Sunday, February 18, 2018

Finding Myself After All These Years

The past year proved to be the most monumental year of my life. The most significant thing being that I found myself. Finally, after forty-five years of wandering without a lot of direction - trying to find my place in the world - I've arrived.

There are more than a few reasons why it took me so long, and it all started in my youth. I was carefully (albeit lovingly and with the best of intentions) sheltered from the world. When I was nineteen, I moved out on my own, but I was completely unprepared to deal with an adult life. Now, I'm sure most kids feel this way when they are thrust out from the safety net of their parent(s), but I was especially so.

I tried living in an apartment in town, but I barely made enough money to pay the rent, and my furniture was a twin mattress & box spring, along with whatever was left there by the previous tenant. This amounted to an old couch. I found a large industrial wire spool in the back storage area that I used for a kitchen table, but I had no chairs and no food to eat anyway. I hated it.

I floundered quickly and decided maybe college was a better option for me. I tried a year at NWMSU, but only partied and never went to class, so I flunked out. I came back home, just as lost as before, but with a few friends that I still have to this day.

My closet friend from high school lived a few towns over from my Dad's house, where she lived with her husband and small son and offered to let me come live there long enough to get off my feet. I managed to get a job, and eventually moved into my own place. Again, I was completely clueless and spent the next several years in a pattern of screwing it all up, moving somewhere different, partying my ass off, repeat.

Eventually, after going through this crappy pattern one too many times, I decided to give college another try. After a successful semester at the satellite campus of a community college in my town, I moved two hours away to live with my maternal grandmother who lived in the town where the main campus was. She had an upstairs that served as a bedroom and living room for me (rent free) and I worked part-time, went to college full-time, but still had a lot of fun partying my ass off. I graduated with honors and a tiny human growing in my belly.

I took my boyfriend and myself back to Missouri where I settled into a somewhat domestic life of raising a baby, taking care of a home, and going to college full-time at Mizzou. The relationship was crap, right from the start, so a week before I was set to graduate, I had to flee my home. My story then picks up in this blog post I wrote a few months back.

I've lived here in Omaha for the past fifteen years now, and it's here where I finally eased myself off of the old cycle and truly grew up. After I hit 40, I really matured, figured out who I was, and everything else kind of fell into place. It's no surprise, then, that between 40 and 45 I was feeling a bit desperate to accomplish all the things. I have a lot of catching up to do, after all. I finally calmed that crazy urge to bring the future to the present, and I've decided that making plans for the future is the way to go, because it takes time to bring a good plan together.

While I could mourn the years I've lost - and I have - I wouldn't change a thing. I have two kids that mean everything to me and if my destiny would've been different...I wouldn't have them, and I can't imagine a life without them. Instead, I'm focusing on those plans I mentioned and living my life to the fullest until then.

My time is coming. I'll be ready.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Dead of Winter



It's been a busy and productive few weeks for me as I've been working hard for the organizations I'm involved with, taking care of regular life, working at my job, and developing/writing The Houses of Hades. This renewal of productively comes on the heels of a solid month and a half of Winter doldrums (which I talked about in my last post). I know some of it is probably hormones (I'm moving towards "the change"), but a lot of it is just Winter.

Growing up in the Midwest, I am no stranger to Winter, and when I was a kid I loved it. I would play with my friends for hours in the snow building snow forts and sledding. It was just a part of growing up. That love never waned as I moved into my adult years. There was nothing I loved more than wearing warm coats, pretty scarves, and wearing my favorite jeans & long shirts. Over the past decade, however, the tide has shifted.

At first it was a just a sense of unpleasantness that arrived after about a month of frigid temps. This was still true to an extent this year, as back in December I was lamenting that Winter hadn't arrived. But during this holiday season, I realized that I'm starting to actually dread it. At first, I like it. The snow is pretty, it covers up the bareness of nature making for a nice change of scenery, but, honestly, that feeling only lasts for a short while. Then, once that newness has quickly worn off, I seem to plummet into a mild, seasonal case of the blues.

That case of the blues really hampers my drive, my creativity, and my productiveness in general. I had lofty goals when the new year rolled around, but I never really followed through with any of them until the last two weeks, and the last week in earnest. I've really been getting my house in order, taking care of projects, getting back in the saddle with my health, and working hard...it's a good feeling.

