Monthly Archives: August 2012

Friday Fictioneers – In the Depths

Madison Woods’ Friday Fictioneers has an interesting photo prompt this week. The clouds look almost like waves; they remind me of one of those ambiguous pictures where you don’t know which perspective is the right one – so I wrote a story assuming that the rolling white breakers are the top of the water…

In the Depths

Everybody loves riding the waves. But you have to learn not to look down. It’s all right when the water is choppy and foamy, but sometimes things grow calm – and then you see them. The ghost cities, drowned and empty.

Children weep when they first notice the underwater towers. Parents soothe them by saying it’s only a trick of light and water on ordinary reefs. I believed that when I was little, and then my friends and I dared each other to swim down and touch the coral.

It’s not coral.

People lived down there under the water, once. How? Why? When? I don’t know. But we don’t look down any more.

Travel theme: Silhouette

This week, I’m having a difficult time with all the photography themes…but Ailsa’s travel theme, Silhouette, was so challenging I wound up cheating.

Ailsa has some lovely photos on her site of people silhouetted against an illuminated fountain. I have absolutely nothing that qualifies as a silhouette. So I selected a photo I took in Florence of a statue looming against the sky, converted it to black and white, and here we are:Cosimo di Medici, with horse. One glance at his face tells you he’s not a man to cross. I think I’m just as well pleased he stopped being involved in Florentine politics long before I visited his city.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

This time, WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge asks for pictures that say “Urban” to us. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that: they specify “photograph your city and the streets where you grew up”.

Well, I finally made it over to Philly this afternoon and took some random photos – more will be in a “Day Trip / Tourist at Home” post to come. But, well, I didn’t grow up in a city, so I’m going to start off with something else:

This is more like what I grew up seeing. Now, what does a city look like?

Philadelphia is tall buildings

and subways

and people relaxing in Rittenhouse Square on a pleasant late-summer afternoon.

100 word challenge: Fine Cuisine

Well, Julia’s back to giving us phrases, not pictures, as a starting point for our 100 word stories. Of course, clarity is important, and this week the prompt is “… being clear is essential to …

My story clearly begins with a bored student…

Fine Cuisine

“Now, the basis for everything is a good stock. First take a good knuckle of veal…” Blah, blah. “…extracting all the nuances of flavor…” Don’t care. “…a cloudy broth is useless. Being clear is essential to a good sparkling consomme…” Let me out of here.

“You!” Chef barks suddenly. “And what would you use to clarify stock?”

Oh no, he’s pointing at me. Think. The heck with thinking, just say something ridiculous and get it over with. “Crushed eggshells,” I blurt.

For once, Chef looks surprised. “Well. Yes, some chefs use them. And you must add…”

When class is over, I’m going for pizza.

Stuff. A minipost about a maxiproblem.

I have too much stuff. And one reason I have too much stuff is that I have too much stuff.

I didn’t realize this for a long, long time. What brought it to my attention a few days ago was getting an ad for a yarn sale, 30% off everything. Everything. I came thisclose to ordering some, even though I know I have way too much on hand.

Why didn’t I? Partly, yes, because I’ve been practicing the skill of stepping back and saying “Yeah, but are you really going to use that??” But I think a bigger factor was that I wanted to get yarn for a specific sweater, and I was pretty sure but not certain that I had some of what I needed. I had to check and make sure which colors to buy before placing the order.

And I couldn’t find the yarn I wanted to check on. Because I have so much stuff that there isn’t room to store the yarn in an easy-to-locate way.

A few years ago, I would have shrugged and ordered all of it. This time, I didn’t order any. That’s a step forward. But how do I get the Stuff under control? I’ve got a couple of ideas:

  • Spend ten or fifteen minutes, a few times a day, sorting through the piles of paper. (Spending hours on it won’t work; dust allergies and frustration do me in.)
  • Take an inventory of things like books and yarn, so that I can avoid buying something I already have. (Of course, that means I need a way to label things as “already inventoried”, or I’m likely to count the same skein of yarn six times.)

