Monday, October 31, 2016

A Day at the Pumpkin Patch



Happy Halloween! This Saturday, we indulged in one of our yearly traditions: the pumpkin patch. It's one of my favorite Fall activities. There are a handful of pumpkin patches to pick from where I live, but my favorite is Vala's. They started in 1988, I believe, and, since then, have grown into quite the place. Going to Vala's means spending the better part of an afternoon there, which is all right by me. The place is huge, and there's so much to do! Some of the activities there are: bounce pads, a train, bunny town, a petting zoo-type area (camels, goats, llamas, and sheep), duck races, a corn maze, a haunted house, an obstacle course, and hay rack rides. Whatever you decide to do, you're surely going to have a great time. 

I picked some of my favorite pictures from our afternoon there, although they don't capture all the fun stuff there is to do there. I picked these more for aesthetic purposes. If you're interested, check them out on the web





 Right outside the main entrance.





Fall colors were completely on display, lending to the ambience. 





A shot of a covered bridge.





They have beautiful arrangements like this scattered throughout the place.





The barn just peeks out over the corn fields.





Inside the haunted house. It's a tame haunted house so that even the kiddos can go through it.





A skeleton in the haunted house.





Haunted house head.





Dracula's mausoleum.





This llama wanted food, and was completely miffed that many of us were offering mere head scratches. Tsk!





Mr. Camel was also looking for food.





A goat!





This goat had a pretty coat and some devilish horns.




Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Beautiful Fall Evening


I love Fall, we all know this, but there is a downside. This time of year, the daylight hours decrease, which means it gets dark earlier and morning seems to take forever to arrive. Since I don't get home during the weekdays until 6:15 p.m., getting out into the forest isn't that easy. I usually rush to somewhere close and try to absorb as much of the Fall colors in the 20 minutes I have between the time I arrive somewhere outdoorsy and the time the sun sets. I've, then, resigned myself most evenings to just staying at home and doing things I need to get done anyway.

Thursday was a gorgeous day. I walked out of work and into 75 degrees of sunshine. Nature Girl and I rushed home as quickly as we could, changed clothes, and made a beeline for Wild Heron Haven. Wild Heron Haven is a small wetlands located in Northwest Omaha. It's a place for the herons to stop during their migration and many geese make their home here for awhile while they hatch their young.

I've been here a handful of times, but, for the most part, I avoid it. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that it's not a place to get a hike in (which is what I'm usually looking to do when I get outside) as their trails maybe total 3/4 of a mile. Their forested trails are pretty though and the haven also includes swamps, wildlife watching blinds, a flower garden for the bees, and a few pretty wooden bridges. 

I had a crappy day Thursday--as did Nature Girl--and since it was close, I figured this would be a good place to spend enough time in some pretty nature to elevate our mood and reset our batteries. Nature Girl and I took our time, getting about 45 minutes worth of nature time, and ended having a good time to boot.





Flowers from the Bee Garden.





The last of the pretty blooms still alive in the Bee Garden.





A view looking out into a part of the wetlands that runs into the main wetlands area. We didn't actually venture into the main area, because we've been to that part plenty of times. Besides, we saw it from a different view, which you will see coming up.





Nature Girl stops to admire the beauty of the approaching wetlands as we wandered the short trails.





Tucked away in the back area of the Haven is a blind where one can sit and watch the herons when they are around. You can also use it to view the wetlands themselves and check out the variety of life that lives in the wetlands part- and full-time. They have some animal charts to help you decide what kind of wildlife you're looking at. Nature Girl and I thought that was pretty cool and tried to figure out which one of the birds we saw in the pond was. This was the waterfowl chart.





Another of the bird charts. This one was of regular birds, and Nature Girl had fun admiring the different kinds.





A view of the main pond from our seat in the blind. The birds out there in the distance, on the water, looked like geese to me. Many geese flew away as we walked through the Haven.





Nature Girl taking Nature Notes on a seat in the blind.





Nature Girl and I admired the gorgeous sunset as we prepared to leave. Look at those colors!




