In Good Time – Friday Fictioneers

Hey, there’s nothing like a Friday Fictioneers on a Sunday. Am I right? I hope to get back into some kind of rhythm soon.

I’ll admit the election has been an unwelcome distraction. If only we could hold words in our hands and inspect them, see if they’re real or true.

Thanks to Rochelle for hosting and leading this wonderful group of writers. And thanks to Jean L. Hays for the photo prompt.

jean-l-hays
PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

(103 words)

In Good Time

The promise of placards lined the highway like Post-it Notes. Almonds, walnuts, and peaches. Fresh! Right off the tree!

“Let’s just stop. I want some nuts,” said Cindy. “They’re better than soda.”

“They’re nothing like soda,” said Jack, grunting as he pulled into a dirt parking lot of a bustling storefront. “They’ll be filled with dirt and how do you know they weren’t pissed on?”

She held a bag of walnuts, fresh and gleaming in their package. Their shapes solid as gold nuggets.

They were silent a few miles before he asked, “Well, are you gonna open those or what?” 

“In good time.”

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

For more stories for this prompt, click here.

Thanksgiving Quandries

For this year’s Thanksgiving meal, I will responsible for cooking. This also includes planning. We all know that the secret to a successful Thanksgiving meal with numerous side dishes delivered to the table piping hot all at once is….more than one oven! Correct? But unless you live in a hotel or you’re just lucky, you’re like me and most likely have just the one oven.

So, in my mental preparations, I’ve determined what I need is one less side dish that requires cooking in an oven. In a quick Google search, I discovered the Pinch of Yum blog and this dish:

bacon-and-brussels-sprout-salad-1
Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad. Image Source: Pinch of Yum

Doesn’t this look fabulous? The perks: it’s cold and crunchy so no oven is necessary, and it has bacon! Double win.

After discovering Lindsay’s recipes over at Pinch of Yum, I wondered if I, too, could be a food blogger. I’m sure I don’t have what it takes. Seriously though, I could just look at Pinch of Yum’s photos all day long. Everything looks just yummy!

I decided I want to make this recipe in place of the green bean casserole that everyone pretends to like. I’ve tried for years to consume the green bean casserole, placing mere spoonfuls on my plate and leaving them for the last possible moment at which point they were simply too cold to swallow. I have now solved my problem. It’s called Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad.

If you make this salad, however, don’t be tempted to buy those chopped bags of Brussels sprouts you see at Trader Joe’s, because they are not, I repeat are NOT, the delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts you see in the photo above. And believe me, I’m tempted by the pre-chopped bags. How much of difference is there between chopped and shaved Brussels sprouts? Apparently, a lot. It’s all about the texture, darling, and texture is everything. It always is.

So, how does one accomplish these fine, delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts? I’m so glad you asked. You use a nifty, little cooking tool called a mandoline, which is also capable of crinkle-cuts and playing music if you strum it just so. Kidding okay. Please don’t try that at home.  I understand it’s sharp and possibly a good idea to wear gloves while using the mandoline, so now it seems this recipe has become a bit pricey and dangerous.

Be careful out there. Aside from my this splendid recipe, a tremendous storm is in the forecast in the Sierra Mountains, possibly preventing half our expected party from attending Thanksgiving dinner. While we couldn’t be happier that snow is in the forecast (go snowpack!), it’s coming all at the wrong time. I guess I can’t expect the weather to follow the holiday schedule. Personally, I think the weather knows exactly what it’s doing.

Will I make the Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad? Will my family make it over the snowy mountain? I just don’t know.

In the meantime, do you happen to have a mandoline I can borrow? Do you eat the green bean casserole? What’s your favorite vegetable side dish?

Wishing you a safe, warm and Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating the holiday. And if you’re not, I still hope you’re happy, safe and warm!

Aside

It’s time for Friday Fictioneers, the challenge to write a 100-word story based on a photo prompt.

Thanks to our most dedicated leader and host Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, and to Marie Gail Stratford for this week’s photo.  All are welcome to participate. If you’re interested, head over to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple blog for instructions.

My contribution follows:

silo-has-come
PROMPT -© Marie Gail Stratford

(100 words)

Gentle Giant

“Another 116 miles. Mom, I can’t hold it,” Isabella said.

“I gotta go, too.” said younger brother, Gil.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” I asked.

“There,” Gil shouted. “It can cover us.”

A solo silo stood like a gentle giant in the prairie grass. Ten minutes passed and her two children emerged from the silo with smiles that remained on their faces as they napped into the night.