But I need help. Does anybody out there who’s naturally organized, or even better, anybody who’s learned the hard way how to get organized, have other suggestions, this side of “Just throw it all away right now”?

Day trips: Lost in a corn field

This past Saturday, we got lost. On purpose. We took a trip to Lancaster County, in south central Pennsylvania, to visit a corn maze.

The basic idea is simple enough. Every year, the owners design a maze illustrating a different theme – in previous years, the mazes have been illustrations of a train, the map of Pennsylvania, an Amish buggy, the Liberty Bell, a biplane, and many other topics. (This year’s theme is baseball.) Then the maze is cut into a five-acre field of corn, and visitors are turned loose to try to find their way out again.

Deciding which way to go next can be puzzling.

To give you some idea of where you are, the maze is color-coded. Plastic tape is tied along the edges of the pathways (this is also to discourage frustrated visitors from trampling through the corn). Different colors of tape are used for different parts of the design – this is the boundary between the “ballfield”, in green, and the “batter’s helmet”, in red.

When you enter the maze, you are given a map – well, not exactly a map, but the background for a map. Scattered through the maze are 15 “mailboxes” containing one section of the map.

There’s also a supply of tape to fasten the newly located section to your background sheet. The idea is to find so many map pieces that you can study the map and find your way to the exit.

This year, for the first time, there was a graded system of hints. If you wanted to settle for walking around the outer edge and leaving by the entrance, you could follow the yellow markers – I think they’re supposed to resemble ears of corn. Then there were orange signs (I forgot to take a picture of one), with hints on the back.

And for diehards, they posted “encouraging” red signs. We almost followed the advice on this one, until we took a second look and realized you can’t help doing what it says – it points you in both directions at once.

There’s a cafe in the depths of the maze, with picnic tables, snacks, and WATER.

And nearby, an escape hatch for the truly desperate.

For families with energetic children, there are various activities scattered here and there like ropes to climb and a chute to slide through.

The maze is a “working” cornfield – it will stay open as a maze until Halloween, when the cornstalks will be suitably dry and rattly and spooky, and then the corn will be harvested in early November. Meanwhile, visitors are asked to leave ears of corn – like these in the photo – alone.

Eventually, you reach the exit, where you can pick up any map pieces you didn’t find, and leave by way of a “victory bridge”.

As you can see, an overhead view of the maze wouldn’t be much help! You can just barely make out the pathways that seem generously wide when you’re walking through them.

There are stands selling food – hamburgers, hot dogs, ears of corn, and the like – and a number of other things to do, like a miniature maze for very young children made of bales of straw that come up about to their waists. And there are cute animals –



Baa, baa, black…lamb

It took us hours to escape (this year’s maze was unusually tricky – some years we’ve found our way out in only 45 minutes). And we’ll do it again next summer.

Jakesprinter – From a Distance

Jakesprinter has another weekly challenge for us – a “long shot” or “distance shot”. He remarks that these shots are “often used to show scenes of thrilling action in a war film or disaster movie.” My picture is peaceful in the extreme, but about 150 years ago the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg was fought in very similar countryside.

This is a typical view of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as it looked yesterday – actually, it’s typical of rural central Pennsylvania in general, any summer.

I spent most of my childhood not very far away from Lancaster County, and this kind of scenery has had a strong effect on what I expect the world to look like – for example, roads should twist and turn up and down rolling hills. And I find it hard to take a barn seriously unless it’s at least twice the size of the associated house. (The white building with the silvery metal roof just to the right of center in this picture is a barn – the red-roofed white building, half hidden behind a tree, to the barn’s left is the house.)

More photos of Lancaster County to come soon…

Mystery and Suspense Challenge: Where’s the body?

Book Review: One Virgin Too Many
by Lindsey Davis

A keeper? Yes

If you’re a private detective (newly rich because it turns out you’re also a natural born tax auditor), what do you do when a poor little rich girl, about six years old, turns up – escorted by some of the family slaves – to announce that one of her relatives wants to kill her?

