Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nostalgia





Is there anything more amazing than the human brain? Made of soft tissue instead of metal & wires, it performs a variety of calculations much like a supercomputer. Every day, our brains make decisions, plan futures, figure out details, and run us through a myriad of emotions. It's a marvel within itself, and while I love it, it can also be my biggest pain.

Let's talk about those myriad of emotions a little bit more shall we? We all know the gambit of feelings our brain instructs us to feel, and how sometimes they're a blessing, other times they can be a curse, and, on certain days, they lie somewhere in the middle. That's how I've been feeling over the last few days: in the middle.

It's probably proper that my emotions are somewhere between bitter and sweet, because I am at a crossroads in my life. I am firmly in between my past and my future. I've been planning, for quite some time, a new beginning for my life, but as far as proper planning goes, if you want to do things right, sometimes you have to take your time. That's where I am.

That time allows for a smooth transition, but it also allows my brain to deal with the past. It's important to deal with the past in order to move forward, but it's still a roller coaster of sorts. For me, it's been nostalgia. The last several days have been a wave of simulataneously feeling happy and sad. 

In everyone's life, relationships we have with other people are fluid. They change, grow, develop, and enrich us. Sometimes those relationships drift apart. While that can be a good or bad thing, depending on the situation, it still comes with a lot of emotional baggage that one is left to deal with. 

I've had plenty of interpersonal relationships with many people over the years. Some have been really great and long-lasting. Some were never meant to be more than blips on life's radar. Some have been bad and didn't end soon enough. Only one, for me, has been a mixture of good and bad that lasted a long time but ran it's course. 

Sometimes you outgrow another person, and even though you want it to be what it once was...it won't. You can try all you want to preserve what it used to be, but life moves at it's own pace and what will be, will be. Even though I recognize it for what it is now and am ready to embrace my future on my own, I'm still nostalgic for what that relationship used to mean to me. I miss the closeness, the intimacy, the things we had in common that we enjoyed doing together, and the way it felt like we were a solid unit when we were out and about doing things.

What I don't miss is the arguing, the fighting, the way we could never agree about the important things in life, how it seemsed our lives were drifting farther & farther apart, how we didn't like to do the same things anymore, and how it felt like there was a big wall between us. 

The truth is, it isn't what is used to be, it is what it is as of right now. Nostalgia wants me to forget that sometimes and throw myself back into a relationship that no longer fits me, no longer grows me, and no longer works. You can't always fix what's already broken, but maybe, just maybe, a little part of me wishes I could. I need to move on from the nostalgia so I'm going to take a few moments to remember the good things about the relationship, and then bid it farewell. 

We had some good times, you and me. A lot of good times actually, and we created something wonderful. For those things I am forever grateful. We also had more bad times, horrible times really, than good. I will never miss those, but I will take them as a learning experience. They helped define who I am now, and I like who I am now.

Thanks for the memories. Peace be with you my friend. 

Forever, H

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Minneapolis Trip

I've been busy the last several days so I didn't see much point in trying to get much done in the way of social media. I took my kids to Minneapolis for the weekend where we had lots of fun. We got there Friday evening and went out to eat at a pizza place that served omni and vegan pizzas. I had an amazing pizza with vegan brownies for dessert. It was delicious! 

Saturday we went to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (for those of you who don't already know, I am a die-hard Ren Faire fanatic). I was there once many, many years ago and didn't remember that it's one of the largest Ren Faires in the country. Between the Ren Faire, using the hotel gym, and walking around the city some more we did 12 miles of walking that day. I reached another milestone weight-wise, so that was a nice added bonus.

We headed back home Sunday morning because I had to go back to work that evening. Yesterday I had to put away all the stuff from our trip, clean the house, and get some shopping done. I did relax last night which was much-needed. 

So, all in all, we had a blast. Here's a few pics of our journey.





A view of Minneapolis from out hotel room. We had a room on the 23rd floor, which was really cool.




At the Ren Faire. This was the first act we saw when we arrived. An escape artist who got out of a straight jacket. Very cool.