However, while I feel good about my accomplishments as of late, I realize that maybe I'm not the Winter person I thought I was, or maybe just not the Winter person I used to be. I'm sure I'll have another set of blues to deal with before Spring comes, and hopefully I can stay ahead of it. There's nothing I hate more than feeling useless. I think that someday, when I move away from here, I'm going to have to live somewhere warmer.

I hope you're staying warm, my friend. 

H.A.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Big Announcement

I have an exciting announcement to make: I'm writing a trilogy!

Not too long ago, I talked about how I wasn't really feeling the new book I had started so decided to put it on hold until a later date. I also talked about how I felt called to work on a trilogy I had already sketched out in some fair detail. It's called The Houses of Hades, and I'm working on it in earnest. I'm hoping to have the first in the series - The House of Vermilion - out in late Fall or early Winter of this year.

This trilogy of tales will be different than the thrillers I have been writing. This is more of a fantasy series and takes my readers behind the mythos of good and evil, putting faces to them and, in the process, maybe realizing that not everything is as it seems. You'll also be reintroduced to Cazhir, a character from my book The Box.

It's an exciting time for me! I can really tell how far I've come as a writer, and I'm looking forward to unveiling this to the world. In the next month or two, I'll be making a trailer or two, giving you teasers, and unveiling the cover. Mark your calendars and stay tuned!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Perfectly, Lovely Saturday


As I sit here this Saturday morning, a cup of warm coffee in my hand, staring at the snow-covered landscape out my window, I'm thinking about last Saturday. 

Between all the bleak, cold, rainy (yes, rainy), and snowy days over the past month, we've had a couple of really nice days. It's typical of the Midwest, really, for this to be the case, so none of us were surprised to see a 50-degree day last weekend sandwiched between two cold ones.

I have been fully enveloped in the Winter doldrums, so I wasn't about to let a nice day slip through my fingers. Off we went, then, last Saturday to one of my favorite haunts: Neale Woods.


It was relatively dry, maybe about 70%, which is great for walking in the woods. Wet forests make for hard trekking. I was also in possession of my brand new smartphone. I had dropped my old Galaxy S4 (hehe) and the screen quit working, so it was a good excuse to upgrade. I now own the Galaxy S7, and, man, does it take amazing pictures! I didn't even have to filter any of these.

The first pic is Nature Girl walking along the beginning trail moving North from the old Nature Center. This pic is NG and my husband on the viewing platform.




Neale Woods sits in the Ponca Hills, which rest on the Eastern edge of Nebraska. Standing on the platform, you have a clear view over to the Iowa Mountains (a.k.a. Loess Hills) which sit on the Western edge of Iowa.

You can see the Iowa Mountains in the background under the gorgeous cloud-filled sky. What a view!

This building here on the left is the old Millard Observatory. It used to be in operation until 2013, and to this day I regret never dragging myself here one evening to see the stars.


I love hiking in the Winter months when I'm able. Most people see a barren forest and see no beauty, but I always see beauty in the forest, no matter what the season.

Besides, look how far you can see into the woods without the foliage getting in the way.


A hint of green moss on this old tree contrasts with the bit of snow off to the left.
Winter trees leave an unobstructed view across the Ponca Hills to my beloved Iowa Mountains.



As we were sadly departing, I snapped this last perspective shot of the old education seats near the parking lot. You can also spy the ever-cool pagoda birdhouse. These seats, as well as the birdhouse, are just ghosts now.

While Fontanelle Association puts the bulk of their money into Fontanelle Forest, they still maintain Neale Woods enough to keep it usable. No matter to me, it will always be my favorite place to hike here in the Omaha metro, and I hope it stays open to the public forever.




Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Latest Libations: 11th Edition

What brews have I been trying lately? Read on to find out.



I've said it before - plenty of times - and I'll say it again: Boulevard never does me wrong. This special Tasting Room brew was in one of their special 12-packs. This Pale Ale incorporates crushed oats in the mash process for a dry, earthy flavor that makes for a great sipping beer.