If you’re Marcus Didius Falco, and you already have enough problems making sure your own nieces – whose father, your no-good brother-in-law Famia, was recently and shamefully executed by a lion – are being taken care of, you just might pat her on the head and send her home. And then worry about it for days afterwards.

Not that little Gaia Laelia is Falco’s only worry. There’s his brother-in-law, Aelianus the twit, who has decided to become respectable by joining the priesthood of the Arval Brethren – and promptly stumbles over a body. Except when Aelianus takes Falco to investigate, there’s no body anywhere to be found. On the other hand, there seems to be an awful lot of blood-soaked grass…

And then there are the geese. Now that Falco has money, Emperor Vespasian has finally promoted him to the equestrian class, and given him an official job: Procurator of the Poultry, responsible for the sacred geese and the augurs’ chickens. There are probably more embarrassing responsibilities for a Roman citizen to be saddled with – but not many, and none noisier.

But what about Gaia? Could she really be in danger? Falco’s eight-year-old niece Cloelia has met her; they’re both among the candidates to be chosen as the newest Vestal Virgin. And Cloelia seems to think there was something wrong about Gaia’s family. It’s almost impossible to investigate, though. Gaia’s grandfather is the retired Flamen Dialis, former high priest of Jupiter, who doesn’t quite seem to realize that he’s retired; he expects total deference from everyone.

And getting back to Aelianus, it’s pretty hard to investigate a missing corpse, but Falco manages to dig up evidence that there really was a murder. More than a murder: it almost sounds as if a woman invaded the grounds of the Arval Brethren and killed the victim as if he was a bull intended for sacrifice. And, oh yes: Gaia seems to be missing.

Falco being Falco, he eventually proves that there’s one killer at fault in all the strangeness. He even locates little Gaia, still alive. Of course, Falco being Falco, his heroic rescue leaves him head down in the depths of a well with his tunic over his face, clutching the terrified child while being hauled up bare-bottomed to the snickers of his best friends…

100 Word Challenge: Happy birthday

This week, Julia has challenged us to produce something in honor of her son’s 36th birthday. To make it easier not easy at all, she’s provided a photo prompt:

At first I thought of trying to write some verse – always popular in the world of birthday cards. Sadly, I realized that my doggerel would be a dreadful insult to the lovely lady in the prompt, so I retreated to the very finest advice-book prose:

Happy Birthday to You

Now that you’re all grown up…

It’s time to learn how to dress in a tasteful and mature way.

  • Your hair should always be well groomed.
  • Cats-eye glasses frames are a timeless classic look, and especially stunning if you choose a color that complements your own fur.
  • Always accessorize carefully, not too much or too little. A simple choker will put the final touch on your image, without the stuffiness of an “old-school” tie.
  • Last, but by no means least, just a hint of tongue adds that je ne sais chat that will make you the envy of everyone you meet!

* * *

….evilly cackling back at Julia….

Friday Fictioneers: Fog

I’m early on Friday Fictioneers for a change, partly because I’m having so much trouble with the 100 Word Challenge for Grownups this time. Anyhow, Madison Woods has given us a photo prompt that’s not completely clear, but I found it evocative. (Actually, my story is well over the 100 word Fictioneers limit. But since I’ve already taken away a quarter of what the narrator originally had to say, it seems cruel to cut out any more.)


I remember. I used to see everything so clear as far as the horizon, and I knew what was past the horizon, too. Then all the things out of sight just faded and fuzzed up and one day I knew they wouldn’t be there if I went looking for them.

But everything from here all the way to that third hilltop where the trees are was still sharp and bright and real. At first just a patch here and a patch there got lost, kind of like holes worn through an old dishtowel. Then the towel frayed worse and faded, and now I can barely make out the far line of trees.

The trees close up are still solid, though. I bet I could lean on them and they’d take my weight. I wonder how long that will last.

I’m scared.