NaNo-ing My Compost Pile

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

 

This NaNo will be my most autobiographical NaNo yet. I will write “Meatful Things”* next month, the story of me and my compost pile, and all the things that did could go wrong… So how many ways can a compost pile go wrong? After all, nature makes compost piles every day, all around the world. Business as usual…

 

Unless…

 

You add people.

 

I mean, unless you add the wills and whims of people into the making of a compost pile.

 

So what goes into the compost pile? Apple cores and onions skins?

 

Absolutely!

 

Coffee grounds and tea leaves?

 

Sure!

 

Bacon grease and chicken bones?

 

Well, that’s not recommended.

 

But pigs and chickens decompose in nature just fine.

 

Well… OK.

 

How about litter box crap and offal from the neighbor’s hunting trip?

 

No way! But I see you’ve already taken the liberty… I see the compost pile is steaming and teeming with flies…

 

Yep, back to nature. How about I add-

 

No! Don’t say anything more! The compost pile is out of control. I don’t wanna know what you’re gonna add next…

 

It’s my spookiest NaNo to date, and it’s in the spirit of the season. Speaking of compost piles and Halloween, these creations are gonna end up in my decomposition pile in a few days…

Kitty-o-lanterns!

Kitty-o-lanterns!

 *

Like this guy…

Fall sunflower.

Fall sunflower.

 *

In the meantime, wanna stalk me and my NaNo-ed compost pile? Click here!

 If you can’t wait until “Meatful Things” is fully decomposed finished and available, here are 11 spooky bedtime stories, just in time for Halloween…

And how about treating yourself for Halloween? Check out these short story anthologies (I have a story in each) – a different theme for each collection:

Theme-Thology: Invasion

Theme-Thology: Day I Died

Theme-Thology: New Myths

Theme-Thology: Real World Unreal

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

*Loosely based on true events.

 

11-30-14 UPDATE:

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

Winner, winner, compost dinner!

50117 words of compost!

I rule compost!

 

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Birdbeat and Summer Move Challenge

Birdbeat, by Geoff Adams, is for bird lovers and fugue lovers.

The challenge, should you choose to accept: write a flash fiction story with the words bird, beat, summer, and move.

1000 words maximum.

Post it on your blog.

Link it back here.

Bask in the glory.

Oh yeah, in the next couple weeks, me and my hub unit, along with our kitties, are moving to another state, buying a house, and starting different “day jobs.” So I’ll be offline until sometime next month. I’ll put my own story in this post and reply to comments then.

Happy summer!

Love,

CM

UPDATE: Me and my hub-unit are still looking for new jobs and a new house. Our deadline for moving is the end of October. In the meantime, the “Birdbeat and Summer Move Challenge” deadline is extended until then!

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UPDATE REDUX: My hub-unit and I moved into a house, but it’s temporary housing. So we’re still on the lookout for new jobs / houses. My “Birdbeat and Summer Move Challenge” entry is below.

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TIDY TRUCK RENTALS

The clerk glances over his shoulder at the bare wall, save for a single set of keys hanging on the last nail. “Yer lucky. I got one truck left. But we usually don’t rent it out.”

My husband Stewie sighs. “Why? Is something wrong with it?”

“Naw. Not really.” The clerk shrugs his shoulders. “Jus’ haunted, that’s all.”

“A haunted moving truck?” I laugh. “Well, as long as it’s Halloween, a haunted moving truck is perfect. Where do we sign?”

The clerk pulls a clipboard of documents out from under the counter and grabs the last set of keys.

Stewie drums the countertop and frowns.

I slide the clipboard under his fingers, laugh, and turn toward the clerk. “So why is this truck haunted? Did somebody die in it?”

“Summer, please . . ” Stewie rolls his eyes.

“Oh no, not jus’ anybody,” the clerk replies. “My daddy. That truck jus’ happened to be the first truck my daddy overhauled to start Tidy Truck Rentals. He did all the upgradin’ hisself. Put his heart an’ soul into that truck, and it’s still goin’ strong today.” His eyes mist over, and he sniffs and shakes his head. “My daddy was a clean man. Prided hisself on that fact. Ran the cleanest truck rental business in the land. He died cleanin’ that truck. An’ now any customer that rents it says it cleans itself. They don’ hafta sweep it out or nothin’.

“Like I said, sounds perfect.” I press a pen into my husband’s hand. “Stewie, honey, please sign. The sooner we load the truck the sooner we can unload the truck. There’s still time to finish this move by tonight.”

Stewie mumbles and signs. “A haunted truck on Halloween. Do we get a discount for that?”

“Please, Stewie, let’s just get the truck loaded.”

