Tag Archives: A-Z Challenge

R to Z: It’s a Wrap!

Blogging challenges aren’t really my thing, but I have absolutely no regrets about doing the A to Z Challenge.

For one thing, I discovered the magical way writing prompts work.

And I also found some new blogging and writing friends along the way.

For my wrap-up post, I thought I’d take a look back at what April’s brought me:

Reading. It’s been a big reading month for me, and I’m hoping I will be able to keep up the pace. I’ve been quite good about keeping track of recent reads on Goodreads. It’s definitely a Facebook for readers!

Savory. I started sending recipe tweets to my husband this month, and the result? We’ve had many a savory, Twitter-inspired meal.

Tumblr. I finally got around to starting a Tumblr blog for mostly bookish and writing-related things, and it’s been a whole lot of fun so far: Quotes, Notes & Quick Takes. If you have a Tumblr blog, I’d love to drop by for a visit, so please leave a link to your Tumblr in the comments!

Umbrella. Because it’s been that kind of a month. April showers, right?

Vacation. Yes, I’m ready for one. No, nothing’s planned. Yet.

Writing. Because I haven’t been. Writing, I mean. And as I look back over the month, I feel a touch of melancholy over all the missed writing time. May? May will be different. Daily writing goal, here I come.

X. Marks the spot. Despite not writing much this month, April’s delivered an amazing crop of ideas. Treasures, all of them.

Yearning. See Writing, above.

Zed. We had Easter dinner over at my sister’s place, and the talk at the table turned to books, as often happens when I’m around. My cousin recommended Zed, by Elizabeth McClung. It sounds like an interesting read, and so the TBR grows, bit by bit, encounter by encounter.

What things did April bring you?

Mind Your Ps and Qs

I’m known around here as a first-class mangler of phrases and clichés.

For some reason, I have a really tough time with clichés and idioms. I’m always getting them wrong. Take “pedal to the metal”, for instance. For years, I’d say “Petal to the metal”. It rhymes, after all!

So this morning I woke up thinking, “A to Z Challenge. Hmmm. I need a P and I need a Q. Oh, wait! How about ‘mind your Ps and Qs’?”

But I decided I’d better ask my husband first, to make sure.

“Is it ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’?”

He nodded. “Yes, that’s it.”

“I don’t get it, though. Doesn’t it mean, behave yourself? Mind your manners? That sort of thing?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well, I get the P. That would be “please”, right? So what does the Q mean?”

We were both puzzled, so I turned to Google.

As it turns out (according to The Phrase Finder), no-one knows for sure where the phrase originated. But here are the most common suggestions:

  1. Mind your pints and quarts. (Pub talk.)
  2. Advice to children or printers’ apprentices to avoid confusing lowercase Ps and Qs.
  3. Mind your pea (jacket) and queue (wig).
  4. Mind your pieds (feet) and queues (wigs). (When you’re dancing, that is.)
  5. Mind your pleases and thank-yous.

It seems to me the last one should have resulted in “mind your Ps and Ts”, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m not exactly the world’s expert in these kinds of things.

And, as The Phrase Finder says about number 2, wouldn’t “mind your Bs and Ds” make more sense in that context?

I’m sure there are a lot more potential origins out there.

I have a fascination with clichés and commonly used phrases. Probably because I can never get them right.

Which is not really something a writer should admit to, I guess. (On the other hand, you’re not likely to find clichés in my writing, since I know I’m sure to get them wrong. That’s got to be a good thing, right?)

O is for Olives

olives Photo credit

I resisted olives for a long time, and not for any good reason, other than the child-like gauge of looking at an olive and deciding it wasn’t for me.

I was in my late teens before I was willing to give olives a try, and if it hadn’t been for my mother and my sisters, I might never have sampled olives at all, and my life would have been bereft of the many delights that olives have given me in the many years since.

Not that my family ever pushed me to try olives. If I didn’t like olives, it meant all the more for everyone else, didn’t it?