Hours later, two shapes outlined in green neon appeared in her rear view mirror.”Mom, when are we stopping?”

“You’re glowing,” I said, my voice shaking.

“Thanks, mom. Can we get a milkshake?”

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

Click here for more stories from the Fictioneers.

Gentle Giant – Friday Fictioneers

“E” is for Effortless

Last week, I was Effortless in Twitter. I checked out this tool called the Social Effort Scale that measures your effort in social media; they can measure your profile in Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I had achieved a score of 150 in Twitter, which is a score of Effortless. Go me! This week, I stumbled. Here’s my latest score:

But my Effortless marks are still high! I scored bonus points for sharing Neil Gaiman's tweet.
But my Effortless marks are still high! I scored bonus points for sharing Neil Gaiman’s tweet. Ignore Facebook.

Your score is based on the following:

  • Number of hashtags
  • Percentage of capital letters
  • Amount of emoticons
  • Exclamation marks
  • Punctuation

The resulting score gives you an overall view of how hard or how little you’re trying on social media, plus individual scores for each of your updates. Here’s some advice for an Effortless score: Don’t ever mention yourself (even in a link), keep exclamation marks and hashtags to a minimum, and don’t use capital letters. I repeat, do NOT use capital letters. And, if you retweet someone with lots of capitals, down you go. Or, in this case, up.

Trust me, I don’t take this too seriously, but I’ll admit I got excited when I got the “Effortless” score. Typically, I know I try “too hard.” A visit to a tarot card reader came to mind. It was many moons ago, and a friend suggested it after we walked past the tarot card reader’s window. After turning over the first tarot card, she took hold of my hands, and simply said, “You try too hard.” Maybe it was because I had PMS or that I was planning a wedding on little money, but I broke down and cried. I knew she was right, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I really don’t know what I was expecting. A “How-to Guide” to life? Rainbows? I just didn’t like what she was serving.

My wedding plans had gone haywire; no one was performing their role as I saw fit, asking the wrong questions because they weren’t about me. They didn’t worry about the same things that I did, and believe me I worried; I wrestled with each decision until I could bear the weight of it no longer and released it to fate, a sort of passive-aggressive approach to decision-making. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time I second-guessed my decisions, or lack of decisions, anyway. Oh, how agonizing I was.

Little did I know at the time that I was marrying “The River.” It’s taken me a long time to embrace my husband’s “Que Sera Sera” approach to life. Now perk up. Here’s when my post will take a decidedly more cheerful turn. Enter “The River.”

I thought a visual might help. Feel the flow of the river...
I thought a visual might help. Feel the flow…

Let me tell you a more recent story of my husband’s ability to be “The River.” My husband registered for a conference for Union Educators in Los Angeles, one that required travel and hotel arrangements. He signed up at the last minute, and when he received an itinerary, he simply made a mental note of his travel date and that he would leave for the airport right after work. He never knew the time of the flight, his airline, or the name of his hotel. All that he knew was that he needed to arrive at the airport, which he did, ticketless, of course. Luckily he remembered his I.D., and the airline figured out the rest.

He had hoped he might see a colleague on the plane he knew; he saw no one. So, there he is up in the sky on his way to his conference, having no idea whatsoever where he would go once the plane landed, besides getting his luggage at the carousel. (It’s important to not get too ahead of yourself when you are The River. One step at a time.) At the carousel, who does he see, but the Union President. Oh, what luck! The President ushers him into a shuttle; it’s doubtful my husband expressed any confusion about their next destination. It was now in the hands of the Union President; what better person to run into? Did I mention that the Union President’s flight was delayed, so that it was a complete fluke that my husband should run into him at all? Double luck.

And it continues….

The hotel overbooked the “packaged deal” assigned for his group. Not to worry. There’s an available room in the penthouse. And guess what? My husband is bumped up to the penthouse with a slick view of the city and a balcony! Here, room service delivered free breakfast each and every morning; no phones calls necessary. Unbelievable!

I laugh at this, but then I also think it probably would not have happened this way if I were with him on this trip. I would have stressed, and consequently, caused him stress. We probably never would have ended up in the penthouse.

You have to ask yourself how willing you are to embrace the flow of the river, to indulge in oblivious forgetfulness, to just be in the moment…to be effortless.

Of course, by asking, you defeat the whole purpose of being The River altogether. It’s really a life philosophy and one that is not easily mastered.

I sense that a bigger part of it is letting go of self-absorption and being aware of others first. By letting go, the world around you is invited into your life, and just maybe they will set it on a smoother course. If you’ve broken all your New Year resolutions already, you might try the effortless route. You may be better off. You may even end up in the penthouse.