Four back-breaking hours later, the last of our furniture and boxes is tightly packed in the back of the truck. We drive across town to our new address and spend four more grueling hours moving our belongings into our new house.

When the last box is shoved inside the front door, I collapse on it, panting. “I’m beat. I’m going to bed.”

“Not yet, Summer. What about the truck?” Stewie says. “We have to return it by midnight or get charged an extra day.”

“Have fun. I’ll be recuperating in our new home.”

“But you know my night vision is crap. I don’t want to hit any trick-or-treaters. You drive, I’ll navigate.”

I groan and lumber to my feet. “The things you put me through to save a buck.” We climb into the cab, I start the engine, and we pull out of our driveway.

“Take a left at Parker, then take a right after the railroad tracks. It’s the first lot on the left after the bridge. And watch out for trick-or-treaters and low-flying birds.”

“Very funny.” Bleary-eyed, I squint into the night. Fifteen minutes down the road, I ease off the gas and let the truck coast over the railroad tracks and

 

BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM

 

thunders from the cargo hold of the truck.

I slam on the brakes.

“Stewie, did you remember to strap the dolly to the cargo wall?”

“Yes.”

“Then what the hell was that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the truck rocking side to side over the tracks shook the dolly loose. And the empty cargo hold amplified the noise.”

I slowly press the gas pedal. “Yeah. Had to be the dolly. So . . when you strapped the dolly in . . was it, you know . . tidy back there?”

“Yes.”

“Was it tidy because you swept up? Or was it tidy, you know, all by itself?”

“I couldn’t see very well. It was dark.”

I shiver and grip the steering wheel tight. Ten minutes down the road, I ease off the gas and let the truck roll under the bridge and

 

BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM

 

thunders from the cargo hold of the truck.

I slam on the brakes. “Let me guess- the angle of the road made the dolly slam around again?”

“That does it.” Stewie unbuckles his seat belt. “I’m gonna make sure the dolly is strapped to the cargo wall. I’m not gonna pay extra for a damaged truck.” He climbs out of the cab, walks to the back, and opens the cargo door. “The dolly . . ” he calls back. “It’s still strapped to the wall.”

“That’s weird,” I yell out the window. “Maybe the straps are spring-loaded?”

“I dunno. But I’m not gonna pay extra for a damaged truck.”

“Stewie?

“What?” He leans out of the back of the truck.

“Is it . . tidy back there?”

“I dunno. I guess. It’s dark. Could you move it along, Summer? It’s almost midnight, and I’m not gonna pay-”

“I know, you’re not gonna pay for another day.”

Stewie pulls himself into the cargo hold and shuts the door.

I slowly press the gas pedal. “Yeah,” I mutter to myself. “Had to be the dolly.”

Five minutes down the road, I pull into the parking lot of Tidy Truck Rentals. One minute to midnight. Stewie will be pleased. I climb out of the cab and

 

BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM

 

thunders from the cargo hold of the truck.

I run to the back of the truck as the clerk steps out of the building.

“Stewie! Are you okay?” I unlock the cargo door and fling it open.

Empty, except for the dolly strapped to the wall.

The clerk chuckles. “Like I said, it cleans itself. You don’ hafta sweep it out or nothin’.”

JUNKIE- a Flash Fiction Tale

I’ll never forget the day I met her- the war had just started, and I was fresh on the street with my GI reject papers. Flat feet. So I did what any other flatfoot would do- I opened my own Private Dick service. To add insult to injury, my first case was for a new GI- wanted me to tail his sweetheart while he was off fightin’ for the American way. So I trailed her, but downtown, the broad gave me the slip. I turned down a wrong alley and a couple punks jumped me. I grabbed my pocket gat, and accidentally took off the tip of my pinkie toe. Fainted dead away. When I opened my eyes, I was lookin’ at a curly bleach blonde with bee-stung lips and big brown doe eyes. I was always a sucker for big brown eyes. Honey Potter, RN. One look at that doll face and I was over a barrel. It was Honey who patched me up and gave me a shot for the pain. I was smitten with her bedside manner, and her firm, high rack you could set your coffee mug on without spilling a drop. And her rear view like the Liberty Bell- hubba hubba! And her gams a mile long. All that wrapped up in a form-fitting white nurse’s uniform, with a cute little hat. I was a goner from the get-go. That was before all the trouble started. Junkies are a dime a dozen, and the lure of the needle got the better of my Honey Pot. I did the best I could to help her out. And it was bad enough with her nailing herself. But when she started nailing her patients, I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I ratted her out. And she went to the Big House. Last I heard she was out on a technicality. Funny how justice works. Or doesn’t.

And funny how life sometimes throws you a sidewinder. Just when I thought I had gotten over her, my ameche rings.