My mom would bring home plastic containers full of different kinds of olives, and she and my sisters would snack on them, and make all the appropriate this is absolutely delicious noises they were all quite expert at making as they savored each mouthful.

(My sister Dawn is particularly good at these this is sooooo delicious sounds …)

So one day, unable to resist anymore, I said, rather irritably, “Oh, just give me one, why don’t you?”

And that was that. My love affair with the olive was born.

My favorite kind of olive? Anchovy stuffed olives. (Because I also enjoy anchovies very, very much.) But if those aren’t handy, I usually prefer the really flavorful, kind of wrinkly black ones, like kalamata.

And Spaghetti Puttanesca is my favorite pasta recipe: it marries the flavors of olives, anchovies and capers, with a healthy dash of garlic, too. Could one ask for anything more delicious?

Spaghetti Puttanesca
Adapted from The Best Italian Classics, by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine

4 medium cloves of garlic, minced or pressed to a paste
1 pound of spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
4 tsp minced anchovies, about 8 fillets (canned)
1 can (28 fl oz or 796 mL) diced tomatoes, drained (reserve 1/2 cup juice)
3 tbsp capers, rinsed
1/2 cup black olives (kalamata), pitted and chopped coarse
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Cook the spaghetti until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, mix the garlic with 1 tbsp of water in a small bowl. Heat the oil, garlic mixture, hot red pepper flakes and anchovies in a large skillet, over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned (2 to 3 minutes). Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened (about 8 minutes).

3. When spaghetti is done, drain, then return the spaghetti to the cooking pot. Add a 1/4 cup of the reserved tomato juice and toss to combine.

4. Stir capers, olives and parsley into the sauce. Pour sauce over spaghetti and toss to combine, adding remaining reserved tomato juice to moisten if necessary. Salt to taste and serve immediately.

I’m participating in Weekend Cooking, held every week at Beth Fish Reads; for more delicious food and cooking posts, click here.

Saturday Snapshot: N is for Nostalgia

kids

They were just so adorable back then. And they’ve stayed adorable throughout the years.

This September, both my two older kids will be in university.

It feels a little strange; I often hear people say, “It feels like it was just yesterday” and it seems like such a cliché thing to say.

Yet … it’s true. It really was just yesterday that they were this small, having fun roasting marshmallows, giggling and laughing and screeching as they ran around outside.

And now one is finishing up his first year of university, while the other one is looking forward to starting university life in the fall.

I’m calling this post N is for Nostalgia, but nostalgia isn’t really the right word. I’m not yearning for that past; I’m appreciating that past, deeply.

It’s been a privilege parenting these kids of mine. And quite the learning journey for me.

And I have seen them grow into wonderful adults, and I’m appreciating that too: who they are today, and who they will be in the future.

In the meantime, my youngest is still only seven. I’m still on this parenting journey. And it is still such a privilege.

I’m participating in Saturday Snapshots, run by Alyce at At Home With Books. For more of this week’s Saturday Snapshots, click here.

I is for Ingenuity (And Here I Take Care of J, K, L and M, Too)

I is for Ingenuity

Ingenuity? You’re looking at it! Isn’t this the most ingenious post ever? I don’t even have to resort to K is for Ketchup to write a catch-up post for the A to Z Challenge!

(And no, no-one has to know I actually wrote “ingenuous” in that first sentence, and there it stayed until I did a quick reread before hitting “publish”. Thank goodness for quick rereads before pressing “publish”. That’s all I can say.)

J is for Joe Richardson

… because Joe left me the most wonderful comment yesterday on my H is for Hearsay post, and brightened up my day considerably.

Joe’s one of the bloggers I’ve met through the A to Z Challenge, and you must visit his blog (well, read this post first, and THEN go visit his blog). He writes beautifully and takes wonderful photos as well.

Go visit. You’ll be glad you did.

