Monday, August 29, 2016

A Contest Full of Surprises

Some of you may have heard me mention that I am a member of an online writing group called “” I joined it in December of 2008 during a time when I was Jim’s caregiver. It saved my life, or at least saved my sanity, by providing me with an hour or so each day of normalcy during a period in my life that was anything but normal.

In the beginning I read the writing of others and provided tentative feedback, unsure of my own ability to do more. It was late February of 2009 before I was brave enough to “publish” a poem, a poem about my kitty, Mopsy, and a visiting friend named Oliver. We called him Ollie and he belonged to my daughter who, at the time, had moved into an apartment that did not allow pets. The poem was terrible, but I have left it “published” to remember how it all started. Now, I have over 232 published items of which some are book items, meaning they have more than one entry, for instance, my blog and my memoirs, which have several.

A couple of years ago I was promoted to the role of moderator on the site because of my activity and involvement with others, I guess, not really sure why. It’s not a big deal, but it does allow me to do certain things such as edit newsletters, judge contests, try out new site tools before others as well as being helpful and positive when questioned about things on the site which sometimes I can answer and sometimes not.

Finally, slow though I am, last month I, along with two other moderators, volunteered to judge the monthly official contest. The other two moderators were old hands at judging. This contest is called “Short Shots” and the required story of up to 2,000 words was prompted by a photo. From my viewpoint, the picture was eerie-looking, mostly dark green and blue with patches of bright light shining in from above. I saw old buildings around a lake, rocky and barren backdrops, with industrial smokestacks in the distance. My first thought was of a book I had read awhile back called Among Others which was set in a coal mining area of Scotland. The small town’s laborers worked in factories that made charcoal briquettes. Not one other person who entered the contest saw the picture the same way I did.

First, let me say, the judges had to read all the entries and give a written review of at least 250 characters which is not really very long. This is what amazed me. Nearly every story was sci-fi or fantasy, and there were 49 entries. The closest I have gotten to reading science fiction and fantasy would be Steven King and J. K. Rowling so believe me, I was not prepared to “understand” most of the entries about supernatural caves, dragons, aliens, fantasy warfare, fairies, time warps, black holes, spaceships, middle earth, and on and on. So to say I got an education in an unknown genre would be an understatement.
In order to write the review I had to try to understand the story that was being written. Sometimes this took four or five readings and “googling” strange words.
After reading all the stories my judging job was to pick my favorite ten, with number one being my most favorite and so on. The contest ended on the thirtieth of July and my selections had to be submitted by August 15th. I wasn’t supplied with the entries until the first of August because editing was allowed until the end of July. With my lack of knowledge in the genre I placed the extra burden on myself of finishing all my reviews by August 15th. How could I make an intelligent decision otherwise? Then the moderator of the contest would compile the selections attaching a point system to determine the top three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. The prizes are in gift points of $100, $50 and $25, and you must have a paid membership to be eligible. I had no idea so many people would enter.

The winners were announced on August 22nd and I was shocked to see that my first three picks had won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places just as I had selected them. So I guess the moral of this story is that even though you may not think you know what you are doing, if you try to do your very best, you can get through it and maybe even learn something along the way. I anticipated emails from writers who laughed at my reviews, but all the responses I received couldn’t have been nicer, and several actually said I “got” exactly what they were trying to say. That was a big surprise.

My comfort level with sci-fi and fantasy has improved, but I’m not sure I would knowingly volunteer to judge another contest in those genres. I did learn a lot, not only about writing but about people, and now that it’s over, I’m glad I put myself out there and saw it through to the finish line.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Over thirty years ago I was given a bread maker for some holiday, Christmas or birthday, I can't remember which, but I've used it very little. The bread it makes is okay tasting but weird looking. The loaf comes out square and not the right size for anything. Nowadays I buy my bread at the Publix bakery, sometimes sour dough, sometimes sunflower seed and they are very good and make excellent toast. I usually get it sliced and freeze it, taking out a piece as I want. Publix loaves run between $3.50 and $3.95 per loaf...which got me thinking about my bread machine.

I pulled it out of the cabinet last Monday where it's been stored along with its instruction booklet and began to read. I found I could make dough and shape and bake the final product myself. Of course, I read this long ago, it just didn't sink in or may have seemed like too much bother...for someone who needed a bread machine. I had all the ingredients on hand except for fresh yeast so when I was out on another errand I picked up some new Fleischman's, and Monday afternoon I made bread.

After I put in all the ingredients and set the timer on "dough", it took around 80 minutes from start to finish. I have to say it called for dry milk but since I had only a can of evaporated, I mixed that with an equal amount of water and used it to replace the water called for in the recipe. Who likes dry milk anyway? I always use evaporated milk for cooking because almond milk is my daily fare and its flavor does not lend itself to macaroni and cheese for instance.