The legendary, world-famous Puke & Snot was at the faire! I had always heard that if one ever got a chance to see them, not to miss them. I didn't think I'd ever get to see them so that was exciting! They were awesome.




The kids rode on old-fashioned rides like this one. Fun!





Fandazzi Fire Circus. This was really cool. They had a band that accompanied them, and they were all amazing. I made a video of it.






Balancing an ice sculpture on the head. 




After relaxing for a bit after the Ren Faire, we headed over to Minnehaha Park. I had heard that there were falls there, and there sure was. Beautiful! It was kind of late when we arrived, but no worries, they light it up.




A view of the city from the top floor of the parking ramp at the hotel. The kids wanted to go to the top, and I didn't care. It was fun.



Last, but not least, we drove by this sign on the way to and fro. We thought it was pretty funny. Maybe we'll stop at Manly Forest City sometime.  ;)


Thursday, September 24, 2015

National Daughter's Day



When my husband and I first starting dating, I had a 3-year old son. As our relationship started getting serious and we started planning a future together, I let him know that I was done having children. I didn't feel like I was that great of a mom, and I knew that I really hated pregnancy and childbirth, so my son was the only child I ever planned on having.

A few years into living together, my not-quite-husband turned to me and said, "Are you sure you don't want any more children?" I pondered on his words for a moment and realized that he wasn't wanting a simple yes or no answer. He wanted me to have his baby. At that moment I decided that maybe I did want another baby, and since I was 32-years old at the time, I suggested that we get started right away. I was sure, but I was apprehensive. 

The next year, right around my son's 6th birthday, I had tell-tale signs of being pregnant. One home pregnancy test and one trip to the OB-GYN later, it was confirmed: I was going to have another baby.
I was a nervous, for many reasons, but I was excited too. On June 27, 2006, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl and instantly fell in love, just like I had with my son nearly seven years prior. My fears of not being a good mother subsided as I adjusted to having two children, and my skills as a mother became more concrete. Having another baby taught me how to be a better mom and I really blossomed into motherhood after that.

Now, my handsome son is 15 and my beautiful daughter is 9. While parenting has had it's ups and downs--we've all had our trying days--I'm thankful everyday for my children. They've given my life so much joy and meaning, and I absolutely love every moment I get to spend with them. There are no two people I'd rather spend time with.

My daughter is no longer a baby, she's growing up fast right before my eyes. It's bittersweet for sure as I miss the little thing who relied on me for everything, but at the same time I relish seeing the strong, independent girl she is becoming. So today, on National Daughter's Day, I want to wish the best of days to one of the sweetest, kindest, smartest, and prettiest little girls I know. Thanks for being my daughter and choosing me as your mom, and, to that end, I hope I have lived up to expectations. I love you baby girl. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Family, Friends, Food, and Fun


Hello everyone! It's been a few days since my last post, so I figured I was due for one. I took a much-needed break this weekend. Even when I'm not working at my regular job, I still devote some time, nearly every day, to doing social media promotion and working on my book. I also work on any side projects that need to be taken care of as well. This weekend though, I took a break from all of it. I had friends from out-of-town stay overnight two different evenings. 

The first set came as a surprise for my best friend's birthday. I had people over where we enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres. It was a pleasant, relaxing evening filled with great conversation and laughs.

The next day I took my kids on a gorgeous hike at one of our favorite spots. The weather was in the high 60s and we enjoyed the bugless, nearly fall look that the landscape is acquiring. We are looking forward to fall!

My bank had member days on Sunday and I took the kids for free entertainment, free t-shirts, free activities, and free food. It was a good time!


The last set of visiting friends stopped by before their big move out to the West coast. They were treated to a large, fabulous vegan meal of spicy lentil chili garnished with cheeze sauce; cripsy, baked pita triangles; and a simple green salad dressed with a peanut-style viniagrette & homemade croutons. It was a big hit and everyone went in for seconds, and even thirds!




I also realized that I hadn't spent a single evening outside this year either. I have a back patio and usually, many times over each summer, I sit out there with tiki torches and a big bonfire. It's a great, peaceful way to relax and reflect over a drink. We decided to make one in the front yard instead and we enjoyed our wine with a comfortable fire. The weather was perfect for it, not too hot nor too cold and the fire felt just right.