K is for Ketchup

Not because I’m resorting to “ketchup” to write a catch-up post. But because last night, I did, I must admit, begin toying with the idea of using “K is for Ketchup”. And the following happened:

There I was, thinking about maybe saying Ketchup for catch-up. I opened the fridge, and a ketchup bottle launched itself at me, narrowly missing my foot when it came in for a landing.

I kind of took this as a sign that using Ketchup for catch-up was a no-go …

L is for Love Poems

And it really is a good thing I’m not doing these posts individually, because it would scar me for life to write an entire post about this.

You see, I’m not very romantic. My husband and I laugh about this (well, I laugh. I assume he’s laughing along with me, but I wouldn’t swear to it …), because we are such opposites. He is definitely far more romantic than me. (How romantic? Think rose petals strewn along the path romantic, and you’d be close.)

So I just want it on record that I finally did something sort of romantic. This past Monday was his birthday. On the Sunday night before, I spent three hours scouring the Interwebs for love poems – and I found SO MANY.

I used to say, I don’t really do the poetry thing. But after three hours of reading beautifully written poems, I take that back. I fell in love with poetry that night.

Anyway – here’s the romantic part: I discovered I could post the poems to Facebook as a note and set the note to private, viewable ONLY by my husband! So he had a nice surprise when he woke up in the morning. And not only was I being romantic, I was also able to say happy birthday even though I was still asleep!

M is for Magic

I’ve been tasting magic these past two weeks. It’s come in the form of two words:

Writing prompts.

I’ve posted two scenes/sort of flash pieces, both of them the result of writing prompts, and it has been truly magical. Each time, I pulled the prompts the day before, and some time later, the scene came to me. Complete, as in, it came with everything: characters, situation, conflict, descriptions, dialogue.

All I had to do was sit down and write everything down. I did one edit to tighten things up, but for the most part, I wrote them the way they came to me.

Yes. Magic.

And more magic: I’m all caught up!

H is for Hearsay

I was thinking I’d blog “H is for Honesty” and then own up to the fact that I’m really lousy at blogging challenges, which is why, despite having already written one “catch-up” post, I am still woefully behind on the A to Z Challenge.

And then I realized, that would just be stating the obvious. I’m pretty sure most of you already know how terrible I am at blogging challenges. Even those of you new to this blog likely have an inkling.

(I’m right, aren’t I?)

So this morning, I was hunting around for another “H” word to blog about, and hearsay popped into my mind. My mind works in weird, wonderful and mysterious ways. Which is my fancy way of saying, I have no clue why hearsay popped into my mind. Nor am I prepared to write a legal discourse about it. (And if I did, it would be highly inaccurate – beginning with the fact that I can’t even find my (very old) edition of Black’s Law Dictionary to give an adequate definition.)

I’ve always thought of the hearsay rule as meaning the courts really don’t want to listen to gossip, rumors and innuendo (um, all you students out there, do not use this definition in a test, exam or essay).

And, since (here in Canada, anyway) there’s a list of “hearsay exceptions” a mile long (and not all enumerated as yet by the courts, which just means they’re liable to think up fresh new exceptions at any given moment), it’s not exactly an ironclad rule, either.

So, no, it wasn’t the legal ramifications of hearsay my mind was toying with. I think where my mind was headed (and dragging me along behind it) was the word hearsay itself – as a word. I mean, take a look at it – you can sort of see how it evolved, can’t you?

Well, yer Honor, I heared her say to me that John told her that Shelby told him that Duke told her that someone oughta shoot the black duck’s brains out. That’s what I heared her say, and I’m willin’ to swear to that.”