What about you? What end of the spectrum do you fall…The River or on the side of worry and indecision?

photo credit: Jezz via photopin cc

A Christmas Journey: Ghost of the Past

Just because you reserve a U-Haul doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. In fact, to U-Haul it means diddly. Even if you explain that you’re moving 1,000 miles across three states in the middle of winter. They shrugged. So much for planning.

The year was 2,001, two days before Christmas, Mr. Bumble and I arrived at the U-Haul center in Colorado, heading to our new home in Reno, Nevada. We combined our holiday visit with a big move. We were going to be there anyway, so decided to visit and move all at once. I don’t recommend this, by the way. I confirmed our reservation for a small, ten-foot truck. My confirmation apparently drove off the property. Apparently, moving is a popular pastime two days before Christmas.

Our only other option was the only truck left, just the one. It was their 26-foot Jumbo Hauler, big enough to move four plus bedrooms. Considering we also needed to attach our pick-up truck and haul it too, well, it then became a monster, at least 40 feet in length.

L'Enfant
L’Enfant

vs.

The Mother Lode, but even longer than this
The Mother Lode, with our U-Haul truck even longer

DAY ONE – Two days before Christmas

We got off to a late start, hassling with the truck trailer. I had our two cats in my car to keep me company. Mr. Bumble was a bit nervous, I could tell, but didn’t let on to anyone else. We had already moved cross-country twice. This was nothing. We prepared ourselves with walkie-talkies. It would be an adventure.

I drove behind my husband. On our walkie-talkies we conversed:

Me:   Trying to lose me?

Him:  Says I’m going only 40.

Me:  Uh…try 80. 

Right. The speedometer was broken. It’s bad enough when you’re in a different car and it feels foreign. In this colossus, my husband’s whole equilibrium was screwy and out of whack. The truck swerved and whipped around like nobody’s business.

I tried to assure him. “It’s only another 800 miles.” Okay, that wasn’t quite the right thing to say.

If only we would have consulted our handy U-Haul manual, we would have been reassured with tips like this one.

Handy U-Haul Manual Tip #1:

A “disturbance” is improper handling, oversteering or other deviation of the truck from its intended path, due to one or more causes (improper loading, steering inputs, excessive speed, crosswinds, passing vehicles, rough roads, tire blowout, trailer sway or whipping, etc.).

Does a broken speedometer qualify as a disturbance, U-Haul?

A broken speedometer provides you with the unwanted side effect of existing in an alternate reality, one you do not want. Things are not what they seem, and the experience of not knowing, yeah, that’s a disturbance all right. Thank you, U-Haul.

The driving experience intensified when the roads turned to black ice and the snow fell, ever so delicate at first. I got an occasional meow from my cat sitting on my lap. My husband gripped his steering wheel for dear life. He didn’t know up from down, or left from right, wrestling with the truck monster, swerving like a maniacal serpent through treacherous mountain roads. When we did stop off the road, he looked increasingly clammy and startled, dizzy from hyperventilating.

If only we consulted our manual, we would have known this tip.

Handy U-Haul Manual #2:

AVOID crashes by slowing down. Reduce your speed from what you would normally drive your car under similar road conditions. Drive defensively – anticipate stops, brake early and never follow closely.

Duh. Sure, this is good advice if you have brakes. It became obvious that the brakes were not at full strength. No brakes, no slowing, no stopping. Just panicking and sweating, profuse sweating.

We stopped somewhere in Wyoming for the night. While I was in the lobby checking into our motel, my Bumble husband flew through the parking lot toward the lobby entrance, and ripped off the overhang. The overhang lay littered in pieces all over the parking lot, while my husband was nowhere. He blasted through like a tornado.

If only this tip would have been relevant.

Handy U-Haul Manual #3:  

U-Haul trucks are taller than passenger cars. If you don’t know the overhead clearance, get out of the truck and make certain that you are clear of any obstruction. Do not guess.

I stared at the hotel clerk, “Did he just rip that thing off?”

Then, in a most southern accent, “Yes. I do believe he did.”

Oh, man. I shuffled off calmly, without another word. Maybe they would think it was the wind.

DAY TWO – Christmas Eve

The snow fall picked up, followed by more black ice, counter-steering, and wrestling with the truck beast. I had moments when I considered abandoning ship altogether. We don’t need that junk we’re hauling, I’d tell myself. We can probably pick that stuff up at flea market. We could get our photos and our precious belongings, and save ourselves.

