Tag Archives: Blogging A to Z Challenge

Reflections on the A-to-Z Challenge

I’m not exactly sure when or where I stumbled upon the A to Z Challenge, but I had intended since early January to participate in the 3rd annual challenge during the month of April. It seemed like an easy way to get a little blogging mojo going as well as an opportunity to find other bloggers. Also, it seemed in keeping with my monthly “projects” that I’ve been doing this year (Jan – photo a day, Feb – Good’s Good Citizenship, March – Art Every Day).

Initially I thought that it would be pretty simple to do. I’ve been posting daily since last fall; it has become a habit to seat myself in front of my laptop and come up with something to post. Knowing that I would do something beginning with a certain letter seemed to be a built-in, easy starter. But that wasn’t the case. “A” was easy; I always post a quote on Sundays and since there was only one Sunday in the challenge, I wasn’t going to change that routine. Finding a quote that had something to do with the letter ‘A’, as well as accompanying photographs, was fun and it didn’t take much time. The next day ‘B’ was a bit more challenging but I quickly realized that I had several photographs that were of objects that began with the letter B: birds, beaches, bugs, blossoms. However, I knew that I didn’t want to continue with photos of items beginning with the same letter of the alphabet. Cars and coins? What do they have in common? Nothing except the same initial sound, the letter we use to represent that sound, and that some people — but not me — collect them. Besides, I wanted to write about cameras.

And so it went for the next few days. I easily thought of items that I could write about. But, as I progressed through the challenge, the difficulty I faced was an unexpected one: it wasn’t that I couldn’t think of something to write about; rather, it was that I had myriad choices. Focusing on one topic is a challenge all writers face at times. At times recently I had felt that I had become a bit of a lazy blogger, opting to post photographs rather than write at length because of time constraints. But the real constraint was finding a topic and composing a cogent post. The easy way out, at times, was to grab a photo from my archives and post it. Following the challenge forced me to get back into writing posts, to developing an idea and crafting sentences about it. And you know what? It was a lot of fun.

I consider myself a responsible person, but I am not a disciplined person. If I have an obligation to do something, I will do it. But, if I set up a goal for myself, I’m not as likely to follow through. Write every day? How many times have I made that pie-in-the-sky promise? Participating in a group challenge, though, helped me make a commitment to do it. It was only 26 days, after all. There were some days where I still only posted a photograph — sometimes truly because of time constraints — but mostly I thought at length about what I would develop for my letter of the day post. In the end, challenges like this are about writing prompts; with the sketchiest of prompts, this challenge gives you lots of options. I know that there were writers that had a theme that they followed. Some of those blogs were very interesting to follow during the month. I think that in many cases, such themes make the project more difficult, but at the same time allows the blogger to examine thoroughly her subject matter.

I follow lots of blogs, but I don’t read every one every time they post. Often, I will visit a blog and catchup on 4 or 5 posts. I make an effort to visit every blogger who comments or “likes” a post when they link back to their blogs. (Why don’t people have their gravitars linked to their websites? What lost opportunities!) If I click on a link and I like what I see, I add the blogger to my follow list. At this point, there are a few bloggers that I wasn’t following a month ago, but I no longer think of them as A-to-Z participants; they’re just bloggers who I like to visit. I would have liked to visited more of the participants, but there were just too many. It was fun, though, to randomly click on a blog in the participants list, and view the next five blogs. I intend to revisit the list, as well as the link list to the reflections, to meet other bloggers over the next several months. Some of them may not hold any interest to me. Some may only get a few seconds of eyeball time and I may end up missing out on a really great blogger. But, I know that I will continue to meet and follow interesting people out there in the blogosphere, especially if they are interested in photography, reading, writing, and wondering about life.

Thanks to all who found my blog through the A to Z Challenge. I’ve acquired several new followers recently and I’m flattered every time someone decides that they want to know what I’m up to here at Four Deer Oak. I hope that you find something of interest here and continue to drop by from time to time. You can find links to each of my A to Z posts here. You can find other participants reflections here.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge.  Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. To find other A to Z Reflections posts, click here. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Zippity-Do-Dah! It’s zee end. (I’ve always been a nerd.)