“Hi-de-ho, Tommy. It’s your Honey Pot. I’m out of the Big House and off the H train for good.”

“Congrats, Honey. So whaddya need, babe- a ride outta town? A crash pad? Wanna bum some dough?”

“No, baby. I got my own place.”

“You drunk, Honey?”

“No, baby. On the square. I thought you’d be proud of me. I’d like you to come on up to the house.”

“The house?”

“My house. 6319 Upland Lane. In Osseo. It’s a gift from Nana. She’s moving back to St. Louis. She said she misses the big city.”

Now I’m no greenhorn, but there was something in Honey’s voice that made me believe her. Or maybe it was just my hormones talkin’. I had been down on my luck lately. And no PI gigs means no dough, and no dough means no broads.

It had been a long time. Too long.

So I hop in my jalopy and head for Osseo.

I’d been to Nana’s house before- dropped Honey off there a few times after she spent another Saturday night boozin’ at some dive. Now Honey says she owns the place. Nice neighborhood. Clean lawns. Respectable people. Just what Honey needs, now that she’s on the square.

I ring the doorbell. Honey takes her time answering. I hope I got the right place.

“Hi-de-ho, flatfoot. Come in and take a load off.”

She’s as pretty as a pinup, just like I remembered. Skimpy white sweater. Tight red skirt. Smells good too- like cinnamon apple pie.

“Nice place ya got here, Honey. Looks like you’re on the right track.”

“I am. I even got my old nursing gig back.”

“They took you back with your record?”

“I got my gig back through the state’s good behavior program.”

“Good behavior?”

“They certainly didn’t hire me for bad behavior.”

“But you injected patients with junk- junk they didn’t need. No hospital would take you back after that.”

“They never proved that! All they proved was I was incompetent.”

“Incompetent? They put people away for incompetence?”

“You know as well as I do they had to put the blame on someone. I was their scapegoat. Their sacrificial lamb. But I was only tryin’ to help those poor souls. Ease their pain. I know what pain is. I can see it. I can smell it. You don’t grow up with an alcoholic daddy and a drug-addicted mama without knowin’ what pain is.”

I take Honey in my arms, then grab her wrists and spread her arms. She flinches.

“I’m clean, Tommy, I swear I am. Nana wouldn’t give me my kids back if I wasn’t.”

I see a line of dots running up the inside of both elbows.

“Old marks, I swear. I haven’t touched a needle since before they put me away. That’s not my scene anymore. Ya gotta believe me, Tommy.”

“Okay. I believe you. I just gotta be sure this time. You’re no girl scout.”

“Scout’s honor,” Honey says and salutes. She pours me a Manhattan. I smile. Then she pours herself one.

“You back to drinkin’, babe?”

“Whya givin’ me the third, Tommy? I take pills to take care of the alcohol. They’re from my doc.” She wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me. Soft, wet lips. I melt in her arms. Her hot breath tickles my neck, then she pulls away.

“Let’s check on the kids,” she says, and downs her Manhattan. “Tammy is three and Tommy Jr. is eleven weeks. About time you re-acquainted yerself.”

We walk hand-in-hand down the hall and peek in the kid’s bedroom.

“I’m doin’ real good, Tommy.” She puts her head on my shoulder. “I’m outta the Big House and off the street. Off the junk. Got my kids back. Got a nice home. Makin’ money legal-like.”

She cocks her head to the side and looks up at me with those big brown eyes.

“All I need is a husband. Let’s get hitched, Tommy. I know ya love yer Honey Pot.”

“Looks like you’re doing fine on your own.”

She sticks out her red lipsticked lip and pouts.

“Tommy Jr. and Tammy need a daddy!” She stamps her foot- loud.

Hey, don’t snap your cap.” I glance at the kids, but they’re still fast asleep.

“They’re yer kids, Tommy. Will ya ever step up and be a man?”

Funny thing to say, after all the times I watched little Tammy while Honey was out junkin’. After all the times I bailed her out and filled her icebox. After all the times I carried her to the powder room and held her hair while she vomited after another weekend booze binge.

“I know Tammy is mine.” I lift Honey’s chin with my finger. “At least I reckon she’s mine. But I doubt even you know who Tommy Jr.’s daddy is.”

Honey slaps me hard across my mug, then takes off down the hall. She turns, looks at me, then collapses, sobbing. So I walk up and sit on the floor beside her. I hold her and stroke her hair.

“I’m sorry, babe,” I whisper. “I don’t know what I was thinkin’. And I’m proud of you.”

Honey sniffs and wipes her nose on my shirt sleeve. I sigh, close my eyes, and gently rock her in my arms. I hear a shuffle and open my eyes. Honey has her hand in the desk drawer. She grabs a syringe and I grab her wrist.