Luckily, I had enough of this year's batch of my homemade mulberry schnapps leftover to pour myself one final drink on the rocks and enjoy. It was a satisfying conclusion to a great weekend. 




Today, after my friends helped clean up and go on their way, I got back to business doing my author groove, and here shortly I'm on to my work week. 


I hope you have a fabulous day and a terrific week!

Much love,

H.A.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Life: The Infinitely Finite




One block over from my house is a street that I drive on daily. Nearly every day for the last five years, I have driven by a little yellow duplex located on that street. While I've never met the occupants there personally, I've driven by there so many times that I feel like I kind of "know" them.

The right side of the duplex has had a menagerie of young girls that have moved in and out of the duplex over the years, but the left side has always been occupied by an elderly woman. If I had to guess her age, I'd guess her to be about 75. I would even venture to say that she was a young 75. Her hair was always cut in a cute short style and died a nice bright red color. She loved sitting outside in the sun on hot summer days. She'd drag her patio table and chairs out into her driveway (no umbrella) where she would read for hours while soaking up the rays.

Last week, I saw many trash cans filled with junk sitting outside by her curb and my mind took mental note. I've never seen her have more than one trash can and one recycle bin sitting outside during trash day so I began to wonder if she had passed away.

A few days later when I drove by I noticed a lady carrying boxes out to a U-Haul van parked in the driveway. Then, today when I drove by, I looked over to see a few more trashcans that had already been emptied earlier in the day. The pretty lace curtains that used to hang in her big living room window were gone, replaced by a vision of emptiness. I could see through into the darkened apartment where nary a thing remains.

I have to admit, I got a bit choked up. Maybe it's just the hormones of a woman inching ever closer to menopause (that's a different story), or maybe I'm just a softie, but I really felt a pang of sadness at the passing of a woman that I really didn't know.

What was she like? Was she ever married, or was she an old maid? Did she have any children? I'll probably never know for sure, but I'd like to imagine that she lived an exciting life in her youth, one filled with adventure and romance. That she loved fast and hard, that she had one child who doted on her, and that she enjoyed the lazier pace of her twilight years immersing herself in tales of enchantment as she basked in the warm glow of the Sun's rays.

It really is a reminder of how life is. It's finite for all living things, but infinite in general. Life continues on whether we're still here to be in it or not. It's also a reminder of how life is fleeting. I hoped she accomplished everything she wanted out of life, and died happy. It's what I would want. It's what we would all want.

R.I.P. sweet neighbor-lady,

H.A.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dealing with Criticism


I'm no stranger to criticism. As a writer who's done a myriad of work--including editing, writing for blogs, writing for magazines, and publishing my own paranormal fiction novellas--I'm used to receiving criticism for that work.

Typically, when I get critical feedback I take a moment to sit back and really reflect on what was said. I'll deconstruct their words and delve into the meaning behind them. More often than not, I am upset with what I hear, and that prevents me from grasping the true intent. I'll find that what they've said is actually constructive so I'll try to take away something significant from it. I understand that they were trying to give some solid advice and not trying to be a jerk.

I also try to remind myself that usually I'm upset, not at what they've said, but with my expectations of how I thought they would respond. I'll pump myself up by thinking, "Surely they will think it's just as awesome as I do!" so when I don't get the reaction I'm expecting, I get upset. Again, I remind myself that they're not really trying to be a jerk, but rather that my expectations were too high.

Other times, it's just that they don't look at my work the way that most other people do. In these instances, then, I simply acknowledge their words and then throw them away in my mental trash can. Not everyone is going to 'get it'. In other words, not everyone is going to see what I'm trying to do with my work or where I'm going with it.

Recently, I had a different kind of criticism. I employed all my above tactics with it, and while I understood that some of it was the 'they don't get it' kind of criticism, it really was a calculated attempt to completely undermine my work and make me feel bad. It was a rough blow. I actually cried, something that I've always tried very hard not to do when it comes to my craft. I know that I can't let things get to me or I'll never be able to make it in this business without losing it and/or giving up. 

