Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Road Trip

It's Halloween season and here I am on a Road Trip? 

Photo Credit

You've got to be kidding. I can't be out here when the spirits walk the earth and need stuff, like, bodies to inhabit or candy to eat. Terrifying. 

Photo Credit

But, because I'm an AtoZer to the core, I'm out and about. *Play spooky music here.* Mario's looking for a smaller hat. If you have one, could you please send it over?

So let's make this an "informative" drive tonight. 

1. What are the most sought after treats? 

Top Ten Favorite Halloween Candies
Reese's - 43% of respondents rank it among their top five favorites
Snickers - 38% rank among favorites
M&Ms - 37% rank among favorites
Kit Kat - 36% rank among favorites
Twix - 29% rank among favorites
Milky Way - 22% rank among favorites
Butterfinger - 22% rank among favorites
Candy Corn - 18% rank among favorites
3 Musketeers - 18% rank among favorites
Skittles - 17% rank among favorites

2. What are the most popular Halloween costumes besides Donald Trump?

Zombies Are Hot, But Clowns Are Not

Top-Ranked Halloween Costumes For Adults, 2009-2013

Hover or tap on each costume to see how its rankings change over time.

20092010201120122013200920102011201220131st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10th11th12th13thWitchVampirePirateClownVixenCatDevilAthletePolicePumpkinGhostNurseZombieWitchVampirePirateNurseVixenCatZombieFairyAthleteBatmanDraculaGhostClownWitchPirateVampireZombieBatmanCatVixenGhostNurseCowboyDevilClownFairyWitchVampirePirateBatmanZombieVixenPrincessGhostNurseCatSupermanPoliticalDevilWitchBatmanVampireZombiePirateSuperheroSupermanDraculaCatAthleteClownGhostRock Star

I'm thinking I'm more in the Witch-Superman-Princess group. The problem with the witch is getting into the car with that pointy hat. Here's to your Halloween on the Road.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

A to Z Themes Made Easy – Handy Lifestyle Hacks for the Busy Blogger

Photo courtesy of Tristan Colangelo
It’s never too early to start preparing for your participation in next year’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Year after year, themes continue to be one of the best ways to survive this April blog hop with ease. Themes give readers a good idea of what to expect when visiting your blog while helping you better organize ideas into 26 cohesive pieces of alphabetic content.

Choosing a theme does not have to be a daunting task in itself. In fact, it’s as simple as becoming a virtual handyman for some of life’s challenges. If you’re stumped for topics to blog about during the next April A-Z Challenge, consider teaching people how to do quick repairs -- whether that be for damaged household items, bad hair days, or even a broken heart. Don’t think you have any knowledge of tips or tricks to help other people solve everyday problems? You may be able to provide more handy hacks than you think. 

Just recall the last few times you’ve fixed a dilemma that you or someone you know encountered. Now use these instances to jump-start the topics of your April Blog Posts. Here are some quick topics that can be worked in many ways to help you get from point A to point Z, based on my own experiences with quick fixes that came in handy.

Technical/Hardware Hacks
When cassette tapes were still a thing in the early 90s, I used to play them on a boombox style stereo system. The Bad album by Michael Jackson was one particular cassette that I rocked as a kid “until my tape popped” (*extra brownie points for those who can identify the song/artist reference here) one day while playing in the stereo. Determined to not have to throw this cassette away, I grabbed a screwdriver (or maybe it was a kitchen knife…the specifics of that memory has faded after all these years), opened up the cassette and snapped the jumbled up portions of plastic tape off of the spool. I then re-attached the two remaining portions of the music on this cassette, using a small piece of adhesive tape.

Cassettes remain available from some places such as
The result wasn’t perfect – the beginning of the first song on Side 1 of the cassette was now gone, as well as the end of the last song on Side 2 – but I could now still continue to enjoy most of the album.

Cassettes may be a thing of the past but so long as people still like to listen to music, there are quick fixes that you might know how to employ in the age of modern technology. Do you have a neat way to organize playlists on a home entertainment system, tablets or related electronic devices?

How about syncing or migrating your iTunes library on a computer where the system had to be re-installed? These nuggets of knowledge may come in handy for those of us who do not know how to navigate through various software programs and/or devices.