But no, that’s probably not the way it happened. That’s just my imagination running away from me (which it likes to do every now and then, to keep me fit). My Chambers Dictionary of Etymology doesn’t have an entry for hearsay, except at the end of the entry for hear, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, hearsay comes to us from the 1530s, from the phrase to hear say.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking: If you were new to the English language, and just happened to see the word hearsay pop up somewhere, it would look a lot like a funny, made-up word. You know, like the kind of thing fantasy and science fiction writers are always coming up with …

And if you’re wondering how on earth I’m going to do another catch-up post, now that “C” is long past, I was thinking I might be able to sneak another one in when I get to “K” (you know, as in ketchup). :)

G is for Gestation

The prompts: (1) yelling for help; (2) dirty; and (3) magazine. The archetype card: Implies the unknown: ignorance or desperation; evil.

And of course, “G”, for today’s A to Z Challenge post.

This is a rather trite and predictable scene, but hey, it’s practice, right? Plus, I’m back on track now with my A-Z posts!

*********************

He found the idea in a magazine.

It was inappropriate. Horrific. Senseless. Reluctantly, he dismissed it.

The idea didn’t mind. It was tenacious. It crept into a fold of his brain and nestled itself among the neural pathways. It bided its time.

It fed for days when they gave his promotion to someone else.

Abigail’s young, she’s bright. And she’s a woman. The demographic we need to capture. She’s the only choice that makes sense. You do understand, don’t you, Dave?”

With some difficulty, he pushed the words out: “Of course. Yes, of course, I understand.”

Then came the party his brother-in-law threw to celebrate a top sales award.

Paul’s got such a nice house, doesn’t he, Dave?” Millie looked up at the five bedroom suburban mansion appreciatively. “Carol’s a lucky woman.”

“It’s nice enough.”

Paul threw open the front door and stood there, grinning. “30,000 units sold,” he said, by way of greeting. “The Board would make me a god, if they could.” He laughed, then pulled Millie into an embrace. “And how’s my little sister doing?”

The idea grew big enough then to begin its occasional whispers. Soft whispers, so quiet, he could barely hear them.

Just after Christmas, his wife announced she was getting a job.

“We need the the money, Dave. We’ve spent so many years just getting by. Now we won’t have to worry so much.”

But – “ he said, searching for something adequate to say. Finding nothing, he said, “But what about my dinner?”

Millie frowned. “Don’t be silly. I’ll still make your dinner for you.”

And she did. Only, it wasn’t the same. Sometimes she had dinner on the table later than he expected, disrupting his routine. And often the dishes stayed dirty in the sink overnight. “I’m too tired, Dave,” she said. “I’ll do them in the morning.”

The idea’s whispering grew louder, more familiar.

And then one day, he lost his job.

We’re sorry, Dave. It’s the economy. But we’re not letting you go with nothing. Your severance includes six weeks of pay.” A firm slap on the back. “To show our appreciation.”

The idea began talking to him then. It talked for a very long time.

This time, he listened.

He could hear them all, yelling for help. And when they realized help wouldn’t arrive in time? The crying, the begging for mercy.

It wouldn’t be enough. But it was all he had now.

Flushed with success, the idea flew off, in search of its next prey; the gunshot echoes lingered in the air behind it.

**************

No more prompts for the next few days; I’m working on a novella and finishing up an indexing deadline this week!

C is for Catch-up: Daughter, Early Rising and Fun (and that takes care of D, E & F)

If you take a peek at the latest posts by those participating in the A to Z Challenge, you’ll see a lot of “F” posts today. As I mentioned, yes, I am woefully behind.

But Joe gave me some great advice yesterday – he suggested doing a series of small posts to get right back in the game. I liked the sound of that!

C is for Catch-up

And then I thought … well, I’m on C, right? So why not a Catch-up post?

Why not indeed? So here we go!

D is for Daughter

My daughter recently produced, directed and filmed this music video for friends of hers. It looks so professional!

E is for Early Rising

I’ve had a great deal of success setting out intentions in this blog. So I thought I’d try out a new intention. After those crazy months of heavy deadlines just a few months ago, my system really fell out of sync. I was going to bed at 3 and 4 in the morning, and getting up at 10 or 11.