Another Boulevard offering, American Kolsch is a Golden Ale. Reminiscent of a Pilsner, this delicious beer is golden in color and big on taste.




Deschutes Jubelale is a Winter Ale. Winter Ales are beers that are brewed strong and incorporate spices and other bold flavors, perfect for cold nights. I've had some good Winter Ales before, but this one is different than a lot of the regular Spiced ones I've had. This one has more of a cocoa-coffee taste, and I wasn't a big fan.




Empyrean Brewing Co, right here in Nebraska, has finally set the bar high. This amazing Pitched Blue Black & Blueberry Ale is one of my new favorites. Bold on taste, perfectly flavored with fruit, and just a hint of sweet, I could drink this beer all day. Highly recommended!




Infusion's Gingerbread Vanilla Bean Blonde is a Christmas take on their standard Vanilla Bean Blonde. While the standard VBB is quite delicious, this one was just all right. I usually like Gingerbread and an occasional gingerbread drink, but this one wasn't too exciting. I think it was just too much going on in one drink. If you like gingerbread though, you'd like this drink.


That's a few of the brews I've tried lately. How about you? What beers have you been enjoying?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Basic Financial Fitness: Credit Cards


The humble credit card: a piece of plastic that is a curse or a blessing, depending on who you ask. Credit cards can be divisive, not just for the opinions that surround them, but because of the havoc they can wreak when used improperly. If used improperly, they lead to a mountain of debt, but used properly, can be a useful and handy tool for the budget. Let's talk about credit cards, then, and whether or not you should have one. (If you already have credit cards and use them wisely, this post isn't for you.)

A credit card, in the most basic sense, is a piece of plastic that acts much like a ready-at-the-service loan provider. You use your card in place of cash, check, or debit card to purchase goods and services. It's a loan in that you're borrowing money every time you swipe it, and the idea is that you then pay back (usually in the form of a monthly payment) the principal (amount borrowed) plus interest.

To say that credit cards have been used improperly by many people is an understatement. The average credit card debt per U.S. household in 2017 was $8,177.00.* Meanwhile, the average interest rate on credit cards is 17.4%.** That means that debt will balloon up by $1,422.80 for a total of $9,599.80. But - and this is a big but - if you're not paying that balance in full the amount of interest you end up paying will be more. The reason for this is compound interest. If you're only making monthly payments, you will get a new finance charge (i.e. interest) each month that will charge you interest on top of your interest. 

How much interest you pay monthly - and the resulting new balance - is calculated thusly: 

  • Annual interest rate (in this example 17.4%) divided by 12 months in a year, so 17.4/12=1.45%. 1.45% is how much you're going to be charged in interest on remaining balances.
  • If you make a $300.00 payment against the original balance of $8,177.00, you'll drop the balance down to $7,877.00. 
  • Your bank (for example) charges interest at the end of the month, usually after your payment due date. 1.45% is going to be levied against the $7,877.00. 
  • This adds another $114.21 to your balance for a total of $7,991.22.
  • This means that only $185.79 of your $300.00 payment has been applied to the principal balance. 
  • Your new balance is now higher than it was after you initially made your payment!
  • Repeat each month.
It's no wonder that people with high credit card debt feel like they're drowning...because they are! They're drowning in interest rates, and it will take a long, long time to pay that balance off making monthly payments. This is especially true if one is only making the minimum payment. 

So, after looking at the stark numbers, I'm sure some of you are thinking that you shouldn't acquire or use credit cards. Well, if you're one of those kinds of people that are frugal spenders and excellent savers with lots of money in the bank for any emergency scenario, then, no, you do not necessarily need credit cards. In this day and age, if you are one of those kinds of people, a debit card will get you by just fine. You can rest easy knowing that if you have a problem, you can afford to take care of it with your hard-earned savings.

However, if you are not one of those kinds of people, then credit cards are a great thing to have on hand. What if your car breaks down and you have a costly repair bill? What if said car breaks down while you're far from home, and you need to get a tow, a motel room, and a car repair? What if the place you're living in is destroyed and you find yourself displaced temporarily? What if you work from home and your computer up and quits running for good one day? What if your grandparent on the other side of the country dies, and you need to book a flight? These are all good reasons to whip out a credit card to get you out of your situation.*** In all these cases, if you use your card just for emergencies, then make more than the minimum payment every month, you should have it paid off fairly quickly. 