No late trucks
But then, thought of our warning, and our late fee…

When we reached Nevada it was dark, with at least a couple of feet of snow on the ground. We were starving and stopped at a casino for a Christmas Eve breakfast; pancakes, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy. It was fabulous. Nothing ever tasted so good.

We began to relax when just half-way through our meal, we heard sirens and perceived what looked to be flashes of blue and red. Merry Christmas. We knew. We made our way outside and saw at least two cops cars and people gesturing wildly, yelling and cursing.

Handy U-Haul Manual #4:

Always set the parking brake when parking. Move the shift selector firmly into park and then firmly set the parking brake.

This tip also did not apply. My husband parked the truck on a very slight, ever so slight, hill. I know what you’re thinking. He attempted to park away from all the other cars, plus as you can imagine, there was nowhere to park this thing. While we ate our delicious meal in the casino, cars had parked it front of the truck. The parking brake, yes, it was engaged, gave in, and the truck nose-dived into a pack of cars. Like dominoes they toppled with at least seven cars smashing into one another. Quite simply, we had ruined their Christmas.

The next day, we made it to our destination and spent Christmas with our family. All’s well that ends well, yes?

Epilogue

Months later, my brother-in-law, lawyer extraordinaire, settled the case against U-Haul out of court. With our police report identifying the truck’s faulty brakes, we were not held liable. If you’re reading this and your car was totaled that night, I’m really sorry.

The brakes were deemed life-threatening. We’re actually quite lucky we didn’t crash or drive off a cliff.

After our saga, whenever we saw a U-Haul truck on the road or passed by a U-Haul center, we yelled, “Fuck you, U-Haul.” It made us feel better. As time passed, when we encountered U-Haul we simply flipped them off. Now it’s more of a second-nature, knee-jerk reaction. Oh, did I just give U-Haul the finger? Oh, I guess I did. Well, how about that? U-Haul haunts me to this day.

Are you surprised I found this picture? I'm not.
Are you surprised I found this picture? I’m not.

If you are thinking about moving over the winter, I have one word of advice: Don’t. Just wait until spring. There’s a reason animals hibernate during the winter.

And, Merry Christmas! I wish you a wonderful holiday. If you are traveling, please travel safe.

photo credits all via photopin cc: Genista; wrenoud; smenzelRob Blatt ; as_much

Reference: U-Haul Instruction Manual

The Great Reno Balloon Race

Here are a few photos from the Great Reno Balloon Race held about a month ago. I had started this post then, but my computer malfunctioned. But, it’s never to late to show some cool photos. I had so many to sort through. I hope you enjoy them.

The Great Reno Balloon Race starts early if you want to catch the Glow Show and the Dawn Patrol. I think it’s worth it, but it did require my family to rise well before the crack of dawn at approximately 4:30 am. Yes, that part was painful. It was actually a miracle that were able to do it. Even more of a miracle that I didn’t have a cup of coffee until about 6:30 am. Oh, but it was worth it.

DAWN PATROL

Balloons twinkled like stars, choreographed to music. It was quite a spectacle and the crowd was awestruck (and probably half asleep).

Yes, it’s very dark! There are seven balloons in “Dawn Patrol.”
These balloons are qualified to fly in the dark. Atmospheric conditions will change as the sun rises.
The sun is on its way.

MASS ASCENSION

The moment we had all been waiting for had arrived. Once they are swelling with hot air, it doesn’t take long for the balloons to begin their ascent.  There were 87 balloons that participated with at least twelve of them in special shapes, including a Pepsi Can, Darth Vader, Tweety Bird, Shark, and a Wells Fargo Wagon. All balloons were sponsored this year. I understand it’s quite costly to own on of these balloons, estimated at least $50,000, and this does include the cost of racing them. I envisioned them all lifting off at once. But it didn’t quite happen like that. They mostly lifted in spurts in small groupings.

When Darth Vader ascended, they played the Star Wars theme.

THE RACE BEGINS

It is a race, although you’d never know it. They seemed to float rather aimlessly. The balloons attempt to hit some mysterious “X” post in the sky. I never saw them anywhere. Participants throw bean bags (or something) at a target with their insignia to prove, indeed, they were there.

Not all balloons finish the race. This one landed in the parking lot.

Here’s a nice view of Reno on our walk back to our car. Shark and Tweety Bird never made it off the ground. Poor Tweety never even filled up.

The kids probably had the most fun playing with their cousins and running through the open fields.

Of course, spotting a snake on our walk back was pretty hard to beat, too.