Wild Heron Haven is dedicated to wetland preservation, and is a great place to take a light stroll, admire nature's beauty, and learn about wetlands. They have special events and a nature center to explore as well. Great for families with little kids. For more information, go to their website.

Friday, October 28, 2016

October's LVJ Subscription



Good morning good people, and TGIF!

 Every month I get a shipment that contains my subscription to the Louisville Vegan Jerky Co. In it I receive two of their standard flavors and one of the test flavors that they're working on. Here's what I got this month.






Like the other sub I get, Ipsy, this sub comes with a card, Their's doubles as a postcard and has an interesting picture from history. This month's picture, fitting for Halloween month, was from the movie "Freaks". I about fell out of my chair, because I had just watched this movie about a week prior! I even talked about it in my post Horror Films of Yesteryear! What are the chances that an obscure movie from the 1930s would pop up in my life--twice in the span of a week? Life is strange sometimes. 





So here are the two standard flavors that I received: Smoked Chipotle, and Smokey Carolina BBQ. This is the first time I've received the Smokey Carolina BBQ one, as they recently made it a standard flavor. It was, by far, my favorite test flavor, so you can imagine my excitement that it's now one of their standard jerkys! As you can see, the package didn't make it, as it was consumed right away. I regret nothing.





This month's test flavor is Chorizo! I'm actually pretty pumped for this one as well. Instead of nibbling on it, I intend to cook with it. I'm going to add it to my breakfast scramble this weekend, and I'm anxiously hoping it turns out well. I'll keep you updated on it.


I'm so glad the weekend is here, because I have some fun plans which you will no doubt get a post about. I hope your weekend is shaping up to be fun as well! 

As always,

H.A.



Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Morphing Stairs

In Omaha, where we live, there's a park that sits on the Northeastern edge of town called Hummel Park. Now, I've talked about Hummel Park before as I've hiked there several times. It's a beautiful place to hike as it's surrounded by forest and filled with hills, a creek, and plenty of interesting foliage. It's also a popular frolf course, which is always evident by the number of people I see there playing it on any given day.

Hummel Park is also well-known for a third thing: the paranormal. There are so many legends surrounding Hummel Park, and it's been investigated by the local paranormal group, as well as others. I myself tried to investigate it one night with my son, but it's also known for a fourth thing--a place for people to get up to no-good--so we gave up trying to investigate it. 

It's been rumored that lynchings occurred here in the early 1900s by racists. It's the purported site of many suicides. It's believed that a prostitute was assaulted and murdered by other prostitutes here. A story that's perpetuated throughout time is about an early settler to the area was murdered by his wife at their home next to the park. While none of the rumors have any real evidence to back them up, the murders of the prostitute and the early settler--among others--have been substantiated.

One of the more interesting, yet benign, tales I had heard of was that of the Morphing Stairs. Located at the topmost area of the park, these stairs were built during the Depression Era. Legend says that you can count these stairs as you go and you will get a different number whether you're going up or down. I always found this intriguing, but had never actually sought out the stairs to test the legend for myself.

This last weekend, my folks were here from out-of-town for a visit. Saturday was a gorgeous day, so I took them up to Hummel Park, before they left town, for a leisurely hike. Since Hummel Park is located on their way out of town, we parted ways after the hike. Being that it was so nice outside, I decided the rest of us should go into the main entrance of the park and enjoy the beautiful drive through its winding roads. My husband suggested we find the Morphing Stairs, and my face lit up. Of course!

We made our way to the top of the park where there's a shelter house, a playground, and several trails for hiking located in any direction. There's a beautiful view to the East, while the shelter sits to the West. I figured the stairs were probably past the shelter house, and so we set off on foot to find them. Indeed, we found them a ways past the shelter, between two foot trails.




A view from the top of the stairs, looking down.







A view of the stairs as you're looking up. 




We decided to test the theory by counting the stairs going down and coming back up. We got a different count each time. I don't think that's necessarily from any paranormal reasons, but rather natural ones. The stairs are old and degraded in several areas, and I think this can keep you from getting an accurate count. Still, climbing up and down them twice, you would think we would have gotten the number the same at least one time. 