Style, Fashion & Wardrobe Hacks
When one pair of my jeans started to rip in the back, I continued to wear them until the tear became too large. Having no patience to sew or patch-up denim (or really most other garments), I just wore tights under my jeans, to prevent me from unintentionally flashing people during my daily travels out in the street. Sometimes these tights had cute heart patterns on them and sometimes they were solid colored. It all depended on my mood, the climate or temperature and whether the laundry was done or not. Did you ever experience any clothing malfunctions that you’ve dealt with in a hassle-free manner? If so, try to come up with 26 ways to get around the problem, from A-Z, without throwing the garment away!

Food Prep Hacks
Have you ever made a salad only to find out that there isn’t any dressing in your refrigerator or cupboard? What do you do in that situation? When I found myself in a similar situation, I combined some olive oil, vinegar and all-purpose seasoning such as (Mrs. Dash or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute) to make a quick vinaigrette. Not only did it save me time in contemplating on whether to eat something else altogether or consume the salad dry, this quick fix was also a money-saving solution; I didn’t have to make a trip to the store just to buy some salad dressing.  If food hacks are up your alley, try coming up with an A-Z theme that provides some quick seasoning tips for when people don’t have the usual staples on-hand and need to substitute it with other items in the refrigerator or cupboard.

Productivity Hacks
My morning routine usually involves books, writing and meditation of some sort. I try to read first thing in the morning to get it out of the way because unless it is for research purposes, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that I will pick up any book whatsoever later in the afternoon or evening after my day gets started and filled with other tasks.  Do you have a productivity hack that helps you get things done? Maybe other A-Z participants can try it to figure out if the hack might work for their lifestyle needs.

Providing handy lifestyle hacks to your readers will save you time on writing and publishing blog posts. That time saved could then be spent visiting your fellow participating blogs on the A-Z Challenge list. Happy blogging!

Have YOU decided on a theme for next year’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge yet?

A-to-Z Challenge Co-Host Nicole Ayers writes about international films, Cinematography and movie goers at The Madlab Post. You can connect with her @MadlabPost on Twitter. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stormy the Weather Gnome talks holidays & theme opportunities!!

It's almost time for Halloween!

Wouldn't that be a great theme for A to Z? All your favorite trick 'or' treat candy? Or your favorite costumes?

How about Thanksgiving?

Got any recipes for every letter of the alphabet? Think of the side dishes alone!

Perhaps Hanukkah or Christmas traditions?

Do you do watch football on New Year's Day?

All of these holidays are coming up soon and it might be the perfect time for you to start jotting down some ideas, memories, or even recipes for the 2016 Challenge! 

And, don't forget your camera! Pictures are a great way to share your theme with readers!

Get your family involved! No one said the A to Z Challenge couldn't be a team sport! Maybe your kids can help with your posts each day!

Or even your pets! They can be great sources of inspiration and sometimes just too darn funny.

My point? There are lots of opportunities coming up and lots of ideas all around you to help make your next A to Z Challenge a breeze.

Don't miss your chance to make this your best year ever!


Heather M. Gardner
The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Only 163 Shopping Days Until A to Z 2016!

Here in the US, it won't be long before we start seeing Christmas decorations appear in all the stores. The minute the plastic pumpkins and Hallowe'en costumes are put away, out come the Christmas decorations and we start hearing and seeing little reminders that it won't be long before Santa pilots his sleigh, drawn by eight tiny reindeer, through the sky, bringing gifts ande toys to good little girls and boys...

Okay, maybe I'm overdoing things a little. (No, wait... I'm not.) The point is, Christmas is a huge holiday for everyone, whether you're a retailer, a member of the clergy, a parent, (especially) a kid, or anyone else who loves the excitement and promise of the season. 

For the sponsors of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, April 1 is kind of the same thing. It's something we prepare for almost as soon as May 1 of the previous year. Every year we do the Challenge, we want it to be better than the previous year's. For us, that means encouraging people who have participated in past years to participate again, and to bring their blogging friends, and their friends, and so on, and so on, as the old shampoo commercial used to say. The A to Z Challenge is truly a time when "the more, the merrier" applies. 

So, it's never too soon to start encouraging people to start thinking about April. And that includes inviting you to start thinking about participating in the festivities, and about people you think might enjoy the Challenge. Bloggers you admire, people who you think would enjoy themselves. You might meet some bloggers (or potential bloggers) during the upcoming NaNoWriMo, or in the other "blog hops" you do every year.

