belongings, and chasing down dogs who gamboled about with tongues lolling in glee. Once upon a time, these same neighbors would have stopped and lent her a hand; but not now. They were all consumed with their individual dramas.

The couple made their way slowly, painfully up the treacherous hillside. The Main Gauche glimmered in the mist, reflecting the light like a mound of the daggers for which they were named. Spreading her own coat on the grass, Anna helped Will lower himself to the ground. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them; a tear slowly rolled down his cheek.

“Want to go home,” he whimpered.

Anna wondered which home he meant. The one below? Or the one they'd left behind in the old world, now decaying among the ruins of a once thriving city. It didn't matter, really; all that mattered was the Here and the Now.

“Soon,” she murmured, stroking what was left of his hair. She held him closely and sang a nursery rhyme, one of the few ways she'd found to soothe him.

“Ring around the rosy...”

Continue to Part 3  HERE

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Amazing Snow Art - Sunday Snapshots

Photo: Simon Beck via the site Viralnova.com
Would you believe that this was created by one man walking in the snow?  That man is artist Simon Beck. The website displaying more photos is Viralnova

So gorgeous, so mind boggling, and so transitory.  They will not last forever, maybe even not a full day.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Taking January Off - And Re-Posting A Serial from 2011

Happy New Year! I'm taking January off to work on several projects. I'll still try and visit blogs as I can. Since I have some new followers, I've decided to re-post the serial written for a blogfest run back in 2011. (The details of the blogfest, called Rule Of Three or Ren3, can be found HERE. ) If you've already read it - and many of you have been following me since this blog began 3 years ago - my apologies. I hope to have a new Friday Flash or two this month and some fresh stories up come February. I am also hoping to participate in April's A to Z Challenge again this year.  As always, thanks to all of you for your support. If you're new here, please browse the site, as there are stories from several genres as well as poetry, photos and essays.

A Brilliant Little Fire - Serial

Part One:  Joseph
Mayor Joseph Grey removed the last traces of office; the ceremonial hat and badge would be handed to his successor, and he would be free to pursue whatever new path he chose. Five years had gone by swiftly. The town which they had constructed was everything he had envisioned; neat, tidy homes, a clapboard school for the handful of children, even a universal church for those who felt the call of a Greater Power.

Yes, it had been a good run, but the time had come to put an end to it. At first, building the town had brought the Tragedy survivors together, giving them a sense of community and of purpose. Starting anew had allowed them to move beyond the horror of past lives, exorcise their own personal demons, and begin the process of forgetting. But lately, he'd seen the signs of rot setting in. People began to bicker over property lines and water rights. Those who were gifted with their hands dressed up their homes, inciting jealousy in their neighbors. Last week there had been a vulgar spat between two women over a pew in the church – when the sanctuary was half empty! He shook his head in disgust.

A dog-eared photograph hung on the wall by his front door; a woman, with the wide glowing smile of a child. He remembered the long nights in the old world as he waited for death or the dawn, whichever arrived first. The fevered sparkle in her eyes and the feel of her hand in his as she slipped away forever. Taking the photo down, he hesitated between the pile of items he'd chosen to keep and those consigned to destruction. I will remember you, but your things must go; if we cling too long, then the dead become more real than the living and Renaissance becomes a ghost town. He dropped it on the discard pile.

The notices would be nailed to each and every door at six o'clock the next morning; every resident would have one hour to collect whatever they could carry and move on, if they chose.

At seven o'clock, Mayor Joseph Grey would light the fire which would burn Renaissance to the ground.

Continue to Part 2 HERE