We weren't the only ones there testing this out. A young girl and two young gentlemen were also climibing up the stairs when we arrived, and they were counting out-loud. They then climbed back down, back up, and back down again. I have no idea how long they might have been doing this before we got there, but they were obviously coming up with the same results as ourselves: inconclusive. As we were leaving, three young gentlemen were arriving, and told us that the stairs were haunted. I chuckled and told them we had counted them. 

The stairs may or may not be morphing (or haunted), but it sure is interesting how the legend seems to be true...at least for some of us. If you ever get a chance, and you're in Omaha, go test it out for yourselves one day. You'll get a workout if nothing else.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Recipe of the Week: Cooking with Polenta

It's been awhile since I've posted a recipe that I've made, so I've decided that I need to do a recipe of the week. This will be the first of this installment.

During the week, I have long days. I leave my house around 7:15 in the morning, and I don't arrive home until 6:15 in the evening. Everyone in my house eats differently, that's a fact. I'm the only vegan in the house, my husband will (literally) eat anything, and my kids have their own food idiosyncrasies. As a result of the long days + different palates, I rarely make myself a real meal these days. Most of the time I scour the cabinets and the refrigerator wondering if dinner is going to be toast again. Most of the time it is.

Inevitably, between mid- to end-of-week, I get tired of toast--or whatever sad thing I can toss together quickly--and make myself a real meal. Such was the case Thursday evening when I said, "Heck with this!" and made myself a kick-ass meal. 

I had recently gotten myself some polenta, which I discovered is just a fancy word for cornmeal, and I had resolved to make some of this wonderful stuff I had only heard about. I scoured some recipes using polenta online, and bastardized a recipe using ingredients I had on hand. You know what? It came out awesome! Here's what I came up with:






Crispy-fried tofu on a bed of polenta, served with carmelized leeks and a sun-dried-tomato-cashew cream. 


It was a fairly simple recipe to make, but it involves several steps, so only dive into a recipe like this when you have some time to spare. Here's the recipe:


Tofu-Polenta-Leek Plate with Sun-Dried Tomato-Cashew Cream


Ingredients:

5 c. vegetable stock (I use Better than Bouillon, it's the best, hands-down)
1 c. polenta (or cornmeal)
1 block of tofu
2 leeks
1 c. cashews
4 sun-dried tomatoes
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. each garlic powder and onion powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
2 T. nutritional yeast
1/2-3/4 c. water
coconut oil for frying (any frying oil will do, but I prefer coconut for this recipe)
salt and pepper to taste



Instructions:

1. An hour before you want to cook, soak the cashews and the sun-dried tomatoes in warm water using separate containers, and press tofu.

2. Rinse and chop up your leeks into 1/4 inch rings, then separate and put aside. 

3. After the hour is up on the soaking, drain the cashews and sun-dried tomatoes. Put them both in a high-powered blender and add the lemon juice, garlic & onion powder, salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and water. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides often. Add more water to make it a pourable, but still thick, sauce. Put aside.

4. Cut drained tofu in half, width-wise, then each large square into three triangles. Set aside.

5. Bring your veggie stock to a boil, then add your polenta. To cook the polenta, I used this basic recipe:  Smooth and Creamy Polenta.

6. While polenta is cooking, warm 2 T. of coconut oil in a frying pan over high heat, then add the leeks. Stir until all the leeks are coated in oil, then stir until they begin to fry. Turn the heat down to medium or medium-high, strirring occasionally, until carmelized. Approx 10 minutes.

7. Remove the leeks from the pan, setting them aside in a bowl. Cover to keep warm.

8. Add 2 T. more coconut oil to the same frying pan, over high heat, until oil starts to ripple. Turn heat down to medium-high heat, then add tofu triangles. Fry on each side until golden brown and cripsy, approx. 5 minutes each side, but keep an eye on them.

9. When the polenta and tofu are done, you can plate the meal thusly:

-Put down a bed of polenta.
-Spread some leeks over the polenta.
-Add a couple of tofu triangles on top of the leeks.
-Spoon or pour some cashew cream over the top of the tofu.