It's also never too soon to start thinking about your theme for the upcoming year. Maybe this is easy, because you use the same theme every Challenge. Great! You can start thinking about your entries. Maybe you try to think of something new every year. This would be a good time to start. If you have trouble thinking of a theme, you might want to see what other people have used in years past. The list of blogs who participated in the 2015 Challenge is still available; feel free to browse the blogs of other participants.  Maybe you never use a theme. That's all right! You can always begin planning your word list for the Challenge. 

You might think 163 days is a long time, but you'd be surprised how quickly it passes. Personally, I can't wait! How about you?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cleaning the Garage from A to Z

English: A handyman project was to de-clutter ...
 A handyman project was to de-clutter a basement which tends to get filled with things when it's not certain whether to throw or keep them. When a basement becomes too cluttered, it's hard to find things that are really needed. One way is to move clutter to a second location where it can be sorted into two piles (1) trash (2) items to keep. Source of picture: here (see public domain declaration). Questions: write to my Wikipedia page or email me at (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       A frequent theme of posts on this Blogging from A to Z Challenge site involves ideas for the April Challenge.   It's a natural topic here!   How often do many of us wonder what we will be writing about come April Challenge time?    Often I read exasperated laments from bloggers who don't know if they can even participate in A to Z because they don't know what to write about.  To alleviate some of those feelings of doubt and fear, let me offer another of the infinite ideas that might spark some creativity in your mind.

        Instead of staring at the computer screen as your mind jumbles up with this idea and that, why not take a break from blogging for an hour or two or maybe even a whole day.   Get up out of your chair and go clean your garage.   Now, you might substitute "garage" with closet, drawers, car, or what have you, but the essence of this idea is to go take care of some accumulated clutter and get organized.

         When I think of organizing one image that comes to my mind is filing papers in an orderly fashion which typically entails separating items into easy to find A to Z fashion.   Using a cluttered garage as an example, you can even take filing to a larger scale organizing everything in your garage in some logical fashion.  Alphabetically might not be the most practical way to organize a garage, but it could be something to think about.   The point here is to clean up and organize.  Get some house work done!

         And once you've started diving into that amalgam of messiness (unless you are more fastidious than many of us) start thinking in A to Z terms.   Your garage might have anything from Ajax to Zap cleaner, old adding machines to non-functioning Zenith television sets, or accordions to zithers.  I think you're getting the idea.

        Your house is a wealth of A to Z inspiration and sometimes digging through the artifacts of what we amass over the years can stir up all sorts of thinking.  Take a look at ten or twenty items that you immediately see around you and consider what each item conjures in your mind.

         Can you remember when you first obtained that item or when you used it?   How did the items affect your life?   Why did they end up where they did in a state of disuse?   How useful were the items then as opposed to now?   Would you recommend these things to anyone else?  If you were going to give the item to another person who would it be and why?

          One cluttered closet could be the inspiration for numerous books, stories, or articles to an extremely imaginative person so it stands to reason that this same closet might be excellent inspiration for the 26 posts of April A to Z.

          Fiction, memoir, how-to's, photo essays, humor--there is no limit to what your clean-up jobs can inspire.  There's no good reason for anyone to come up with the excuse that they don't know what to write about for A to Z.   Your posts in April don't have to be exotic or even something absolutely unique.  Good content is always desirable, but excellence in writing can outweigh the most original ideas that are written about tritely or dryly.

         Maybe give it a try.  Start a household chore with A to Z in mind.   Even if you don't come up with an A to Z idea this time around, you can try again later.   And if the A to Z idea doesn't come from your efforts then you've still ended up with a positive accomplishment--you'll have a cleaner more organized house.   Not much of a downside to that!

         Have any of your A to Z themes been about common items around your house?    What are some great discoveries that you've come upon while cleaning house?    Are there any A to Z themes that come to your mind in regard to this post?

Friday, October 16, 2015

When the Road is blocked: 3 Alternative Methods for Leaving Blog Comments

Every road trip has its setbacks and those of us on the A-Z highway are sure to encounter a closed lane or two when trying to comment on new blogs we visit. Sometimes these roadblocks appear in the form of word verification. Or maybe you’ll find a blog where the commenting feature is turned off.  

There is also the chance that, regardless of how many times you typed a response and clicked on that “submit” button, your comment still didn’t get published for reasons that only the technology geeks could explain.

Maybe Wordpress (or Blogger or Google or your internet service provider) just doesn’t like you that day. These types of roadblocks make some drivers want to turn around and go back to the routes we’re used to taking through blogland. That is especially enticing for those of us who are already running low on gas. The good news, however, is there are a few solutions to getting around these blocked lanes and continuing on with our road trip activities as usual.