“I knew it- you’re still on the hop! Still a junkie!”

“Don’t you dare call me a junkie, you fat-head!”

I pin her to the floor, she knees me in my jewels, and I slam back against the wall. Then she lands a left hook right on my kisser.

“You’re off the track!” I say, spitting blood through split lips.

Honey looks down at my blood on her sweater and shrieks. Jumping up, she twists on her high heel and hits her head on the desk.

“Honey!” I fall to my knees and cradle her head in my hands. Her eyes flutter open. “Don’t worry, babe, I’m callin’ an ambulance right now.” I reach for the ameche, but she rips the cord out of the wall. She throws the ameche across the room. We lock eyes for a few seconds, then I hear a muffled thud. I jump to my feet, run down the hall, and check the kids- still fast asleep. But in the glow of the nightlight I see dots on their arms. Then I hear another thud. Honey bursts into the bedroom.

“You nailed your kids to the cross?” I say, shaking my head.

Another thud- this time, louder.

“Get outta here, Tommy! I’m through with you!”

“What’s that sound?”

“You hear me? We’re through! Get out!”

“Not until I find what’s makin’ that racket.”

I shove Honey out of the way and try the master bedroom- empty. Honey comes up behind me, wraps her fingers around my throat, and digs her long red nails into my Adam’s apple. I elbow her in the ribs and she doubles over. Down the hall I go. I try the guest bedroom- empty. Out of the corner of my eye I see Honey grab a lead pipe out of the closet and throw it- I duck, but it bounces off the back of my head. I stumble, charge head-first out of the bedroom, and bee-line down the hall, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. Another thud to my right, in the laundry room- it’s Nana, bound and gagged on the floor. She’s kicking the wall with her foot. I untie her ropes and see she has the same dots on her arms. I feel a trickle run down my back, and I and wipe my hand across the back of my head. My hand is covered in blood. Nana’s eyes get wide, and I feel a needle in my caboose.

“Who’s the junkie, now, Tommy?” Honey’s hot breath caresses my neck, and I melt in her arms.

“Honey . . please . . I’m sorry . . ” I look up at those big brown eyes. I was always a sucker for big brown doe eyes. She traces a finger across my eyelids.

“There, there, Tommy, go to sleep now. Yer Honey Pot will make all the pain go away.”

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

Thanks to Flannery Alden at Flash Fiction Friday for this flash fiction challenge!

Need a Hole in the Head- a Flash Fiction Tale

Antiseptic- check.

Bandages- check.

Trephine- check.

And the guide wire is still in place. Check. It’s D-day for the doctor. Or rather, D-night. Doom’s night? No. Good night. Sleep tight. But not until I make history. Dr. Ada Charter, first trepanner to trepan-scribe the entire skull. I’ll be famous.

Charter is a crackpot.

Via cracking the pot. Sweet salvation, will the irony be totally lost on Kernig and Brudzinski? Initially yes. They’ve not yet experienced the benefits of trep-increased brain blood volume. Their cerebral metabolisms are still operating at pre-trep levels. They can’t possibly understand my logic with their adult-state consciousnesses. But they’ll soon get it, after they follow my lead. Normal consciousness is not my thing. By opening up my skull and relieving the constriction around my brain, I’m achieving a heightened consciousness. Like a child’s consciousness. It’s so elementary. A child’s skull is not fully closed, and therefore a child’s brain is free to pulse and breathe, thereby increasing intelligence, creativity, and intuition. I’m returning to a child-like state. Maximum oxygen input equals maximum thought power. I’ll finally be recognized as a serious, credible scientist, and the institute will have to re-instate me.

You need trepanning like you need a hole in the head.

And after I’m re-institutionalized, I’ll be the Trepanning Guru. I’ll write a guide book. I’ll go on a speaking tour. The masses will be swayed. But first I must finish the trepan-scribe of my brain.

My incision from yesterday is still fresh. I’ll start from there and follow the guide wire. The video cam is up and running, nerves are steady. Funny how drilling into your skull gets easier each time you do it. Now for the first part. The worst part. The disinfecting. Stings the fresh cut like a bitch. Maybe I’ll skip it this time. After all, my head is shaved, and the incision has been completely covered in bandages since the last time I disinfected it.

I see on the video monitor my line of dura is still exposed. Two-thirds complete. One third to go. Just like opening a can with a can opener. Except I’m opening my brain with a Diamond Bone Cutting System.

Ada had a baby and her head popped off.

And my craniectomy is . .

Happening.

Steady.

Drill, baby, drill.

A flick of the wrist and you’ll tap a gusher.

