Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hawks and Monarchs

My dad and my kids, scouting for raptors on top of HNC tower.

Every year, many species of animals, birds, and even insects, migrate from climates that are too cold to warmer ones where they will live until they can migrate back. This past weekend started International Hawk Migration Week, so my Dad traveled down for a visit in order to see the migration. I have the good fortune of living close to Hitchcock Nature Center (HNC), over in the Iowa Mountains, which is a favorite stop for hawks. 




A gorgeous view across the Iowa Mountains from the viewing tower at HNC.

We set out early in the morning for HNC so we would have plenty of time to climb the tower and hike around the park in order to see raptors. Fortunately, and unbeknownst at the time, it is also early in the Monarch Butterfly Migration as well. Because of the this, plenty of families were at HNC to take part in a Monarch tagging event. 





On top of the neat nature we were set to witness, it was a perfect temperature outside and it was lightly foggy as well. This fog blanketed the forest, and along with the burgeoning Fall colors beginning to shine through, it made everything look all the more stunning.





After the tower, we took a hike along Fox Ridge Run, one of the more popular (and easy) trails in the park.





The kids are keeping an eye out for raptors.





When Fox Ridge Run didn't afford us any view of either migrating species, I suggested we go to the opposite side, along different hills ridges, and hike along Badger Ridge. We were all glad I made that suggestion because we finally saw a handful of hawks AND monarchs. Here I captured two raptors sitting in a tree. I wish I would have brought my good camera instead of relying on my phone's camera!





Here's another shot of the hawks as they flapped their wings. I noticed they would do this whenever the wind picked up.





This shot is my favorite. It's not the greatest photo taken, but it does show the aforementioned hawks sitting in the tree, but I also captured a monarch! See it in flight in the top-center of the photo. I was trying to snap a photo of the monarchs, of which we saw several, but they move so quickly it's hard to capture them unless you have a good camera. Hey, at least I got both migrating species in one photo, right?


My dad is an avid hiker, which is where my love for it comes from. Having my Dad here, then, this past weekend was a lot of fun. Not only did we immensely enjoy getting to see hawks and butterflies as they migrated to warmer climates, but we got to go hiking together in my beloved Iowa Mountains (a.k.a. the Loess Hills). It was an amazing day, and I hope we can all do something like this again soon. Thanks, Dad. <3




Sunday, September 17, 2017

To Be a Child



I'm halfway through my life, and I struggle, now, to remember what it was like to be a child. I have snippets of memories, a couple of longer memories, and a whole array of feelings or sensations that I associate with my childhood, yet I can't really remember exactly what it was like to be a child. What I do have, however, are two children that I've nurtured and watched grow. While I've watched them both with fascination, it's been my daughter's growth as of late that holds my attention.

My daughter turned eleven this summer, and between then and now the rate of her mental development has astounded me. While I don't remember exactly what it was like to be her age, I see so much of myself in her that I can't help but look back and wonder if that's what I was like. She looks so much like me at that age, and she seems somewhat like the little person I remember being: a bit nerdy, awkward, naive, and full of wonder.

Yet, she's different. She's much more confident in her outsider status, and I can see her beginning to be stronger of mind than myself. Where I was more meek and mild, she's bold and outgoing. I'm so proud of the person she is, and I can't wait to see the woman she grows into.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Old Farm

 Recently, the kids and I took a day trip north of Omaha. During our adventures, we happened upon an old, abandoned farm. If you live in an area with lots of farmland, you know that you can find bits and pieces of yesteryear farms scattered about in some varying degree.

When I was growing up, there were a handful of old abandoned farms in the countryside near the tiny town I lived in. My friends and I would check them out once in awhile to see if we could find any treasures or interesting things inside.


Nowadays, more often than not, in my experience, these old abandoned farm buildings are either located next to or on an existing farm. This means that stopping and grabbing pictures isn't always the easiest thing to do.

I find old abandoned places fascinating, and I sometimes find myself wondering about their history. It was here that my mind wandered as we found a stand-alone abandoned farm that we could stop and take some pictures of.

As we briefly walked the grounds, snapping pictures, I tried to imagine the family that once lived here. Was it a mom, dad, and a few kids? Did they grow wheat in the winter, corn in the summer, and oats, millet, & barley the rest of the year? Did they have a few cows and chickens? Did they have a large garden?