Comment via Social Media
When you encounter problems commenting directly on a blog, tag it on social media using the author’s profile handle. Many bloggers are active on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, making it easy to also link directly to the blog post you are commenting on. Social media is not only a great alternative for leaving comments; it also helps you keep responses short and simple.

Comment via Email
Sending comments in an email is one of the easiest ways to get around glitches with the commenting box on blogs you visit. This alternative method for leaving a comment is also a good way to inform the author of the blog about any difficulties that you’ve experienced as an end-user. On many occasions, bloggers may not be aware of issues with their commenting box, so they are likely to be glad you let them know about it. Emailing comments directly to the blog author can also be ideal for subjects that you may feel less comfortable discussing or addressing in a public forum such as the blogger’s commenting section.

Comment in a Blog Post of Your Own
Blogging in response to someone else’s content allows you to complete two tasks at once. The comment gets its time to shine and you get a new blog post out of the deal. Everybody wins.

How do YOU get around some of the roadblocks you encounter while visiting new blogs? 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Themes That Rocked the Challenge - Saraallie and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Today’s feature will be fun for many of you! Saraallie did a Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme with lots of pictures.

Your theme was a tour of Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter – what made you chose that theme?

If I answer in short I'd just say, "because Harry Potter!!" But let me explain. My sister, The Abbie (from Abbie's Adventure Diaries) and I are crazy Potterheads! Our annual family vacations have been to Orlando, Florida since the last few years. It's our own private little world where the two of us completely forget everything and have the time of our lives. It's our most favorite place in the world, basically. So when I had to think of a theme for the A to Z Blogging Challenge the first thing that came to my mind was Harry Potter! Abbie did the same theme too.
We'd taken three trips to the park and each year I'd come back home and say to myself, "Hmm, I totally have to blog about my experience!" Somehow though, each time I ended up not being able to. This was just the perfect excuse to motivate myself. Oh and of course add Harry Potter to anything and it automatically becomes awesome!

Just how overwhelming was Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shop?

Oh dear, that place is insanely awesome! You step inside the Diagon Alley side of the Wizarding World and the first thing your eyes see is the giant Weasley head propped on top of the shop. It stirs up instant excitement. I felt like somebody had switched something on inside my stomach. Even before you step inside to be totally overwhelmed with everything, a funky purplish wall outside is the perfect background for pictures. I took some beautiful shots right there. Finally when I stepped inside with Abbie it was beyond belief real! I couldn't understand what to look at first, which product to pick up and examine, which one to take pictures of, which one to take pictures with, what to buy, what not to buy and leave it for the next time we visit ... That shop is literally everything I had imagined reading the Harry Potter books and seeing the movies. It put me in a state of fantasy! And as if all of that wasn't enough, there's an actual adoption experience you can enjoy if you decide to take a Pygmy Puff home. I adopted a Pygmy Puff for my baby niece Gubby (the nickname I use for her), named it Gubby too, and was told not to feed it sugar or it'll 'bounce off the walls and be all hyper'. So cool!

What was the most amazing effect or setting you saw?

No doubt, the mighty dragon on top of Gringotts Bank! It's one fiery beast, really. I think there isn't a single person in the park who isn't craning their neck up to get a good look at it. It breathes fire after roaring angrily every few minutes and when that happens the park becomes slightly quiet because every single person has their cameras pointed up and ready to take a video or a picture. I think I had pretty good pictures the first time I saw the dragon breathe fire, even then I still had some camera or the other ready every single time.
The magic entrance to Platform Nine and Three Quarters came real close to being the coolest effect too but I have a biased love for that dragon in my heart! Hey, that's one gorgeous beast, it's not my fault!

Where is the best place to eat?

The park has two sides, Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village. There are two restaurants, one on each side. Diagon Alley has the newly opened Leaky Cauldron and Hogsmeade has The Three Broomsticks. They both have the same menu and are the perfect spots for someone wanting to add magic to their eating experience. Personally though, I prefer The Three Broomsticks over Leaky Cauldron. I thought it was bigger and had much more cool effects to see while we ate. Like if you look up at the ceiling in The Three Broomsticks you can see shadows of somebody cleaning around. The seating is more suitable for families or if you want a private corner, like I did with Abbie. Over at Leaky Cauldron they have the long joint tables (like The Great Hall does in the movies!) so chances are somebody you don't know will be seated beside you, unless you're lucky like us and find one of the side tables that are more private. I suggest the Fish and Chips (oh my God, so tasty!) and the Sticky Toffee Pudding. That pudding is a killer! We also tried the Fishermen’s Pie and it was deliciousness served in a bowl.
Whatever happens though, always save space for ice cream because the flavors at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour will make you fall in love! The Salted Caramel Blondie flavor was our favorite. (I am drooling just thinking about it!)