Zippity-do-dah! I made it through the A to Z Challenge. But ‘Z’? Like the other less commonly used letters in the alphabet, Z isn’t an easy prompt.

What do Bettle, Ky, Wink, TX, Searchlight, NV, Santa Claus, IN, Sandwich, NH, Iceberg, PA, Sunflower, KS, Money, MS, and Toast, NC all have in common? They were on my favorite thermos and lunch box set from the mid-1960’s. I think I had this in 3rd grade.

The Postal Museum has lots of information on the Mr. Zip campaign launched to help promote the use of Zip Codes when they were instituted in 1963. Although he began his life in an ad for Chase Manhattan Bank, and was later acquired by AT&T, Mr. Zip became the face of Zip Codes and the US Postal Service for many years.

Did you know that ZIP is an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan?

Or that Ethel Merman did a PSA to promote the use of ZIP?

Or that some conspiracy theorists thought that Zip Codes were a communist plot?

Who knew that the term “Snail Mail” had been used before email?

I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember the Mr. Zip lunch box. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, especially the red flag that you could raise and lower on the side of the box. One could buy this without a thermos today on eBay for $9.99; a new one in mint condition with the thermos, for $99.99.

Maybe I should have held on to that piece of memorabilia? Nah…but the memories are fun!

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is Z. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Mellow Yellow

Y is for Yellow. No! I said I wasn’t going to do that. But look, here it is!

A photo taken a few weeks ago: a yellow flower and a yellow bee:

Bee, dandelion

Yellow Bee, Yellow Flower, Under the Yellow Sun

I thought about taking pictures of a yellow flower — a volunteer that shows up near the pond each year. There was a bloom on it two days ago. I thought it would be pretty after the rain. The rain, apparently, was too strong for this hardy garden visitor, knocking off its petals. There are several more buds, so there will be more flowers another day.

flower, yellow,

Green leaves on rock, with yellow petal and raindrops

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is Y. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Shadowy X’s & O’s

X!  I knew from the beginning of this A – Z challenge that ‘X’ would be a tricky one!

A few things:
1) Samuel Johnson included no words in his dictionary beginning with ‘X’. He believed that there were no words in English that began with the letter ‘X’.

2) I thought about writing about the only word I know of in Words With Friends that begins with ‘X’. But what could I say about ‘Xi’, other than it’s the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet and is best played on a triple letter or triple word space?

3) I have an ‘x’ in my last name.  (It’s French.) I hated it when I was in 2nd grade and learning cursive. We were not allowed to write our name in cursive until we “learned” every letter in class. A boy whose last name began with “Z” and I were the last kids in the class to print our names. We were buddies for the last few days of lessons because we felt left out — and we both could tell from looking at the banner over the chalk board how to make an ‘X’ and a ‘Z’!

4) I have one moderately amusing x-ray story. This is it:
When my son was 6 he needed to have a test done that involved swallowing a very large pill with rings in it. A very expensive pill.  Then, he needed to have x-rays done daily for 6 days to track the path of the tracer rings. He had never taken a pill before and this massive horse pill was quite the introduction. We finally coaxed him to choke it down and began the daily trip to the lab.

On the evening of the second day, he came to me looking worried.  “Are pennies a bad thing to eat?”  he asked.

“I imagine that they wouldn’t taste very good and have no calories. I don’t recommend trying them”,  I replied. He started to cry.

“But I won’t die? It was a little bigger than that pill so I thought I’d see if I could do it.”  

His regular pediatrician convinced me that it wasn’t a big deal but to watch for any unusual digestive problems. After a week, we went to see the specialist who ordered the test. While we were waiting for the results from the lab — she was quite upset that she had not received them in advance — we were chit-chatting. I told her about the penny. She told me that she was often called for emergency operations to retrieve lodged pennies, so she was glad that she hadn’t seen us a few days before in the ER.  She also said that we now knew he didn’t need liquid medicines in the future. When the test results were faxed from the lab, the doctor looked at the sheet in disbelief.

They didn’t mention the rings at all, she said. But they said that the penny passed on the 4th day. Could have saved the cost of that pill!