I’m sure one day my kids will ask me, “Remember that time we saw the balloons?” Yes, I remember. It was a beautiful day. If you ever get a chance to go to a balloon race, I highly recommend it.

Road Stop – Part 4 (Conclusion)

Inspired by true events. An account of four weary travelers on their journey from Southern to Northern California up the I-5 corridor and their stop at a diner somewhere along the Grapevine. 


All the soda in the world wasn’t enough to wash the french fry grease out of my mouth. Alex evidently felt the same way.

“I’m going to check out that gift shop,” he said, rising from the table.

“Finished?” I asked. He had only eaten half of his hamburger.

“Yeah.” I wanted to join him.

My mother read my mind. “Maybe we should all leave,” she pleaded. “Let’s get the hell out of here. We can pick up food in a drive thru. Get back on the road.”

“You want to?” I said, eyeing my mother.

As soon as we rose to our feet, the wait staff was pushing their way toward us. Jessica, Paul, and the old woman, all carried a plate for our table.

“Here you are, ” Jessica gently set the plate down before my mother, “Chicken, no onions.” A then a nod from Paul. Now to my sister, “Pizza with tomato sauce, no garlic. And for you, ham and cheese, no mayonnaise.” A nod now in unison from our delightful wait staff.

“Enjoy,” Paul said, in groveling, muted voice. He lives, I thought.

Looking down on my sandwich, I see an indentation in the shape of a fingernail. “I can’t do this.” I imagined my sandwich dissected and manhandled, the white cheese swapped out for yellow, still coated with some thick, white glue sauce. “I don’t want this.”

“Excuse me?” Jessica says, tilting her head.

“I don’t want this,” I whispered to myself. “How hard is it, for Christ’s sake?”

“What honey? I can’t hear you.”

Maybe it was her feigned, childlike innocence, but I wanted to blame her. I wanted to break her.

I lashed out at her, “How hard is it to make a sandwich? You have enough time to do your little dance. Can’t you make a simple sandwich? Is it really that hard? How hard is it?”

Anger engulfed me and I seized the plate and dropped it, smashing it into a thousand tiny shards. The sandwich lay on its side, unwanted and speckled with dirt. All eyes in the diner fixed on me in stony silence.

Jessica gasped, cocked her head. She was tugging at her hair, smiling slightly. She couldn’t hide that from me. With calculated force, I swept my arm across the table, sending the I.Q. game and its contents crashing to the floor. Yellow pegs rolled in every direction.

Trying to regain her composure, Jessica spatted, “Was that really necessary?”

Several employees flooded the area, scurrying on their knees trying to undo the damage.

I heard a thin wail from across the diner. Recognizing Alex’s voice, I rushed over to the gift shop with my family trailing behind.

Various trinkets and souvenirs  lay strewn across the concrete floor. Magnets, hats, glass figurines, bumper stickers, snow globes, stuffed animals, picture frames, all touting a different location and theme. A few were labeled with the Road House, but there was also the Cliff House, Lake Forest Cafe, and Rosie’s Steakhouse.

Alex stared wide-eyed out the window, his body tense and shaking. “Where is it?” he yelled. “Look, look, look,” he pointed and stammered.

We stood by his side, transfixed and motionless. Staring out the window, we saw nothing but a barren wasteland. A howling wind erupted, blowing tumbleweeds, rocks, and sand. There were no cars. No fast food restaurants. No freeway. Everything, gone.

Stunned into a speechless stupor, we watched the vision in horror. Choking for breath, I could not form any words. We began to cry, tears streaming down our face.

Jessica and her crew caught up with us, and waited in the gift shop entrance. Slowly, Jessica inched her way closer to our line at the window.

She peeked over our heads and said, “Uh huh. Looks like you’re staying with us for a while.”

“What? No way. We’re out of here,” I said.

“You can leave, but you’ll be back. You won’t get very far. They never do. They always come back,” she reasoned.

“We’re stuck here forever?” Alex asked.

“Not necessarily,” the old woman piped up. “Some of us are here longer than others.”

“Sometimes people, they go back. They’re only missing you see. Your best bet is try to work really hard here. Food can be quite good. Sorry, today some of the food you got was old. Our cook was sleeping today.” Jessica was rambling now. Paul looked to her to stop.

This was just a normal turn of events for them. “Maybe with you guys on board, Jessica can start doing the cooking.”

All I wanted was to be on a freeway, full of cars.

“Here you go,” they supplied us with white and green uniforms. “Let’s show you around.”

The End

photo credit: jef safi \ ‘pictosophizing via photo pin cc