Once the machine beeped indicating I could dump the dough I expected a sticky mess but wonder of wonders, it dumped out fairly clean. I had my spot prepared with a sprinkle of extra flour. I punched down the puffy ball and shaped it into a new one, letting it rest a few minutes before rolling it out to an 8 x 12 rectangle and then rolling it up from the short end, jelly-roll fashion to form it into a loaf that would fit in my already sprayed bread pan. I covered it with sprayed Saranwrap and set it in a warmed oven. It doubled in size in around 30-35 minutes and then I baked it at 350 degrees till brown and crusty on top. The smell was "devine."

I dumped it immediately onto a wire cooling rack and when it was completely cool, I sliced it (I made 20 thin slices), slid it into an old bread wrapper, smoothed out the air and put a twist tie on the end and popped it into the freezer. Okay, I confess. I ate a piece and it was yummy.

So, then I tallied up my cost...50 cents! What a savings.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Her Name Was Hazel But She Was No Lady

Were you ever in a hurricane? That’s a silly question to ask a Floridian. The answer is most likely “which one?” But today I’m thinking of one long-ago hurricane, Hazel, and October of 1954, as it neared the State of Delaware.

I was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Quillen’s class at Harrington Elementary, not quite ten years old. Mommy and I listened to the news the night before as the weatherman told us Hazel was in the Bahamas and not expected to be a threat to the U.S. mainland, but by the time I was on the school bus on the morning of October 15th, and unknown to us at the time, Hazel had made a unexpected left hand turn and was about to slam into North and South Carolina.

I remember looking out the huge plate glass windows on the east side of my classroom and wondering why it was getting so dark. All the lights were on in mid-morning. Then the announcement came, buses were coming to take us back home. I saw them lining up out front. I swallowed a few times and wondered if Mommy would be home from work or if I would be alone. I never thought to tell anyone.

As we gathered our book bags, Mrs. Quillen hurried us along and marched us outside in a line. It seemed like nighttime, still and quiet. The ride home was like any other day except for the headlights of oncoming cars. The bus driver didn’t drive any faster than usual and I chatted with my seatmate about everything including the hurricane. None of us had ever seen one before and if this was what all the hullabaloo was about, it didn’t look like anything to be scared of.

The bus stopped to let me off and I used my door key to get in, in to darkness. The wind was starting to blow and I felt a few whopper raindrop plops as I stepped inside. Mommy wasn’t there. I turned on all the lights and wondered what I should do. I looked out the living room window. The wind was picking up and flattening the tall dead grasses next door. The sugar maples planted along the highway out front must have shed hundreds of orange leaves as the wind swirled them past my lookout post. I wished for Mommy to come home. I stayed glued to the window even though I couldn’t see much. It wasn’t long until my wish was granted.

I saw the headlights bobbing through the rain as the vehicle neared our driveway. The driver kindly pulled in and deposited Mommy almost at our front door, and I held it open as she quickly came inside, turning to wave to her friend that all was well.

That night was one of the scariest of my life. Rain pummeled our house, the wind screeched and blew things against our walls that we could not see. The power went off and we were in total darkness until Mommy lit the kerosene lamp and then the shadows made me think I was in a horror movie. It rained and rained some more. We played gin rummy by lamp light and I ate melting ice cream until I felt sick, all the while listening to the background noise of Hazel. Finally, I fell into a stressed, nightmarish sleep.

I woke to an eerie dawn almost like twilight, no wind, no rain, but the air seemed full of something. I heard frogs croaking and saw that water covered our lawn. Sticks and limbs and crushed maple leaves were everywhere. Out front a couple telephone poles leaned, stretching the wires tight. Big power trucks were already parked a ways down the road. Mommy was fixing us cereal with warm milk.

Later that day Uncle Parvin brought concrete blocks and boards, and he made a bridge-like path for us to walk above the water. He warned me not to get brave and walk in the water because you wouldn’t know what might be in there. I wasn’t that brave anyway. It took the water forever to go down. The muck and yuck that remained had a not so nice smell.

After the power came back on, we heard that the winds had been over 100 miles per hour, that the storm had roared through at 50 miles per hour, and that a lady in Wilmington was killed when she was picked up and slammed into a trolley car. A few days later we rode by the Dover Armory and saw its roof lying on the ground, deposited there by Hazel. Newspapers reported a total of four Delawareans perished as a result of the storm. Hazel left its footprint on Rehoboth Beach, my favorite place, with damage to hotels, the boardwalk, and excessive beach erosion.

Hazel traveled on up into Canada, merged with a cold front but continued to do lots of damage. It was unusual that a hurricane, a category 4 when it pelted the Carolinas, got that far north and stayed that strong. I thanked my lucky stars that Mommy came home when she did. And better yet, no school for a few days, which usually only happened for snow. Even hurricanes had a tiny silver lining.