So how, then, should I deal with such cruel words? After giving myself some time to 'grieve', I let it go by recognizing it for what it truly was. I'm not going to let one bitter person's words derail my career and all the hard work I've done towards that end. I'm going to take it as a learning experience in dealing with a whole new level of criticism, and, of course, I'm going to share it with you.

You are the reason I keep doing what I do. This website gets a lot of traffic, and while I don't get many comments, I am humbled and uplifted by your presence. I believe in me, and I know you do too. So thanks. Thanks for being here, believing in me, and 'getting it'. 

Have a fantastic day,

H.A. 


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vegan-style Bacon-Jack Jalapeno Poppers

Recently, I've been craving jalapeno poppers. It was one of my favorite snacks when I was still an omnivore, and I admit, I was missing them. I had a block of Daiya Jack cheese that I wasn't fond of...at all. I love the Daiya Cheddar, but the Jack has that aftertaste I disdain in vegan cheese. 

When I concocted the idea to make vegan jalapeno poppers, I had a bag of jalapenos and that block of jack cheese to use up. So here's how I did it.





Ingredients:

10 jalapenos

For the bacon:

1/2 block tempeh, crumbled up
2 T. Bragg's liquid aminos (soy sauce or tamari is fine)
1 t. liquid smoke 
1 splash of lemon juice
1/2 t. garlic powder

For the rest of the filling:

1 container of vegan cream cheese
1 T. salt-free seasoning (any works)
1/2 c. grated vegan jack cheese

For the topping:

1/2 c. plain breadcrumbs


Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add the bacon ingredients to a bowl, mixing well. Set aside for 15 minutes.
3. Mix up the rest of the filling ingredients in a large bowl and put into the refrigerator.
4. Cut the tops off the jalapenos. Cut them in half and take out the seeds and the veins.
5. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil and brush a tablespoon of canola oil on it. 
6. Heat two tablespoons of oil (any kind will do) on medium-high heat in a frying pan. Add the marinated tempeh bacon pieces and fry until crisp. Remove from pan onto a plate lined with paper towels until cooled, about 5 minutes.
7. Take the filling out of the fridge and add the cooled bacon pieces. Mix well.
8. Fill your jalapeno halves and set on the lined cookie sheet. They will look like this:



9. When you have filled all the jalapeno halves, sprinkle the tops of them generously with the bread crumbs.
10. Put them in the pre-heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. After that, turn the oven to broil, leaving the poppers in the oven, and broil for just a couple of minutes, until the tops are nice and brown. Don't burn! (Skip if you might forget and burn. lol)  



These poppers are addictively good. Give them a try today!


Thursday, September 10, 2015

I'm giving 20 people a chance to read The Melody for free!



"Jessie is twenty and feels stuck living with her parents in the Nebraska countryside after a failed year of college. Her mom is always brooding and angry, and they just can't seem to get along. Things begin to change when she runs into Matt, who graduated high school the year before Jessie, and they begin a romance. 

After their first date, she wakes up with a melody stuck in her head. Lovely at first, it becomes a constant source of frustration and a true menace at times as she struggles to deal with its persistence and the constant tension within her family. 

One day, a stranger comes into the cafe where she works and recognizes the song as she hums it. Could it have something to do with Christie Anderson, who's been missing for twenty years, and who just happened to be her mom's best friend? 

Can she unravel the bitter threads of her life and solve a mystery before it's too late?"



Do you like a good mystery? Does this sound like a book you would be interested in reading? Could you read it in three weeks and review it promptly afterwards? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, then I would be interested in doing a swap. I give you a free PDF file of my book The Melody, and in exchange you promise to read it in three week's time and then review it on amazon. It's that simple. 

If you answered no to any of these questions, or do not think you can read and review it in three weeks then this giveaway is not for you! As an indie author, I count on reviews to help boost my author profile and bring more notice to my work. As I near the finish of my third book, The Station (my best yet!), I really want to get more exposure for my second book to elevate my author profile in preparation. Can you help me out?