The blood. Rivers of blood. Deep breaths.

And I’m done. More blood than I imagined. Which is fine. Let it bleed. The human body is self-correcting. In a few days the entire trepan-scribation will scab over and form new skin. No bone, just skin. I can feel my brain swelling already. Swell and fill yourself with oxygen-rich air! Expand. Grow. Pulse.

Pulse.

Pulse.

There’s a pounding in my head.

That’s a good sign. But did you forget to disinfect?

 

No. I did not. I just didn’t want to. Because.

Because.

Because.

Meningitis is your thing.

I’ll just rest now. Call the institute in the morning. Show Kernig and Brudzinski the video. Take a few tests. And bam! Re-institutionalization.

Stand up slowly, Charter, brace yourself against the chair.

 

Okay. My legs are weak.

That’s okay. You’ve lost a lot blood.

 

Feel faint.

Lean forward over the chair back. Steady yourself. Then go get yourself a drink of water. Maybe an aspirin or three.

Good idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

Because normal consciousness is not your thing.

Ha! You’re right. Not my thing now. My mind is free to expand into. Into. Into.

Ah- there goes my knee and hip and leg. Now why would it do that?

Symphyseal.

 

Huh?

I feel hot. Wet. Sweat is pouring down my face. My face feels numb. Feels like it’s disappearing.

Your face is fine. Feel it. Still there.

Yes, how silly of me. It’s still there. Ah- now there goes my forearm. Now why would it do that?

Opisthotonus.

 

What?

Doesn’t matter. I’ll put it out of my mind. Because-

Because confused consciousness is not your thing.

 

 

Right.

I’ll just rest for a while. Show the video. To Kernig and Brudzinski. In the morning.

Okay. Laying down doesn’t work. Neck’s too stiff. I’ll just rest sitting up. But I can’t straighten my leg. And what the- I’m spasming. Marching? Walking? What the hell?

I can’t stop. My legs pumpfasterFASTERFASTER

OUT THE DOOR I GO

Why would I run? Should rest want rest need rest-

HEADHITSSTREETHEADHITSSTREET

head

hit

 

Because delirious consciousness is not your thing. Right, Ada?

 

 

right

 

 

Because somnolent consciousness is not your thing.

 

Is obtunded consciousness your thing? Ada?

 

How about stuporous consciousness? Hello? No?

 

Comatose, Ada. That’s your thing.

_____

Thanks to Flannery Alden at Flash Fiction Friday for this flash fiction challenge!

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Want to clear you brain of trepanation information? Check out my entry in my last flash fiction challenge.

“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”- a Flash Fiction Tale

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis“*

Dec. 18

Merry Xmas Tommy

I know its been a long time. You moved again but I tracked you down. And guess what

Tommy Im Pregnant.

The Baby is yours merry xmas daddy! I know its a boy gonna name him Tommy Jr.
cravin pickles and steak

pickles dont cost too much can get them free at the bar.

But Steak thats hard 3 or 4 hours to earn a steak and sometimes it rains. i get so cold. hope the baby dont mind.

Gonna really try this time. I Promise. No more H no more booze. You will see. For my kids I promise gonna work hard for my family. For you. Even little Tammy shes 3 now still at nanas. But you and me can take her back any time as long as Im clean nana said.

.

Dec. 20

got me a Real Husband got married proper in Church with a ring and every thing. my old man has money owns the gas station where you used to work! you will never be nothin tommy! you no good grease monkey. so don’t even think of comin up here and bother me and my old man. My Old Man will knock you out he is jealous. so forget about it tommy we are over

and guess what its his baby.

.

Dec. 23

i don’t have a husband

and tommy i need to borrow some money
its for my lawyer i promise
they wanna put me in jail but i have a home now for us tommy. help me out tommy. you gotta do right by me. if you pay my lawyer they will let me outta here in a few months. do it for your baby tommy jr

i love you

love, your honey pot

.

Dec. 30

merry xmas tommy got the place all nice for your home coming. red green tinsel and lights a real happy home. come home tommy the warden can let you in. hennepin on 4th ave. dont forget my xmas spirit i like the one with the silver label. please tommy they wont let me have nothin in here. they took tommy jr away.

.

.

*Title and inspiration by Tom Waits.

.

.

Thanks to Thomas Pluck of Flash Fiction Friday for this flash fiction challenge!

Quick, Easy, & Vegan Hot Chocolate Recipes

Cheers to the holidays! First, for motivational purposes, the Hanson Family was kind enough to provide an instructional video on how to drink the final product (screeching baby is optional).