What was the coolest thing you found in Zonkos?

Zonkos was such a cool shop, but sadly when the park expanded they closed it down. The shop front is still there but when you step inside it’s an extended part of Honeydukes. I’m not much of a prankster so I didn’t have my eyes set on the brilliant pranking products they had. For me the coolest product at the old Zonkos were the You No Poo bottles. The constipation sensation that’s gripping the nation! Abbie and I had a good laugh examining those bottles. It’s basically candy but exactly the way they were in the movies. The new Zonkos has a gorgeous bakery section as part of the extended Honeydukes shop. The treats in the glass showcases are so mouthwatering. If we weren’t so full with ice creams we would have definitely tried something. I mustn’t forget the Chocolate Frogs. I’ve bought three and unfortunately gotten Helga Hufflepuff’s wizard card each time. I kept one, Abbie kept the second one, and we kept the third one for our scrapbook. It is seriously delicious premium chocolate, the box is beautiful too, and the cards are collectibles that every fan needs.

What did you see that you wanted to come home with but didn’t? What’s the coolest purchase you did make?

The fire breathing dragon! Yes, imagine what it would have looked like on the roof of my house. Oh and the Hogwarts Express! I’d have the coolest transport arrangements. Sadly, they can’t let me have those regardless of how crazy of a Potterhead I am. I found a lot of awesome Potter merchandise there though. Something I almost bought was Hedwig. I’ve already brought home Fawkes the Phoenix and Buckbeak the Hippogriff. Hedwig has always been my favorite and the plush toys there are so adorable. The single reason that’s kept me from bringing Hedwig home is that it’s a puppet which means it’s empty from inside instead of being fat and fluffy like the other plush toys.
My coolest purchase has got to be my wand. Abbie and I didn’t buy wands the first two times we were there but when we visited the third time we had decided at home that it was time we got our wands. I looked up wands belonging to all the main characters. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and etc. all had cool wands but I still needed something with the wow factor. Today, I am the proud owner of a very gorgeous, classic, and super cool Voldemort’s wand. Yes, I chose Voldemort’s! He is one of the most important characters after all. He’s got to be my favorite villain too. His wand was bone-y and unique. It stood out to me instantly, I fell in love, there was a connection, and soon a long black box with Ollivander’s embossed in silver alphabets was in my hands. Abbie bought Narcissa Malfoy’s wand for how beautifully black and silver it was. I guess we both inclined towards the villains.

What advice would you give to someone who intends to visit the park?

Book a longer visit because the parks are overloaded with people, the lines for each ride are very long (120 minutes waiting time kind of long!), and if you have fewer days you’ll end up missing a lot of the details that add to the magic. Make sure you ride the Forbidden Journey (if you’re comfortable!) because it is one of the best rides I’ve ever been on in all my life (and I’ve been to a lot of parks and rides). We stayed at Cabana Bay the last time we went, which is a sort of on site hotel with shuttle service to and from, and it was a great decision. Abbie and I used to go to the parks early in the morning, come back to our hotel for lunch and a little rest, and then headed back once the sun had cooled down a little bit. It helped us enjoy our visit to the max because we weren’t tired and sulky. It also is great if you get a park to park ticket because the Hogwarts Express experience is different both ways and you can enjoy both sides of the park easily if you have one.

What theme are you considering next year? Going to another theme park?

I actually have been thinking a lot about my theme for next year. I’ve had so much fun doing the A to Z this year that I’m definitely going to do it again. I don’t think I’m visiting another theme park (or that any theme park could be as cool as this one!) but hopefully, and I am crossing my fingers here very tightly, we’ll get to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter again before next April.
As for my theme, so far I’ve come up with two ideas. Let me show off a little bit here and tell you I’m keeping it a secret! One of the ideas is more nostalgic and the other is more a showcase of talent. I’m not sure if I’ll settle down with one of these or come up with a totally different one. Let’s see. What I do know is that I am really very excited!

Hope you get to go back!

Co-host Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh is the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm, and Dragon of the Stars, and his blog can be found HERE