If you are interested (please, please, serious inquiries only), email me at halarsonwriter@gmail.com and we'll talk about how we can have a mutually beneficial relationship.  ;)


Warmest regards,

H.A. Larson


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dishing the Truth about Tofu

Invariably, I see images like the one below on a regular basis. While not always the same, they're very similar in message: "Tofu sucks!" 




Well, I'm here to tell you it doesn't. Have you ever taken a piece of chicken, cooked it plain, and then eaten it? Probably not, but if you ever have I can tell you that it sucks. How about hamburger? You ever just cooked up some hamburger meat and eaten it plain? I can bet your answer is no. Why? Because the truth is, cooked foods need to be seasoned and cooked properly in order to taste good. When omni people see a block of tofu, they see a square white blob and think, "No way!" I bet they never picked out some chicken breasts and said, "I'm going to take these home and broil them just like they are and eat them! Yum!" It was probably more like, "I'm going to marinate these in a bit of oil, marinade dressing, and/or seasoning, etc., and grill them!" or something similar. That's how you make it taste good. Guess what? The same applies to tofu!

The great thing about tofu, like chicken for you ominvores, is that it is a blank slate. You can do a million things with it, but unlike chicken, it can substitute for so many protein items. Let me show you a few examples of dishes I've cooked recently with tofu.




Here we have a delicious meal of braised brussel sprouts, roasted potato wedges, and a slice of crispy fried tofu slathered in BBQ sauce. 




Here we have the makings of a delicious 'egg', 'bacon', and 'cheese' breakfast sandwich. I dredged and fried up some pressed tofu slices in a mixture of cornstarch, rice flour, and seasonings. The bacon was also homemade out of tempeh. 




Here was a delicious sweet Thai chile stir-fry I made out of pieces of tofu that were dredged and fried beforehand, combined with vegetables & cashews, and covered in a spicy-sweet Thai chile sauce. 



Here are some tofu nuggets. They were marinated, dredged, baked until crispy, and served with a side of sweet potato fries and some sweet & sour sauce for dipping.

These are just a few examples of deliciousness I've cooked up within the past few months. How you might ask? Here's the easiest, quickest way.


1. The first thing you need to do is press your tofu to get out the excess moisture. I lay a towel on a plate, put the block of tofu on it, cover it with another towel, put another plate on top of that, and then stack a bunch of cans from my pantry on it. It only takes about 15-30 minutes to get the tofu ready for the next step.

2. What are you wanting to make? What you make determines the size of the pieces and how you will cut it. Take cues from my pics above for an idea. Cut it up as desired.

3. Make a dredge mixture of cornstarch/flour/or cornstarch & flour, and your desired seasonings. Coat the tofu pieces evenly on all sides and either fry or bake until crispy on the outside. 

4. It's now ready to dip, coat, slather, and devour.


Tofu is not just for dredging and frying, but it is an easy, tasty way to eat it. Tofu can also be frozen, thawed, and then pressed. Frozen tofu has a tendency to soak up marinades so you can press, cut, marinade, and then cook your preferred method.  One good idea is to marinade in smoky, salty type liquid (liquid smoke, soy sauce, garlic powder, and some oil) and bake until it is "smoked". Tofu can also be easily grilled. A quick internet search or a visit to your favorite recipe site (Yummly on your phone is fantastic) will yield some great recipes! 

Don't be scared of the tofu! It's much better than you think, so give it a try. You won't be disappointed!


Monday, September 7, 2015

Ghost Hunting - Pleasant Hill Cemetery

One of the things on my bucket list (yes, I do have an actual bucket list) is ghost hunting. I've been fascinated with ghosts since I was a kid, which should come as no surprise considering that I write books about ghosts. I've watched many ghost hunting shows, but I never really liked any of them except Ghost Hunters on the Travel Channel. While I don't want to make a life out of it by any means--with the exception of writing about it--I think it sounds like a lot of fun. I mean, c'mon. You go to creepy places at night when it's dark, making it more creepy. I like creepy. Creepy and I are friends. 