There are other scenarios where using a card is advantageous. I know people who simply prefer to use a card instead of carrying the cash they already have. They use their card, then pay it off in full each month. This works especially well for people who get cash back on their purchases using their card. They spend what they normally would, pay it off before the billing cycle, and then get their cash back at the end of the year. Now, I know these two ways of using cards exist, but I'm not going to get into the specifics on either one of those. I think these latter ways of using a card is better left to people who have good control of their money and spending habits, and who have extra money in which to spend.

Where people really get into trouble with cards, is by using them to, basically, purchase all kinds of wants. If you're using your cards to buy clothes, decor, to go out with friends, or to purchase groceries****, then only make the minimum payment on said cards, you shouldn't be using cards. Unless it's an emergency situation, you should never use your cards to buy items you should be using your normal income stream to purchase. If you don't have much money left over after bills, you should be saving money until you can afford to buy wants. What you need to do is to adopt a smart money mindset, something I discussed in detail in this blog post.

To sum it up, credit cards can be a blessing or a curse, so choose wisely. If you're new to finances and credit cards, get a basic card with a low credit limit or a secured card.***** Keep it around for emergencies and pay it off as quickly as possible. Not only will you build good credit, but you'll start to learn how to navigate the world of card ownership.




*Figure courtesy of www.thebalance.com.
**I arrived at this figure from a list at www.valuepenguin.com. I added together the six average credit card rates and then divided that number by six to get the overall average rate.
***Now, this isn't to say you shouldn't build up an emergency fund because you absolutely should. I've discussed the importance of savings in-depth before. Click here to read more about it.
****Yes, even groceries. You have to purchase wisely and buy what you can afford. It's too easy to spend far too much, time and time again, at the grocery store if you're giving yourself license to purchase whatever you want. You can easily find yourself blowing up your normal food allotment to triple or quadruple what you would normally spend. Don't do it! 
*****There are two types of credit cards: secured and unsecured. Your spending limit on an unsecured card is determined by your credit history and your income, while your spending limit on a secured card is the amount of a deposit you are required to pay. In this second option, your credit line is secure because you're only allowed to spend the amount of money that you deposited in. The only bad thing with secured cards is that there is usually an annual fee. This is a good option for people with bad credit histories or who are just starting out and feel like they need more guidance.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Upcoming Celestial Events


I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about upcoming celestial events. The reason that today is perfect for this? Early tomorrow morning - if you live Stateside - you can see a super rare, very cool, event: a Super Blue Blood Moon. Now, I'm sure you're wondering what the heck a Super Blue Blood Moon is, but, never fear, I'm here to explain.



1. January 31st - Super Blue Blood Moon

A Supermoon occurs when a full moon happens to be closet to Earth on it's orbit, making it appear larger than usual. A Blue Moon is a second full moon in a month. A Blood Moon occurs during a lunar eclipse as the moon will appear red due to the way sunlight then reflects off it. When all three occur at the same time, you get a Super Blue Blood Moon. If you love star stuff, then you absolutely should not miss this event. It's the first time since, yes, 1866 that this event happened last so it's probably the only time you'll ever get the chance. If you want to know the specifics, this article on space.com has all the details.



2. February 15th - New Moon

During a New Moon, it will be on the same side of Earth as the Sun, so will not be seen. This means that the night sky will be quite clear, and viewing objects will be easier. Faint galaxies and star clusters will all be more visible thanks to the New Moon.



3. March 2nd - Full Moon

In contrast to the New Moon, a Full Moon is located on the opposite side of Earth as the Sun, so will be heavily illuminated. The Moon will look robust and bright in the night sky.



4. March 7th - 8th - Parade of Planets

Beginning in late February, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will appear to align in the sky - best seen around dawn. When March 7 rolls around, for two days, the Moon will join them, paying a visit to each planet. On the 8th, it will sit between Jupiter and Mars.


There you have it: the major celestial events happening through the end of March 2018. I hope you get a chance to see the Super Blue Blood Moon, if nothing else. Happy sky viewing!