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Next, the recipes:

Basic Vegan Hot Chocolate for 2

2 cups store-bought Sweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (make sure it’s pre-sweetened)

2 ounces vegan cocoa (in bar form, but NOT a bar labeled “baking”)- alternately use 2 tablespoons of 100% cocoa powder

Heat almond milk in a pan over medium, stirring often, until steamy. Add cacao and stir until dissolved. Pour into mugs and serve immediately.

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Hot Peppermint Chocolate

Basic Recipe + Add 4 ounces of Peppermint Schnapps to the almond milk before serving

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Tame Hot Peppermint Chocolate

Basic Recipe + Add a few drops of Peppermint Oil

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Hot Orange Chocolate

Basic Recipe + Add 4 ounces of Orange Schnapps to the almond milk before serving

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Tame Hot Orange Chocolate

Basic Recipe + Add a few drops of Orange Oil

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Hot Chocolate Kick

Basic Recipe + Add a scant pinch of Cayenne Powder

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Hot Pumpkin Chocolate

Basic Recipe + Add a tablespoon of Pumpkin Purée plus a teaspoon of Pumpkin Pie Spice

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Hot Peppermint Chocolate Dream

Basic Recipe + Add 2 ounces of Peppermint Schnapps and 2 ounces of Kahlua to the almond milk before serving

*

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Whoa. Need a break from all that sexy chocolate? Gather your alternative, forward-thinking ingredients, and toast the New Year here.

And now that you’re sloshed, (or soon will be) check out my latest flash fiction challenge– I extended the deadline!

Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 1

A medieval castle on the shore of eastern Scotland . . ancient allied clans . . a modern-day writer with Scottish ancestry and a love of tartans.

Thus was the chain of events which led me to this post.

A couple years ago, while envisioning the setting of part of a novel, an iconic image materialized- an imposing castle on the edge of a rocky cliff. This vision was so spectacular I wondered, “Is this castle real?” I immediately went searching online for images of cliff-side castles, and I found it . .

TripAdvisor.com

I was so enamored with Dunnottar Castle, I researched its history and layout and wrote a detailed scene incorporating my findings . .  but soon realized that scene didn’t flow with the rest of the novel, so I set the scene aside, until a couple years later I found this flash fiction challenge . .

Darkness Surrounding, by Dieki Noorhoek

. . which is, I’m sure, the opposite side of Dunnottar Castle many years ago. So I revised my scene for the challenge.

In the meantime, thanks in part to the kilt-wearing juggling writer Christopher Gronlund, and his wife, future kilt-sewer Cynthia Griffith, I was inspired to rekindle my interest in tartans, kilts, and sewing. I researched Scottish clan tartans and picked out my 2 favorite by appearance- “Royal Stewart” (co-incidentally, “Stewart” is my married name) and “Keith and Austin,” which, to my pleasant surprise, is the tartan associated with Dunnottar Castle!

Dunnottar Castle became the seat of the chief of Clan Keith in 1639 . . ” -wiki

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Before I continue this winding tale, a few points of clarification:

1. This 2-part post is NOT meant to be a guide to sewing anything resembling an authentic, traditional kilt.

2. Back in the day, the “Keith” clan and the “Austin” clan merged and are now collectively know as the Borg “Keith and Austin” clan.

3. Within a single or collective clan, there are many variations of that clan’s tartan. This is especially true of the “Keith and Austin” tartan.

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My goal: sew a couple of kiltish jumpers using my Simplicity Trumps Everything* method. Here’s something like what I want to do:

VintageCostumers.com

For kilt-making instructions, Gronlund recommended Barb Tewksbury. While I did check out her kilt-making methods and found them inspirational, I ultimately decided to stick with my original Simplicity Trumps Everything method.

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(For ideas and inspiration on how to make an authentic, traditional kilt, checkout Barbara Tewksbury’s and Elsie Stuehmeyer’s book, or visit Griffith’s blog about her experiences sewing traditional historical costumes.)

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I searched and scoured the internet and finally found both my tartans in one place in 100% cotton (I find wool scratchy).

I preferred the darker version of the Keith and Austin tartan, so after checking several stores and finding no fabric dye, I searched online for a “home brew” fabric-dyeing method. It seemed simple enough- make a HUGE pot of extremely strong hot tea and / or coffee, salt it, and submerge the fabric in the brew, making sure there are NO air bubbles. While I did this, I don’t recommend it, unless you enjoy spending hours dunking, soaking, and wringing a heavy tartan.

Then I cut, folded, pinned, and ironed my tartans, pretty much free-style.

Next month, my mother-in-law will assist me with machine-sewing my jumpers! (She has hand-sewn kilts before, but that wasn’t fitting with my STE method.)

Check back after Christmas to see my finished jumpers!