5)   I had thought about photographs of ‘X’s, but was a bit perplexed by what I could shoot. As I was pulling up my driveway this afternoon, I noticed the shadowy patterns on the drive and porch, and a few up in the trees. There were even some O’s to go along with the X’s:

6) And, although it’s a leap, since X’s & O’s go together, these shadowy shots are my submission for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Together. Be sure to check the comments for other participants. I bet most all of them have better “together” shots than these. X’s & O’s, hugs & kisses to all. Have a great weekend.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is X. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.


Water is beautiful. I find it calming to be near water, whether it is a creek, a river, or an ocean.

Water is a necessary resource but many people around the world don’t have ready access to a clean supply of water for daily health and hygiene. Enjoy the tranquil water photos below, but be sure to learn more about the issue of water security around the globe. Check out this site, Water Day, or this one on the UN World Water Day.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is W. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.


This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is V. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

When I was in 4th and 5th year French in high school, I remember that we read lots of things about French culture. We had to write term papers on a French artist. We read several works of the existentialists. We studied architecture. But I don’t recall ever seeing a French film. As I watched Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) today — for what must be the 10th time — I wondered why we never would have seen this. Perhaps it wasn’t readily available. Perhaps, even in the late 70s when Grease had an R rating, Umbrellas, though it has no sex in it, was too risqué because the young Catherine Deneuve is pregnant and unmarried. What a lost opportunity! I’m sure that I would have worn out a few VHS tapes of this movie had I been aware of it and had it been available.

But, Umbrellas was almost lost to the world because of serious fading on the original prints. Jacques Demy had saved a copy of his masterpiece and had planned, shortly before he died, to restore the original. His widow saw that the project was completed and Umbrellas, originally released in 1964, was re-released in 1995.

A brief description of the movie may seem off-putting. It sounds sentimental, maybe even melodramatic: a young girl falls in love for the first time, her love is sent off to war in Algeria, her mother is facing bankruptcy, she finds herself pregnant, but with a potential husband her mother has selected. Especially to today’s viewer, it may seem odd, maybe inaccessible, because the entire script is sung.

But, if that would dissuade you, you will miss seeing a wonderful movie. The movie is available with English subtitles, but I think that even if you spoke no French, the subtitles would be an extra. It is clear from the action and emotion what is happening. If you didn’t understand the action, the film is so beautiful, the Michel Legrand music so wonderful, that it is worth the 90 minute viewing even if you didn’t understand a word.

I am amazed by the colors in this film. Every bit of scenery and wardrobe seems to be coordinated. The film, though not a happy story, has a cheery appearance, from the umbrellas that decorate Mme. Emery’s shop, to the bows that seem to match the pink complexion of Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève, to the wallpaper throughout their home. Every shot is gorgeous and too pretty to be real. This is juxtaposed against the gritty reality of the lives of the characters and the choices that they must make.

Take a look at a few screen grabs from the film. If you have a chance to see this movie, do so. If you’ve seen it before, treat yourself to another viewing.

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Here is a link to a review of the film by Roger Ebert.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is U. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

A Treasure

Perhaps I was thinking of Thoreau, in keeping with the A – Z Challenge, and today being the letter “T”, though I don’t think that Transcendentalism was in the trajectory of my thoughts this morning.  Although I can’t explain the origin, I had a notion that I would read an essay from a collection I have of Emerson’s writings. Having just done a reorganization of some of my bookshelves, I knew that I had my hands on this book within the last few weeks. Yet, I could not find it.

I started with the non-fiction piles — those books that have yet to make it on to a shelf — scanning the stacks quickly, looking for the thin, tan volume. I couldn’t recall what was written on the spine, although I could clearly picture the stamping of reddish-brown ferns on the covers. When I couldn’t locate it, I went to the fiction shelves, browsing the titles of thin books, skipping over the thick bound books in the case. I knew this book was only about 100 pages. I then wandered to the living room and the bedroom, thinking maybe I had carried this into another room. Not finding it, I went down into the basement where I found this book several weeks ago. Could I have left it down there? I wondered.

When I didn’t locate it, I went back to my office to look again, this time touching each volume in the stacks, carefully reading the titles. Don’t panic! I kept telling myself. Even if you put it in the piles of books to discard, they are still in boxes you have in your possession. They haven’t left the house. It is here somewhere.