If they were a typical farm family back in the day, then the answer would be yes for many of those questions. I imagine the fields that are next to the old farm - now plowed by large farm equipment - used to be part of the family farm. They used horses and plows to till the land to grow crops. Father and son would do this job along with feeding the animals, harvesting, baling hay, and chopping wood.

Mother and daughter would tend to the garden, prepare meals, sew clothes, do the washing, and keep the house clean.

It won't be too far down the road before these old remaining buildings either collapse completely, or are torn down to make way for something else. Until then, they stand as reminders of a bygone age, and a small walk down memory lane.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dark and Dreary Days

Photo courtesy of author on instagram @halarsonwriter
There's nothing I love more than a dark & dreary day. While I certainly love a warm, sunny day on occasion, it is it's counterpart that reigns supreme in my heart.

While others lament the dark, dreary days as perfect days for staying indoors or in bed, I smile broadly and contemplate where to go and what to do. Nothing makes me want to get outdoors more than this kind of day.

I don't know why I love dark and dreary days so much, but I do. Maybe it has something to do with Autumn, or...maybe that's why I like Autumn so much. There are plenty of dark & dreary days in my favorite season.

I look forward to the overcast days, the hint of rain in the air, the cozy jeans & long-sleeved shirts, the cute little jackets & scarves, the brilliant colors of the leaves as they change, mulled apple cider, and long, comfortable walks in the forest.

Here's to hoping for a dark & dreary day soon.

-H.A.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

New Book Reveal!


I think it's about that time again. Yep, you guessed it: it's time for my latest book reveal! My last book, The Box, was published in May...which was four months ago already. Where has the time gone? Of course, I began work on my latest book before I even finished the last one...it's just how I roll. 

Really, all that means is that I wrote the first paragraph. It's a way for me to cement the idea I have in my head for how the next book will go, and I always have my next book idea firmly in mind before I finish the one at hand.

At any rate, it's time for the reveal:





Ta da! My latest book is called Vanished, and it's another thriller. I'm really excited about this one, and I think you will be too. As an added bonus, I'm going to share a short excerpt from the book:



Finally, Will snapped another picture and pointed another twenty feet or so ahead. “Look…look there,” he whispered. The whisper came out exhilarated and Rudy could see the look of excitement on his partner’s face. He turned to look where Will was pointing, and instantly his heart began to beat faster.
Leaving Will where he was, but being careful all the same, he moved to the spot Will had pointed out, jotted down some more notes, and then grabbed his own smart phone to take a picture while Will joined him.
Rudy spoke first, “Where the hell did they go?”
“It’s like they disappeared into thin air,” Will answered.
Both men stared for a long time at the footprints in the snow, perplexed by what they saw. The new snow was starting to fill in the feet, blurring the indentation of toes and heels. The tracks were of a running stride, they could both tell from the space between steps and how the feet landed in the snow. What was bewildering was that the footprints suddenly ended in mid-run.




So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments! I hope your weekend is grand, and I'll be back in a few days with a new post.

-H.A.




(Any and all parts of this book cover and excerpt belong exclusively to H.A. Larson, and may not be reproduced without explicit permission.)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Latest Libations: Central Nebraska Brewery Tour


This past weekend, I got to take a brewery tour through central Nebraska. Now, it didn't start off to be a tour of a few breweries, but rather an afternoon to do lunch with a few ladies then tour one brewery: Scratchtown Brewery in Ord, NE. The reason we chose Scratchtown is that one of the ladies knows the owner, and they were going to give us a tour of the place. Alas, fate had other plans, and we weren't able to get the tour.




That didn't stop us from sitting on the nice patio of the brewery and having a beer on a gorgeous day.




The tall glass is mine, and it is their Popcorn Daze Ale. While it smelled more like popcorn than tasted like it, I enjoyed this light, yet tasty, beer. After this beer, I had the one on the right called Hills and Hollers. It was a deliciously dark, yet lighter tasting, chicory ale. I wouldn't hesitate to call this my favorite out of the two. 

After a couple of beers and some complimentary pretzels, we formed a plan for what we should do next. Since we weren't able to take the tour, we felt like we needed to check out at least one other brewery. An older gentleman, who was leaving as we were sitting on the patio, suggested we drive northwest into Taylor to try Bootleg Brewers. It was going to be a long drive, but we decided, "Why not?"