10. Enjoy! Serves 3 to 4 people.





Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Creative Pull




Lately, I've noticed a change in my creative pull. Maybe it's a permanent thing, maybe it's not, and I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing. Quite frankly, the whole thing has me confused. It's not that I don't have a creative drive anymore, but rather:

1. I have too much of it, and I can't quite reign it in.

and/or

2. I'm distracted too often by other things.

Honestly, it's probably a combination of the two. In my defense, however, I have been busy living life. Life has been pretty good this year, and I find myself really living. I've been doing a variety of things that I've found fulfilling and enjoyable, and that's been a huge boost to my overall emotional health. My whole life, before the last five years, has been a huge struggle. Even after figuring myself out, it's been a learning curve the last five years. I can truly say now, though, that life is grand.

I'm still working daily on my book, "The Box", and I've dusted off some other works as well that have been sitting around. I'm still productive, it just seems to be working differently. Maybe that's it then: I've just changed and grown, and my writing routine has changed and grown with it.

I guess I'll embrace it as it goes, and see where this new routine leads.

In the meantime, have a great weekend!

-H.A. 


Friday, October 21, 2016

Horror Films of Yesteryear

Autumn is my favorite season of the year. I love the weather, the colors, the plethora of pumpkin patches, bonfires, warm cider, and Halloween. Especially Halloween. I've been a fan of the horror genre since my dad's best friend gave me a copy of Stephen King's Pet Sematary to read back in 5th Grade. I read that book without barely a pause to breathe, eager to devour the next deliciously frightening story. Luckily, my dad--who was also a fan of the horror genre--had saved all of his Creepy and Eerie magazines from when he was a kid. After becoming a newly die-hard fan of the macabre, he gifted all of them to me. 

To this day, scary movies are my favorite. Over the last five years or so, I've grown to have an appreciation for old-timey horror films. It happened in the wee hours of the morning, when I caught "The Mummy" (starring Boris Karloff) on television.

So, in honor of Halloween and the Macabre, here are my favorite horror films of yesteryear.



Frankenstein. The classic tale by Mary Shelley of a man and his monstrous creation. Dr. Frankenstein is trying to create life from death, but it doesn't turn out as he planned, leading to dire consequences. Who's the real monster?





Dracula. A man is coerced into a business deal at Dracula's Castle, and it's all downhill from there. A classic retelling of Bram Stoker's novel by the same name. Eerie, but cheesyily romantic in a gothic kind of way. 




The Invisible Man. Another mad scientist story gone wrong. Griffin creates an elixir of invisibility. Is it a blessing or a curse? One of H.G. Well's best tales, showcasing all of our fears of the unknown.





The Mummy. A mummy is accidentally awakened after being discovered, and he searches for his lost love. Boris Karloff is such a great actor, and this movie cements that. He's at once charming and creepy.





The Wolf Man. Larry Talbot returns home to Wales after many years away. One night he comes across a werewolf, and the rest is bittersweet. This movie is campy and cheesy, but a fun watch all the same.





Freaks. Hands-down, this is my favorite creepy movie out of Old Hollywood. Cleopatra works in the circus and uses the midget Hans for what she can get from him. His friends, the freaks, keep watch from the shadows. A truly great film, with great acting, risque moments (for a film this old), and some truly dreadful moments. A perfect tale of revenge.





And there you have it, my favorite picks for old-timey horror flicks. While none of these pack the same kind of punch that modern horror films do, by any stretch of the means, they are still very worthy of a watching. These movies were the forefathers of modern scary movies, and the cinematography was amazing. I hope you'll check them out!









Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ipsy's October Glam Bag

Good morning! It's Wednesday, which means we're halfway through the week now, and I'm here with another Ipsy post. It's been exactly one year since I received my first Glam Bag, so happy Glam Bagaversary to me! 





Here's this month's bag and theme. I have to say, they've gotten more creative since a year ago, which is a testament to how far they've come in the past year. It's Halloween month, obviously, so what better than "Black Magic"? That bag is so cute! <3





Here are the contents of the bag. 





First up is a nail polish by Kokie. The color name is Heavenly, and it's a gray color with a hint of purple. Seems pretty Halloween-y to me.