While I might get upset if I’ve misplaced something and it bothers me when I can’t remember the location, I don’t get too upset for long over something that is replaceable, such as a book of essays. Each of these essays is likely available in half a dozen formats on the internet — for free. But, this is not an ordinary book.

Back in my mid-20’s, when I was flailing around in the seas of adulthood, trying to figure out how I would swim when I grew up — and slightly embarrassed that all of my college friends who had gone to get their JDs or MBAs seemed to have everything worked out so neatly — I worked for a time as secretary at a local college, administrative assistant to the chairs of the English Department and the University Writing Program. It really was a shit job: demanding prima donnas, pompous asses, and a few pricks. Think of the sexism of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, 20 years later, with less class. A few people would remind me from time to time that I was too smart to be working there, but, at a time of a recession similar to today’s, there were not a lot of options. Although there were some good, kind people who I worked with, most seemed to not notice that they didn’t have to expend much effort to make sure that there was a distinction — a wide gulf —  between the worker bees (which included the non-tenured instructors) and the professors. You could chat for a few minutes at the coffee station over a work of fiction, but then it was back to the boiler room to crank out more mimeos, with all of the professors’ grammatical errors and misspellings corrected, before they met with students that afternoon.

But Ray was different. He was a tenured professor, nearing retirement, who cared about everyone. He would often come into my office (a closet really) when I would go to lunch so that he could type his handouts on his own. He would greet me warmly each morning, sometimes asking if I had difficulties driving into town in the snow. He never complained about the weather, though I sometimes did. It was months before I realized that he did not drive and walked a few miles on either end of the bus line to get to campus. Sometimes he would talk to me about what he was teaching in his grammar and linguistics classes — not to teach me something but to share something that he found interesting. And he listened to what I would say in response to what he was sharing. He assumed that I had a life outside of the office that did not involve operating an IBM Selectric, and although he didn’t ask questions about my life that could be misconstrued as prying, he did acknowledge and ask about my interests.

One day, Ray walked into my office with a poorly wrapped package. This, he said, if for you. With thanks.  He awkwardly handed me the package.  He added: My favorite is the essay on friendship. The book was old, a handwritten name and date on the inside:  6-Aug-44.  I took it gratefully, happy that he would think to give me a book that he had had for a number of years.

I came across the book a few weeks ago, in a bookcase in our basement and placed it in the bookcase where I finally located it this afternoon.  The binding is loose; although still intact, the outer board along the spine has cracked and fallen off. The pages are yellowed and the deckle edge is worn.  Age spots are on some pages.  I have every reason to believe that I read at least parts of it when Ray gave it to me, though in re-reading On Friendship and On Nature this evening, I can’t recall what  I thought about them when I was 24.  I’m sure that much of what Emerson writes is interpreted much differently through the filter of age, so much that I am now doubtful that I enjoyed the essays then, much less saw the wisdom contained in them.

When I opened the book recently, I found a card with the following inscription:

For Anne,
Nchle Secretary
Nice Person
Sec’y & Person
– Ray

I don’t remember reading that before, but I’m sure that I had.  I’ve placed it back in the book, at the start of the essay On Friendship.  I moved on from that job after about 18 months and I lost track of Ray.  I googled his name this evening.   He died in 2002 at the age of 80.  I learned from his obituary that the name in the book was his first wife, who had died years before.  He was widowed a second time and apparently had no children.  But his memory will live on in the lives of the many students he taught, and people he met, the friends he surely had.   And me, especially when I come across this book on my bookshelves.  According to the internet, similar copies to this book sell for around $10, but, to me, it is a priceless treasure.

From On Friendship:

We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken.  Maugre all the selfishness that chills like east winds the world, the whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether.  How many persons we meet in houses, who we scarcely speak to, whom yet we honor, and who honor us!  How many we see in the street, or sit with in church, whom, though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with!  Read the language of these wandering eye-beams.  The heart knoweth.

The effect of the indulgence of this human affection is a certain cordial exhilaration.  In poetry and in common speech the emotions of benevolence and complacency which are felt towards others are likened to the material effects of fire; so swift, or much more swift, more active, more cheering, are these fine inward irradiations.  From the highest degree of passionate love to the lowest degree of good-will, they make the sweetness of life.

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is T. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Will Power

April 23 is the day of Shakespeare’s death (in 1616), and sometimes considered as the day of his birth as well, although records only indicate when he was baptized ( Apr 26, 1564), not born. In honor of the Bard of Avon (or perhaps just as a piece of Bardolatry), a few bits about my admiration of Shakespeare:

My Shakespeare Bucket List:  I am surprised to learn that the phrase Bucket List, which is often heard, is not known to have existed before the 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie of the same name. The term from which it is derived, kick the bucket has been around since 1785.  (See here and here, and lots of other google-able places.) It doesn’t seem far-fetched to me that this would gain popularity so quickly, especially since there have been so many variations of the 1000 Things to Do Before You Die books published in recent years. Having a list of things to accomplish, though, is not a new idea.

I have lots of things that I would like to do some day, but I’ve not codified many of them. However, since I was a college student, there is one thing that I’ve always thought that I would like to accomplish: read the complete works of Shakespeare — 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long poems that I didn’t stay awake past the opening lines while reading in college  — and see all of the plays in performance at least once. I’m not sure of a specific date when I decided that this would be a goal, and I haven’t been very diligent about working towards accomplishing it, but it’s always been an idea I’ve had. Last year, before I attended the RSC plays performed in New York, I decided to begin to track how close I was to accomplishing this goal.   The answer: not very close.  At least, not yet.

In 2011, I did see some plays that I had never seen before (Julius Caesar, The Winter’s Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV Part I & II, & A Comedy of Errors) and read two plays (Romeo & Juliet, MacBeth). Since I haven’t read another play since last summer, I think it is time that I pick up the Shakespeare brick I own (The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Second Edition, Edited by Jowett, Montgomery, Taylor & Wells) and read another.  Any votes for which play I should read next?

Shakepeare on Film:  Not willing to read the Complete Works? How about watching a film? Here are two lists of notable Shakespearean plays or adaptations.

The 10 Greatest Film Adaptations of All Time

Rotten Tomatoes’ Greatest Shakespeare Moves

What about seeing a movie about how Shakespeare’s works have impacted others, such as Shakespeare Behind Bars, or Ian McKellan’s Acting Shakespeare.  Or watch The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged by the Reduced Shakespeare Company for a very funny synopsis of his works.   Want a little controversy?  You can watch Rolland Emmerich’s Anonymous.  Although it has to stretch quite a few facts (and isn’t very honest about which ones it does) to make it work, it presents a theory as to who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.   I liked the movie as a movie, but find its theory about the Earl of Oxford laughable.  I hold fast to the theory that William Shakespeare did not write the plays, but some other guy named William Shakespeare.  🙂  Actually I don’t care  who wrote them as I think it is unprovable and really not of much importance, but the theories are an interesting diversion.

All of these films are available on Netflix.
A favorite Shakespearean Passage:  Jacques’ speech in As You Like It, Act 2 Scene 7:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puling in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Jacques can seem such a downer in such a joyous play, but he is spot on with his observations.    Act 2 ends soon after those lines, but the beginning of Act 3 has these lines from the love-sick Orlando:

Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love;
And thou thrice-crowned queen of night, survey
With thy chaste eye, from the pale sphere above,
Thy huntress’ name that my full life doth sway.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character
That every eye which in this forest looks
Shall see thy virtue witnessed everywhere.
Run, run Orlando; carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she!

And such is life: frivolity and wisdom, the good and the sad, love and death, the inevitable.  It makes me smile.
My Best Bard Memorabilia:   I had a button with a likeness of Shakespeare on it. It read “Will Power”.   I bought it in Stratford on Avon in 1980.   I still had it last summer when I saw the RSC perform and wore it to the performances I attended.   I tried to find it yesterday, hoping to snap a photo of it for this post.   Can’t seem to recall where I last left it.
This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is S. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

Turn up your speakers!

There has never been and may never be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury:

But Miss Piggy comes close!

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is Q. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.