Bootleg Brewers is located north of Taylor, NE, and set about three miles in a valley off the main road. Halfway in on the gravel, you finally see a gate and sign that designates where Bootleg's property begins. Located deep in the sandhills of Nebraska, the setting for this place couldn't be any more beautiful.




We were pretty hungry by this time, so I ordered some battered mushrooms and sweet potato fries, both delicious. To go with it, I ordered a Muddy Duck, a perfectly brewed English Brown Ale. If you aren't sure what a brown ale is, think Newcastle or Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale. Bootleg's Muddy Duck was probably my favorite dark beer of the day. Dark, mildly nutty, and chocolately like a porter, I could easily see myself drinking this on a regular basis.




One of the neat things about Bootleg was the cabins situated to the left of the brewery itself. We were told that they are rentable, and this makes total sense as the brewery is way out in the middle of nowhere. One could easily make a night or two out of their trip, especially when live music is playing on the weekends.




Since we were already way out in the sandhills of central Nebraska, we figured that we might as well make our last brewery stop at Kinkaider Brewery in Broken Bow. Now, if you've read any of my past Latest Libations, you'll know that I've had and reviewed Kinkaider before.




You can sit on their back deck and see their brew tanks. Very cool indeed.




I started off with Snozzberry Sour, a delightful, lightly fruity, sour ale.




Since this was our last brewery stop, two of us decided that a flight would be a fantastic idea. Not only does Kinkaider have a standard sized flight, they also have the ultimate flight: The Dirty Dozen Sampler. Simply put, you can get a flight of all twelve of the brews they have on tap. At $18 for 12 four-ounce flights, it's about $6 per 12 ounce beer. My friend and I split the flight, and we also gave a couple of them to our other friend. We enjoyed it immensely. Because the tap brews change, here's the twelve we had, starting on the top left and continuing on the bottom left:

1. Dan the Wiser (Kolsch)
2. Peffercorn Red Ale (Red Ale)
3. Herd Law Honey Wheat (Pale Wheat Ale)
4. Moscow Mule Ale (Blonde Ale)
5. 4-Country Pale Ale (Pale Ale)
6. Buffalo Dress Amber Ale (Red Amber Ale)
7. Snozzberry Sour (Sour Ale)
8. Frame the Butcher IPA (India Pale Ale)
9. Hiram's Bones Porter (Porter)
10. Oktoberfest (Festbier)
11. Bearded Bock Lager (Bock)
12. Devil's Gap Jalapeno Ale (Spiced/Herb Ale)

We discovered that 7 and 12 mixed together were quite delicious, just as an FYI.


What a fun, unique way to spend the day! We had so much fun that we've decided to make this an annual thing. Since it took so long just to drive from home, and then from place to place (I left my home at 9:45 a.m. and didn't get back until 3:00 a.m.), we also decided that it's probably better to rent a place for the night. I don't know about you, but I have my eye on the Bootleg Cabins. 

Until next time, happy drinking!



Sunday, September 3, 2017

Basic Financial Fitness: Having Fun with Little to No Money



One of the common misconceptions in our society today is that one must spend money in order to have a good time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, certain activities that are fun do require money, but there are plenty of activities one can do that do not. When times are lean but you don't want to skip out on some fun, make fun anyway. 

Write down a list of things you enjoy to do, whether they cost money or not. Try and think of everything, no matter how small. Then, sit down and take a good look at your list, and rank them from lowest cost to highest cost. You now have a burgeoning list of things to do, depending on your budget, for when you are looking to get out of the house. You can grow this list over time until you have a good selection of things to choose from.

To help you out, here are a list of things that I like to do that cost little to no money. When I say little to no money, I'm assuming that there is the price of gas because most things do require driving, but gas can be minimal or included as the "little money" variety.


1. A Day-Trip Adventure

Sometimes we all need to get out and take a little adventure. While this may be true, our bank accounts might remind us that taking a weekend getaway somewhere with hotel and meals isn't possible. When this happens to us, and it has frequently, we fall back on a favorite: the Day Trip. I have the travel guides for my state and the one right next door, so combine that with the power of the internet search, and I can easily plan out a destination or a route. This is how it works: 

A. I will find a group of three, maybe four, things that are within a reasonable driving distance that I'd like to go to (that don't cost anything or very little). 

