Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Recipe of the Week: Tacos



This taco is all dressed up, and ready to go!


Who doesn't love tacos? I'm sure there are a few people who don't, but we're not mentioning them in this post! