Monday, December 5, 2016

Letters From Santa (a seasonally appropriate flash fiction story) by Rachel Dull

At half past 11, I snuck downstairs to filch the enormous sugar cookie with green frosting that my baby sister, Isabelle, had left out for Santa Claus. I had already poured myself a glass of fresh milk before heading into the living room, which was lit by the cozy Christmas tree lights we had left on so Santa could navigate the floor plan when he arrived. I paused in front of the twinkling beacon, holding the magic of Christmas in its ornament-laden boughs. It felt so peaceful in the tree’s halo that I sighed with contentment as I reached for the plate on the side table by the chair. My fingers had just curled around the wreath cookie waiting for me these past 4 hours when a commotion caused me to dropped the stolen goods and jump back in fear as a man’s voice bellowed out “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and a mechanized Santa began to sway his hips and dance to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

I hardly knew a sound had escaped my lips, but my younger brother, sitting across the room with a video recorder trained on my every move, described it as the whinny of a horse crossed with the wheeze of our elderly grandfather when he gets out of bed. “Gotcha!” Davey called. I came out of my trembling crouch and recognized the horrible Santa mannequin that our mother had purchased once at a garage sale, and every year insisted on putting out on our front porch to greet holiday visitors who came to call. My brother, in his comedic wisdom, had relocated the devil for the express purpose of catching me in the act of stealing Santa’s cookie and giving me a fright. “Just wait until I show Isabelle!” he cackled, skipping past me, and swiping the cookie before heading back to his room.

As the robotic Santa finished his dance and clicked off, I stood there staring at an empty-but-for-crumbs plate illuminated in the glow of the tree that had lured me into a false sense of security with its angelic topper and glittery tinsel. After Isabelle saw that video, not even the large box I put under the tree with her name on it would win back her love. I drank my milk and pondered for a moment, then pulled a charred bit of wood from the fireplace and tucked it into Davey’s stocking with the following note: “Davey, I know you ate my cookie. I can’t take your presents back now, but consider this bit of coal a warning for next year. I’ll be watching. —Santa.” And then I tucked a special note into Isabelle’s stocking that said, “Dear Isabelle, your brothers mean well, they just make bad choices sometimes. Keep on loving them, just like I do, and they will come around. Don’t give up hope! Especially on Logan. He’s a good brother. Love, Santa.” That’ll teach Davey to mess with Santa, I thought, mechanized or otherwise.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rachel Dull, writer personality

For some time I have been planning to make a website to present a professional “Rachel Dull, writer personality” to the internet. At last, it is live. There you can find a list of my short story publications as well as another blog I am writing to keep interested persons informed of my publication and writing exploits. I’m still figuring out what the difference is between the two blogs, but I think it’s that The Merest Idea is for RB and LB to learn to work together and give them each a chance to exhibit, whereas the other blog will be more writing focused. I would not be surprised if in time I needed to merge these concepts because keeping one blog is hard enough, but for now the division seemed necessary to keep both unshackled from the limitations of the other (i.e. Left Brain asked me to). Also, I don’t know what I’m doing.

If you have enjoyed my writing here, I hope you will enjoy my writing about writing over there. And I’ll be sure to let you know when I start my next blog, which will probably be writing about writing about writing, because going meta is my defense mechanism.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year--where I borrow a song and re-write the lyrics as an ode to my favorite season! This year, please imagine Johnny Mathis belting it out (with more enthusiasm than he mustered for his Oprah performance in 1991).

Autumn, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the football fans yelling
And everyone telling you winter is near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It's the pump-pumpkinest season of all
With those kids trick-or-treating and bold colors fleeting
When leaves start to fall
It's the pump-pumpkinest season of all

There’ll be apples for picking
And ciders for drinking
And frolicking out in the leaves
There’ll be donuts for snacking, swim
suits we’ll be packing to
Make room for all the long sleeves

It's the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be bonfires glowing
And crisp breezes blowing
When autumn is here
It's the most wonderful time
Yes the most wonderful time
Oh the most wonDERful time
Of the year!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


It was a rainy day so I decided to sew a pocket into a skirt I have been wearing a lot this summer. I hardly want to buy anything anymore WITHOUT pockets, but I still have plenty of clothes that I purchased pre-Pocket Awakening, and every time I wear them I wonder if there isn’t a way to just stitch a fold in there for my lip balm at least.

This skirt's getting an upgrade!

My first idea was to steal the pocket pattern from a pants patterned I already owned, but when I got out the pattern, I realized it was for cargo pants from the 90s and the pocket for those pants might be a bit much (seen below, on left). Instead I found a dress with a pocket that works well and traced its pocket onto a scrap of tracing paper I found on top of the sewing room garbage (seen below, center). Then I sat back in awe of the size difference and lamented that smart phones and cargo pants weren’t in vogue simultaneously.

The fabric I used for my pocket fell off of the fabric shelf when I was pawing through the patterns. It is a piece of leftover muslin that happened to be the PERFECT size for one pocket. (My fabric shelves are a disaster right now and I often walk in to find fabrics in a heap on the floor. I think the cat tries to sit in there sometimes. But I wanted to be honest with you about how I make decisions while sewing, and more often than not it’s based on ready accessibility and chance.)

I ironed the muslin, pinned the pattern onto it, and then cut it out.

Next, I had to rip out the seam on the edge of the skirt where I wanted to place my pocket. I only ripped out a section just long enough for the pocket because, while it is easier to put in a pocket with completely detached front and back pieces of skirt, I didn’t want to take out the elastic and all that because I don’t like seam ripping THAT much. It had both a straight stitch and a serger stitch, so it took a little bit of work to get all the stitches out, but fortunately I am very experienced in seam ripper usage from many errant seams over the years. Running the seam ripper through the serged stitches worked pretty well.

Then I pinned the pocket to the skirt, right sides together. (That’s a lie. I first pinned the pocket wrong sides together, sewed it, and then had to seam rip it all out when I realized I’d done it wrong.) I placed one pocket piece on the front of the skirt, and one on the back. I used a 3/8” seam allowance and sewed the two pieces into place.

The next step was to attached the two sides of the pocket together. I turned the skirt inside out, aligned the two halves of the pocket, and pinned. I stitched around the outside of the pocket, also using a 3/8” seam allowance. (The bottom and the top where the stitches meet up with the side seam on the skirt are always a mystery to me when installing pockets, so I did my best and cleaned up the gaps later.)

Finally, it’s the moment of truth! I turned the skirt right side out and tried it on. I was happy to find out that I had put my pocket on the right side even though I had forgotten to check when I started. I look forward to wearing this skirt again soon where I can keep my phone and lip balm close at hand throughout the day!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

They Sent Us to College

They sent us to college to get diplomas and jobs from which we could retire, but instead we got opinions and debt. We job hop and get laid off and change our careers every other year, eschewing the stability for which they worked their entire lives. They told us we could be anything so we wanted to try everything. And they probably feel let down by all this. They probably think they failed, and we’re failing, and we just don’t get it. But we feel empowered. We feel liberated. Like we really do get it. We get all of it. We are alive and making our own decisions. We are trying new things and changing our minds. We are free to be anything and think anything and marry whomever we please. But one day when our kids grow up and put into practice all the things we thought we were teaching them over the years, we’ll be just as surprised as our parents were with us. The things we valued will be cast aside as they grow into their own strengths, test their own ideas, and live the lives stretched out before them, full of promise. We’ll ask ourselves “What went wrong?” and “How can they live like that?” as we take refuge in the boxes we’ve built from our experiences and settle down on the securely anchored cushions of our worldview where it is safe.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Words: about the ones I can't find to explain myself well, and the ones I can't spell

I don't even feel like I can put into words. Not enough thoughts to compute—just a general feeling of being not good enough at things I've said, ideas I've expressed. I've tried to capture them before they were fully formed and I made a bad image. But I don't have time or wherewithal to properly form good thoughts before I have to speak them.
"Before we can get all the facts, we may be going to have to act." —They Might Be Giants
I am torn and pulled in different directions. My mind cannot settle on one idea long enough to do anything about it. Dart, flit, swoosh, and I'm off to a new idea. I will paint my nails. Write a letter. Eat a snack. Tweet. Write a blog post about how I never liked the illustrations accompanying Shel Silverstein poems. Write a blog post about words I can't spell, like "occasion". Reminisce (<-- not confident on that one either) about how when I wanted to thank accompanists in high school for playing piano for me, I always had to write "Thanks for playing piano for me" because I never, and still haven't, learned how to spell the word for the role they do. Don't write a blog post because no one cares about my quirky asides that are one sentence long and decidedly not worth an entire blog post. Write a blog post about how I always want to write blog posts to have an excuse to tell people my quirky asides. Don't write a blog post, just say my asides randomly to my spouse who is across the room and who will probably love me anyway, even if I say things completely out of context and annoy him by interrupting what he is reading. Is this a blog post? I can't post this—it's the pointless ramblings of a restless person who drank coffee 13 hours ago and wonders if the caffeine (<--that one I can spell, oddly) is just now kicking in. But what if it has comedic value? As soon as you ask that it doesn't. But what if other people sometimes feel the same way? But what if they don't and I look like an idiot who talks to herself?

I write for the case of "just in case": "Just in case I'm not alone on this." I write to make connections with people. I write because I want to say the "connections" thing better but I'm having trouble sentencing today.

All spellings checked and corrected before publication. (Thanks, red squiggly line!)

Bonus quirky aside: What's with cookbooks without pictures? I'm already trying to imagine what a recipe going to taste like and now you want me to imagine what it is going to look like, too?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

26 Books in 2015: A Follow-up Interview with Andrea

Last year, my friend Andrea decided to participate in a reading challenge she found on Pinterest: 26 books from different categories. All year I enjoyed asking her about what she was reading and hearing about her progress on the list. Below are the results of her year of reading along with her answers to a few questions I posed to her about the adventure.

Q: Did you ever think you weren't going to make it, or did you consider stopping at any point?
A: Towards the end I got a little nervous about finishing, but I had such a fast start from the beginning of the year that it was never a huge concern (I finished on Christmas Eve). I never thought about quitting! Which I'm a little proud of because I quit lots of things.

1. A Book you own but haven't read:
Into the Wild
2. A Book that was made into a movie:
Paper Towns
3. A Book you pick solely because of the cover:
I'll Give You the Sun
4. A Book your friend loves:
Why not me?
5. A Book published this year:
All the Bright Places
6. A Book by an author you've never read before:
Red Rising
7. A Book at the bottom of the "to be read pile":
The President is a Sick Man

Q: Did you do any rating/reviews of the books?
A: No ratings/reviews in a formal sense (other than my Twitter review of The Scarlet Letter: "if you want an old book that takes 200 pages to get interesting, this one's for you!") Lots that I informally talked to friends about though throughout the year.

Q: What was your favorite book you read this year?
A: Picking a favorite book is hard. The book that stuck with me the most and that I still think about sometimes was Les Miserables. I don't know that I would ever read it again though, mostly because of the length so it's hard to call it my favorite. Maybe I could get one of those kid versions that's a bit condensed, though it probably wouldn't be as good. I really loved that one though—the way all the stories fit together and the redemption were great. Even the super long tangents weren't too bad! I became kind of obsessed with this story while I was reading it. I also really liked Modern Romance. That book was fascinating from a real life/science standpoint. Plus it was funny and entertaining to listen to (one of the audiobooks I "read"). I'd want to read it again because I feel like I can't remember all of the facts.

8. A Book with a color in the title:
The Devil in the White City
9. A Book set in a place you want to visit:
The Rosie Project (Australia)
10. A Book you started but never finished:
Guns, Germs and Steel
11. A Book with a lion, a witch or a wardrobe:
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (it has all three!)
12. A Book with a female heroine:
The Royal We
13. A Book set in the summer:
The Paying Guests
14. A Book "everyone" has read but you:
The Scarlet Letter

Q: What was your least favorite book you read this year?
A: Worst book—well, as you can tell from my Twitter review, I was not a fan of The Scarlet Letter. Thank God it was a short book because I wouldn't have made it through much more. The whole introduction of that book didn't make a lot of sense and I didn't feel like it really added to the story, but it was like at least 1/3 of the length of the book so I didn't feel like I could skip it. I also didn't like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Maybe I'm kinda dense, but I just didn't really get what was going on in a lot of that book. It was one I was supposed to read for a college class. I'm glad I didn't back then—I'm sure my time was spent better elsewhere.

Q: Which book surprised you the most?
A: The Devil in the White City surprised me, but not in a good way. I thought I would enjoy it a lot because I enjoy history and serial killers (not in a creepy way!) and I had heard very good reviews. I found it kind of slow though really wished that there was more about the serial killer and less about the financial woes of building a World's Fair. On the positive note though, the history in The President is a Sick Man was fascinating. My dad recommended the book to me and I thought he just liked it because it was partially about a journalist (dad's a writer), but the whole book was really interesting. There were weird medical procedures, US history, and presidents! Some of my favorite things. :)

15. A Book with a great first line:
Modern Romance ("Many of the frustrations experienced by today's singles seem like problems unique to our time and technological setting: not hearing back on a text.") (or, if you count the introduction: "oh, shit!")
16. A Book with pictures:
Castle Waiting
17. A Book from the library:
The Rosie Effect
18. A Book you it again!:
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
19. A Book of Poems:
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
20. A Book you learned about because of this challenge:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Q: Have you been able to lift your self-imposed book-buying ban yet??
A: I just bought a book yesterday! I still haven't made it all the way through my own bookshelf, but I decided it was okay to reward my efforts.

Q: What are some of your takeaways from this experience? Would you do it again?
A: Takeaway #1: I thought I would come away reading a whole bunch of different genres and liking lots of different stuff. While I did branch out a little in the genres I chose, at a certain point, you like what you like. And that's ok! I still enjoy memoirs and books by funny people most and have no interest in picking up another book of poetry any time soon. I like hearing peoples' stories, which is harder to get out of poetry.

Takeaway #2: There are a lot of good books out there! Every once in a while I should take a break from Netflix and get back into reading.

Takeaway #3: Audiobooks aren't so bad...for a certain kind of book. I still will probably only choose audio for lighter books, mostly non-fiction, but I loved the efficiency of "reading" while walking to work.

I would totally do it again! I think I would want a different type of list, but sure!

21. A Book that will make you smarter:
What If?
22. A Book with a blue cover:
23. A Book you were supposed to read in school but didn't:
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
24. A Book more than 10 years old:
Les Miserables
25. A Book based on a true story:
Yes Please (Amy Poehler memoir)
26. A Book by an author you love:
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (JK Rowling) 

Q: Any reading goals for 2016?
A: I told myself I would read 12 books that have been adapted into films. Then I would see the movie. (or that order might get reversed). I'm already behind schedule. :)

If you enjoyed reading about Andrea’s adventures in reading, then perhaps you would also enjoy my friend, Kate’s, blog. She reads and reviews a ton of books, and completed her own reading challenge last year, and is doing it again this year.