B. I pack up a really nice picnic lunch including a snack and plenty of water.

C. Take my camera and any other items one might need.

D. Hit the road.

For examples of this, read this blog post I wrote not long ago, as well as this one.


2. Free or Cheap Festivals and Events

If I'm up for getting out and about, but don't want to go far from home and/or spend the effort packing up for such a trip, I find the free festivals and events. If you're not sure where to start, your local newspaper (most of them are online as well) is a good place. I've noticed that websites like eventbrite also do a pretty good job of covering things to do in every area. In my city, particularly when the weather is nice, there is always something going on during the weekend. I can find a free or super cheap activity to do, then put snacks and water in my backpack before heading there.


3. Hit Up Your City, County, and State Parks

I don't know about you, but I love getting outdoors as much as possible. Parks are a great way to get out and do something fun. For one thing, you get out into the beauty of nature, and secondly, it usually is free or might require a small daily fee. Where I live, city parks are free, county parks are usually $2/day per car, and state parks are $6/day per car.

We will typically pick a park that has a playground (for the kids), a decent hiking trail, a shelter house/picnic tables with grills, and if we can find one with a lake or river as well...bonus! Depending on what kind of food we have at home (Again, you're trying to save money not spend it, so going out to buy picnic/grill food is silly. Be creative with what you have and avoid the urge to spend.), we will either pack a picnic lunch with or without stuff to put on the grill, or if we aren't going for an extended period of time, we will pack snacks and drinks.


4. Places that are usually Free or Really Cheap

I live in an area that has an excellent museum that just so also happens to have free admission. We have other museums, nature centers, and galleries (to name a few) that are also free or very inexpensive. Find and make a list of all of these kinds of places as they're perfect for crappy weather days - whether it's super hot or super cold.


5. Hiking

This is my fall-back activity. Nothing else to do? Bored and restless? Dress appropriately, bring plenty of water (and a light snack), and hit the trails. It's a great activity that doesn't take hours, gets you some exercise, all while located in a gorgeous setting.


6. Camping

Want to get away for the weekend but have very little money? Camping is your answer. There's a reason I have a complete set of camping gear. I can utilize all or parts of it for different things, but camping is fun and cheap. I made a list years ago of all the essential items needed for a one- or two-day camping trip, so every time we feel like camping, I dust off the list and get busy. Just make sure the weather is cooperative. Camping in the dead of Summer, or during colder days can be a challenge, so consider it when deciding whether camping is going to work on that date.


7. Winery or Brewery Tours

This is a fun activity, more for adults, that really doesn't require a lot of money. It does require some, but not a bunch...if you do it right. Here's how it works.

A. Start with an internet search of wineries/breweries in your area. Check out their websites and see what their prices/events/rules are. 

B. Make a list of three, four at the most, that you'd like to go to, then strategically figure out your driving route to them.

C. Have fun! 

The way you save money is to remember that you're out to have fun, not break the bank. Wine tastings typically include samples of 4-6 wines, and will run you $5-$7 bucks, on average. Some wineries will also let you bring your own snacks, or provide snacks for no extra charge. This makes your total Winery Tour around a $20-$25 adventure. Breweries do something similar by offering what is called a "flight". Flights are typically four to five 4-ounce samples of some of their brews, and will cost anywhere from $5-$8 dollars on average. Some breweries will provide snacks, while others will not. Still, you can leave some snacks and/or water in the car for between places. This means a brewery tour can run you $20-$30 dollars. Considering the cost of many other activities, this is a low-cost, fun activity that can easily make the most of a Saturday. Checking out their websites is essential. There's a winery not far from us that has Sangria Sundays. For a $5 charge, you see a live band, get a glass of sangria, and a bowl of chips & salsa. You can't beat it! You won't know unless you do the research though.


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And there you have it, a nice little list of fun free to extremely inexpensive ways to have a good time, and this is not a comprehensive list by any means. It's a good start though, and I'd highly recommend them to you.

Having fun things to do can enrich your life, fill it with meaning, and make you happy. It's a hard task when you're on a super-limited, or even just a limited, budget. However, it is doable, and this list proves it. 

Do you have any great suggestions to add to this list? Comment below.