Update: Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 2

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*Simplicity Trumps Everything:

1. Is there an even easier way to do it without it falling apart / exploding / crash-n-burning?

2. If “NO,” then go ahead and proceed with the plans you have.

3. If “YES,” with the new, even “easier way” in mind, go back to step 1.

Six Steps to Make Dialogue Pop!

(This post, written by me, originally debuted on Austin Wulf’s blog.)

You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve fleshed out your characters with distinct physical traits, personalities, and goals . . but somehow the dialogue clunks. How can you make your dialogue pop?

Add interest, variation, and believability to your characters’ speech with accents, dialects, slang, vulgarities, and regional expressions!

BUT WAIT . .  before you get all “Mark Twain” or “Sapphire” on your readers, here are 6 steps to writing memorable- and believable- character speech:

1. Less is more. If you only remember 1 thing from this article, make it this- don’t overdo it with brogues, slang, and other speech affects. Distinguishing speech characteristics are like pepper– a little goes a loooong way, and you don’t want to sprinkle it on everything. Besides, dialects are exacting and tricky, and if you think any Wasilla native has a Wasilla accent, think again!

2. Do your homework. If you’re a seasoned world-traveler who is intimately familiar with the correct pronunciations and enunciations of your characters’ speech, you can skip this step. The rest of us can benefit from learning about and listening to authentic dialects

3. Check other authors’ works. Grab a novel by a successful author you admire and read how it’s done judiciously.

4. Read it out loud. You should be reading all of your manuscript out loud at some point anyway. *NSFW* If you stumble or pause where you shouldn’t, remove the offending speech, *alert off* and replace it with something better.

5. Check for consistency. Make sure Mario doesn’t slip into Marie’s speech patterns and vice versa (unless, of course, the slip is a purposeful part of the story).

6. Ask your beta readers and critiquers. If they aren’t familiar with the particular accents or slang in your manuscript, they might not let you know. So asking for specific feedback is a good way to quadruple-check your dialogue during final revisions.

Bonus- this method can also apply to casual non-fiction, as an identifying trademark and reflection of the author’s writing style. Simply skip steps 2 – 6, and magnify step 1.

Listen to your own speech, and to the speech of people around you- at home, at work, at the market, on the street. What makes somebody’s speech more interesting than another’s? Can you translate this into your own writing? Practice listening to the nuances of speech and you’ll find these nuances creeping (in a good way) into your dialogue writing.

Cocoa Truffles Recipe

If you’ve put off making your Halloween candy run, check out my list of vegan supermarket candy and cookies (and prepare yourself for the coming zombie invasion while you’re at it). But if you’re already sick of the junky sweet stuff, but still want to indulge in something yummy for Halloween, try these Chocolate Salty Balls* Cocoa Truffles. They’re chocolatey, but not overly sweet. Plus they’re easy to make and super-duper nutritious!

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Vegan, No-Bake Cocoa Truffles 

1/2 cup chopped Almonds

one 15-oz can Black Beans, drained

2/3 cup canned mashed Pumpkin

1/3 cup chopped Cranberries

1/2 cup toasted Wheat Germ

1/4 cup ground Flaxseed

1/2 cup unsweetened Cocoa powder

8 – 12 packets Stevia-blend powder packets (8 for less sweet, 12 for more sweet)

2 tsp Vanilla extract

*optional- pinch of Sea Salt

Mix all ingredients, except almonds, by hand or in a food processor (Mixture will be too thick for a regular blender.) Blend until uniform. Roll into balls. Roll balls in almonds. Chill. Store in refrigerator up to 3 days, or in freezer up to 1 month.

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While you’re chilling your balls, check out my entry in my “Crypt Dwellers” flash fiction challenge– if you dare (inspired by a true story)!

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Halloween / Zombie Survival Guide

photo by David Shankbone

If you’re reading this, congratulations, you survived the REAL, FINAL APOCALYPSE as predicted by Harold Camping. (Turns out Camping isn’t much of a math person.) Now you probably think you can enjoy Halloween without the nagging worry of undead, unraptured zombies stalking and infecting you. (As for me- I knew I would survive the non-apocalypse, because I’m already one of the undead.) But before you get too comfortable, I gotta tell you zombies are real . .

For any late-comers to my blog, take a gander at my 3-part story: I got the zombie spores in me.  Then the zombie spores turned me into a zombie. Did you know zombies can re-generate limbs? Yep. Lucky for me, or I wouldn’t be typing this now. And those already familiar with the above trilogy would do well to re-familiarize yourselves, because . .

If you still think my tales are safely in the sci-fi section . .

Think again.

And with all the catastrophic climate change, nuclear radiation, pesticides, and herbicides causing mutations in the already genetically engineered spores accidentally / on purposely released into the open fields, human zombie spores are just around the corner.