I am a bit of a night owl, but I’ve discovered that when I get an earlier start to my day, not only do I feel more productive – I think I actually AM more productive. (Anyone else feel this way too?)

So I’m going to set an intention here to start getting back into the rhythm of early rising again. Well … earlier rising, I guess I should call it, since to me, that means 8:30 am or thereabouts!

F is for Fun

And finally, I’m back on track for today. And I’m going to cheat a little bit. I really enjoyed writing that little scene that I posted as my “B” post, and I’d like to try doing more of these as I play the A to Z Challenge this month. The only thing is, I now know that it’s easiest for me to pull out my writing prompts and let my subconscious work on things, and for that, I need time.

So I’m going to try just pulling out new prompt cards at the end of each day’s post, to prepare me for the following day.

And since I had such fun writing from the prompts yesterday, I think drawing my prompt cards right now should qualify as fun!

So here are the prompt cards and the one archetype card I’m going to be using in my next A to Z Challenge post (G is for …), which I will be posting on Monday (I’m taking a hiatus from A to Z posts on the weekends).

The prompts:

1. yelling for help

2. dirty

3. magazine

(Yes, this was the order in which I pulled the cards … )

From the archetype deck:

Implies the unknown: ignorance or desperation; evil

I’m getting the same “You’ve got to be kidding me!” reaction I felt when I drew the last set of prompt and archetype cards.

This will be interesting …

B is for Beast

So I’ve discovered that my writing brain likes to have a bit of play time behind the scenes. Yesterday, in anticipation of my “B” post for the A to Z Challenge, I pulled out three prompt cards from my little bag of prompts, plus a card from my Archetype Deck, laid them out on my desk …

… and my brain said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Deciding not to angst about not getting a post up yesterday for the challenge (I’m woefully behind anyway), I went on with the rest of the day. And it turned out, the whole time I was “doing other things”, my subconscious writing mind was actually playing with the prompts.

So here are the prompts and the Archetype Card behind today’s post:

1. “I’ll give you ten seconds”

2. gunshot wound

3. “I can’t protect you from that”

4. creature of the nightmare

Yes. I know. That’s what my brain said, too. Anyway, this is the scene I came up with:

**************

The light from the lantern cast a glow that barely illuminated the map on the rock in front of them.

“So I figure, no grenades,” James said. “Or I’d give you ten seconds before you’re toast.”

Laura looked at him. How did she end up with this idiot? They were crawling into a an underground cavern, for God’s sake. Did “no grenades” even need to be said? She jabbed the map in several places. “Look. We go in, we place explosives here, here and here. We make it out, we detonate them.” And if we don’t get out, she added silently, we detonate them. Orders were orders.

“Oh,” James said, peering at the X’s she’d marked on the map. “I get it. Okay, that’s good.” He traced a path on the map. “So we find the kids, you get them out, I kill the thing?”

Laura rolled her eyes. Before she could say anything, Matt, their guide, chuckled. “Not going to work,” he said. His voice was low, but carried well across the campfire.

“You think I don’t know how to shoot?” James said, angry now.

The older man shook his head. “Don’t know a thing about your shooting, son,” he said. “But lots of people have gone in after that thing. Armed to the teeth, all of them. Didn’t do them no good.” He looked at Laura, then back to James. “I’m just saying, a few gunshot wounds won’t do much.”

He cleared his throat and spat into the fire. “Some say that thing in there, that beast thing, it likes to eat your innerds first. Rips right into your belly and pulls all your insides out.  But I say that’s crap, because who can know for sure? Except, of course, those waiting for their turn, and they’re not talking, are they?”

James swallowed a few times as he digested this bit of information. “I don’t know, Laura,” he finally said. “How do I protect you from that, if a gun won’t stop it?” His gaze shifted over to the mouth of the cave.

Laura stifled a sigh. Didn’t the idiot know there was a reason why they were there, and not some SWAT team? Or the army? She got up and went to the rear of the SUV.