Pur-lisse has provided other items for Glam Bags before, but this is the first lip item I've received by them. It's a Daily Lip Nourisher with Mango & Shea butter. I just used some and it seems fairly rich with a nice scent. You can never have too many lip balm-type products, so I'm happy with this.





This is a felt-tip liquid eyeliner by Ciate of London. The line is called Fierce Flicks and it's definitely in the color black. I know some people absolutely hate these types of eyeliners, but ever since Almay came out with one years ago...I've been a huge fan. I have three other ones, and one is ready to die, so I can rest easy knowing I have another one. lol





Here's another lip color pencil by treStique. As you already know from previous Ipsy posts, I have received a few of these before, even in the same color. I'm happy to report that I have a new, more appropriate for Fall, color in the name of Florence Fig. It's a muted, dark reddish-brown, and I like it immensely.





One of my favorite ever Ipsy items was an eyeshadow by theBalm called Meet Matt (tri)Mony. I was fortunate to receive two by a fantastic accident, that coincidentally left me with the extra treStique lip color that I don't really use much. 





Anyway, I received another eyeshadow by theBalm, called Hot Mama! It's a reddish-orange color, and another perfect color for Fall. I don't think I'll love this as much as Matt (tri)Mony, but I will definitely use this all the same.



And there you have it, my latest Ipsy Glam Bag. I can't believe it's been a year since I got my very first bag. I've heard some people complain about their subscriptions, saying that they'll never use any of the items. Well, then this sub is probably not for them. While I still haven't used every single item I've received through Ipsy, I have a few things to say about that:

1. I will, eventually, use all these items.

2. I've gotten some really awesome items from Ipsy that I can't live without.

3. It's not even expensive, you can always give cute gift bags/boxes to friends as gifts using items you don't think you'll ever use. (Not me though, I'm not parting with a thing!)

4. I don't even use all the items that I buy for myself.


Really, if you're not that much into makeup, or if you're a big makeup snob, then this sub isn't for you. For the rest of us though, it's pretty awesome. But hey, that's just my $0.02.



Monday, October 17, 2016

The Adventures of Mom and Nature Girl #3

Fall is here! Yes, we all know this, and, yes, I've said it before, but it bears repeating. This is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Last week had brought cooler weather mixed with rain, and I had gotten a bit down thinking that I wouldn't be getting outside much. I was elated, then, when the weekend rolled around bringing beautiful weather with it. Nature Girl and I headed out yesterday afternoon, as is our newest tradition, to explore and be outside. I decided to head up towards Neale Woods because, not only is it my favorite outdoor spot in town, but it's a great place to see Fall's beauty.

NP Dodge and Hummel Parks are on the same road as Neale Woods, and since we were out exploring without any real agenda, I thought we'd stop at both. While I've spent time in Hummel and Neale Woods, I can't say that I've spent more than 10 minutes in NP Dodge Park. To that end, I've only been as far as the first parking lot. Well, we discovered what else the park has yesterday by driving through every last bit of it. It sits along the Missouri River and has boat docks and nice places to walk along the water. Who knew? Not me until yesterday, apparently. ;)





This is a shot of the Missouri River as seen from the Marina at NP Dodge Park. This is where boats can fuel up, and park patrons can get some snacks & drinks.






A view of the Missouri from one of the boat docks. It was a beautiful view.





After NP Dodge Park, we stopped by Hummel Park, but none of my pictures were too exciting. Isn't it funny how your camera doesn't always show what you see? However, Neale Woods did not disappoint. All of Fall's burgeoning beauty was on display.





A beautiful Fall leaf.






A view towards the old machine shed from the rickety old viewing deck.







A view from our perspective as we walked the Wagon Trail.






Seed-berries. Not sure what plant this is, I'm no plant expert by any means. Pretty though!






A view from Neale Trail overlooking the woods that cover Ponca Hills.






A bed of leaves along the trail.







More Fall foliage.






These leaves are halfway turned, and the color combination was striking.




So, that was a glimpse into yesterday's adventure. I hope you have a glorious and fruitful week!

-H.A.