STILL don’t believe me? Then believe the USA government’s official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s real. All we can do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable zombie apocalypse and the resulting mob cruelty and mass disrespect.

And console ourselves with candy.

To stock up on good karma, here’s a list of the most cow-kind, most chicken-respectful (vegan)* cookies and candy** on the USA market, alphabetized by brand:

A

Airheads Taffy

Anna’s Almond Cinnamon Thins

Anna’s Ginger Thins

B

Back to Nature California Lemon Cookies

Back to Nature Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Big League Chew Gum

Brach’s Cinnamon Hard Candy

Brach’s Orange Slices

Brach’s Root Beer Barrels

Brach’s Star Brites

Bremner Wafers

C

Charms lollipops

Chew-ets Peanut Chews (Original)

Chick-o-Sticks

Chocolove Cherries and Almonds Dark Chocolate Bar

Chocolove Crystallized Ginger Dark Chocolate Bar

Chocolove Orange Peel Dark Chocolate Bar

Chocolove Raspberry Dark Chocolate bar

Chocolove Dark Chocolate bar

Cracker Jacks

Cry Babies

D

Dem Bones

Dots

Dum Dums

E

Entenmann’s Fudge Delights Fudge & Mint Cookies

Everest Gum

F

Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies (Chocolate)

Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies (Oatmeal Macaroon)

Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies (Peanut Butter)

Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies (Vanilla)

Ferrara Wafer Swirls With Chocolate

Fireballs

Food Lion Animal Cookies

Food Lion Ginger Snaps

Food Lion Oatmeal Cookies

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Assorted)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Chocolate Creme)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Chocolate Fudge)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Double Creme-O’s)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Duplex)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Mini Chocolate & Vanilla Cremes)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Peanut Butter)

Food Lion Sandwich Cookies (Vanilla)

Food Lion Sugar Cookies

Fruit By the Foot

G

Ghirardelli Twilight Delight Intense Dark

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Mix

Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews (Original)

Grandma’s Peanut Butter Sandwich Cremes

H

Hubba Bubba Bubblegum

Hubba Bubba Gum

Hunt’s Snack Pack Gel Snacks

J

Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)

Jujubees

Jujyfruits

K

Keebler Vienna Fingers

Kool-Aid Gels

Kozy Shack Jammin’ Gels

L

Lance Choc-O Cookies

Lance Peanut Bar

Lance Sugar Wafers (Strawberry Creme)

Lance Sugar Wafers (Vanilla Creme)

Lance Van-O Lunch Cookies

Landgarten Pumpkin Seed Snack – Dark Chocolate

Lemonheads

M

Mamba

Mary Janes (Regular and Peanut Butter Kisses)

Mike and Ike

Mrs. Freshley’s Oatmeal Crème-filled Cookies

Murray Butter Cookies

Murray Cinnamon Grahams

Murray Coconut Bars

Murray Southern Kitchen Iced Oatmeal Cookies

N

Nabisco Double Delight Mint’n Creme Oreos

Nabisco Ginger Snaps

Nabisco Halloween Oreos

Nabisco Iced Oatmeal Cookies

Nabisco Nutter Butter Sandwich Cookies

Nabisco Oatmeal Cookies

Nabisco Oreo Chocolate Ice Cream Cones

Nabisco Oreo Cookies

Nabisco Oreo Thin Crisps

Nabisco Spiced Cinnamon Cookies

Nabisco Teddy Grahams (Chocolate and Cinnamon)

Nabisco Uh-oh Oreos, Spring Oreos, Chocolate Creme Oreos

Nature’s Path Deep Chocolate Cookies

Nature’s Path Ginger Spice Cookies

Nature’s Path Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Nestle Double Chocolate Thin Mints

Now and Later

Nutter Butter Bites

P

Panda Licorice

Pure De-Lite Coconut Bars

S

Safeway Fudge Mint Fudge Covered Mint Cookies

Skittles’ Mints

Smarties (U.S. version only)

SunSpire Organic Dark Chocolate Almonds

Sour Patch Kids

Super Bubble

Swedish Fish

SweeTarts (regular)

T

Twizzlers

V

VeganSweets marshmallows

Velamints Mints

W

Whole Foods Organic Chocolate Truffles

Z

Zotz

*List complied from PETA and PETAKIDS.

**May contain trace amount of animal-sourced ingredients.

Hopefully I’ve provided you with the resources and information you need to make it through Halloween alive . . or at least undead, thanks to a sugar OD . .

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And here’s a creepy, campy, rockabilly bonus video for those who skimmed through to the bitter . . or rather, sugary end.

Have a Happy Halloween (while you can)!