I ordered a simple ghost hunting equipment kit that has your basic equipment and comes in a handy, lockable, carrying case. I got mine on amazon here if you're interested. I bought mine for just under $100, which was a great deal and came with a motion sensor, a Gauss meter, an infrared thermometer, three LED finger lights, a digital EVP recorder, a geo-phone, and a book about the science behind ghost hunting. Like I said, it was a bargain! 

My son is my ghost hunting companion and we're getting some practice in by going to local areas. In April we are going with friends to get locked down overnight in a reputedly quite haunted old asylum in Northeastern Iowa, so we're trying to get familiar with what we're doing before we go for the big one. Our first night we tried to go to Ball Cemetery in Springfield, NE, a site well-known to local and national ghost hunting groups. We should have checked first because it's a no-trespassing kind of place at night and there was a clear warning to stay off the property. A quick search of the internet assured us that any trespassing would be met with the owners chasing us off with guns. We left feeling dejected, but did a search for cemeteries in our area. I mean, if you're going to ghost hunt, a cemetery is the place right?

We ended up at a cemetery in Papillion, NE, that was small and fairly newish, but there was a lot of noise pollution. I thought I might have gotten a few EVP phenomena but with the background noise, it was hard to be sure. We also got a few good Gauss readings.

This last weekend we tried again. First we tried Prospect Hill, another well-known haunted cemetery, but if you know anything about Omaha you know that it's not in the safest of areas. We drove through the cemetery and we didn't see any of the riff-raff that also reportedly haunt the place but thought we'd be safer elsewhere. In hindsight, we should have just stayed there because our second choice, while another infamous haunted spot, was scattered with cars at night doing who-knows-what. Hummel Park has a good reputation for ghosts but another bad reputation for people hanging out at night up to no-good. We had reservations about it with just two of us and after we saw a couple of cops drive through we decided to try elsewhere.

We ended up out in West Omaha at Pleasant Hill Cemetery. It had a lot less noise pollution than the Papillion cemetery so we got to work.



We also brought our camera so we could get some visual evidence. I forgot about it having a video camera on it, lol, so I will remember that for next time. See, practice is good. I would like to get a good camcorder down the road...sometime before our lock down.


  
A shot of the EVP recorder. You can see that it's our second recording, the first was the first cemetery we went to the weekend before. Makes sense.



Here is a shot of me holding the Gauss meter. We got a good reading here and spent a few minutes prompting any spirits to talk into the EVP recorder.



A good shot of the cemetery. The orbs were just dust spots, that much we knew. ;)



This photo shows the best evidence we got that night. I was using the Gauss meter on the more sensitive setting and received a 6 milligauss reading, which was very high. We hadn't gotten one that high yet, so we were pretty excited. The phenomenon continued for a few minutes and then disappeared. I've made a precursory listen to the EVP but have to listen again more closely to see if we got anything.



So, there you have it. Our ghost hunting adventure, while not yielding much was a lot of fun. It was an interesting, fun, and different way to spend some quality time with my oldest child too! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Hiking on a hot day

This past week was my first week out of my training schedule at work and in my regular schedule. I elected to work four 10-hour shifts as opposed to five 8-hour shifts and I'm glad I did. I really love working three days, having a full weekend (Fri and Sat), working one day, and then having one more day off. It's also nice to have days off during the week in case I need to take care of things that just can't be done on the weekend.

So yesterday was the first day of my weekend and the kids happened to have Friday and Monday off for Labor Day weekend so I drug them out to do my favorite activity: hiking. One of my favorite spots is Hitchcock Nature Center, a quick drive out of Omaha across the border in Iowa. Nestled into the Loess Hills, this place affords miles of hiking and gorgeous scenery. No matter what season, this place is beautiful.

It was close to 90 degrees yesterday so we didn't hike far, but just getting away from the city and being surrounded by the lushness of the woods is intoxicating. Is it any wonder that hiking is one of my favorite activities? 



A side path to the outdoor education area.


A view of Nebraska in the distance from the boardwalk.


Wildflowers bloom alongside thistle flowers: a beautiful feast of colors against the trail of green.


A view from the deck of the lodge. One can view a 180 degree panorama from this spot with views of the Loess Hills, the forest, and Nebraska in the far distance.