Both men watched as she began pulling on her protective gear. State of the art, she thought, tugging on the flexible vest. Designed to keep her surviving for long enough to pull those kids out of that hole. The ones that hadn’t been eaten yet, anyway.

She reached inside the SUV for the black case. Gingerly, with something close to reverence, she lifted out the Arlos 12000. So small, so powerful.

The alloy it was made with weighed next to nothing. She could have packed eight of these on her and not felt a thing. Only, she didn’t have eight Arlos. Only the one.

She walked back to James. “You press this button to engage,” she said, showing him. “Then you just point and shoot. Nothing to it.”

“What’s it fire? A rocket? Wouldn’t that be as bad as a grenade?”

“No rocket. Just a bullet. A special bullet. There’ll be an explosion, yes, but contained within the target. Bad news is, you’ve only got the one shot.”

James was examining the weapon. “And the good news?”

Laura turned to face Matt, who’d been watching their exchange with interest. “It’s designed to annihilate tanks.” She put her emphasis on the “s”.

The older man looked at her, expressionless. The shadows from the fire danced over his lined face. Slowly, he nodded. “You just might have a chance, then.”

*****************

I had fun with this. it was quite interesting, coming up with the scenario and the characters, and figuring out a way to work the prompts in. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this daily, though, so I might have to come up with some other A to Z blogging ideas, and maybe do the prompts every few posts.

A is for Appreciation

I was going to cheat a little, and call this post “A is for April”, then do a little intro to the April A-Z blogging challenge – but then it occurred to me, I’m already cheating a little, since this post was supposed to have been posted on April 1 and my calendar tells me we’re already at April 4.

So …

I’ve been on a little bit of an appreciation whirl the past few days. A friend of mine was telling me how she writes down her appreciation list, keeping at it until she feels the same buzz as she gets from meditation. I really like the sound of that, and have decided to merge a practice of appreciation with my morning pages. So naturally, when I was thinking of something to do for this first post, Appreciation seemed like a fine way to start the A-Z challenge.

I’m supposed to keep things short and sweet so that other participants can just quickly skim over my post and then give me a quick little shoutout in the comments, but I’m not particularly known for short posts, and anyway, this is the first one so I’m giving myself some leeway.

(I LOVE giving myself some leeway. I think I should do this all the time.)

So here goes. Today, I am deeply appreciative of:

Big plans. This seems to be the year of big plans in our household. It’s not just me, either. My husband’s got big plans brewing, for both his vegan cooking and his dojo. My daughter and older son have their own big plans. Even the seven-year-old has a big plan in the making (it involves creating a tycoon game on Roblox, apparently).

There are two ways to look at Big Plans. You can let yourself ride that fearful ride, the one that looks at all the potential outcomes and the potential risks, and zero in on all the risks.

Or you can let yourself look at your Big Plans, and ride the good feeling energy that Big Plans inevitably generate.

I’m riding those big waves right now, and appreciating every moment of planning and dreaming and doing.

Spring. I woke up again this morning to the sounds of birds chirping. Okay, it is a bit grey and gloomy and wet outside right now, but in my book, this is so much nicer than cold and snow and cold and snow and more cold and snow.

I’m looking forward to spring: fresh flowers and lovely greenery, sitting out on the back deck (before the mosquitoes hit us in the summer), cool, invigorating spring air.

(Not to mention, the energy of Big Plans dancing along to the rhythms of their own tunes …)

Meditation. I have a meditation practice! I think about that and want to dance. I’ve been flirting with meditation for many years now; it’s something that was always so elusive for me, even when I did manage to do it regularly.

But it’s here for me now, and it’s here to stay. I know this because I no longer think of it as a chore. I actually look forward to it, and can’t imagine starting my day without it. It’s been almost two months now, so I’ve already passed the “30 days to set a new habit” rule.

There’s more on my appreciation list, but I should really not let myself get too long-winded this month! So, anyone feel like joining me in this Appreciation Fest? :)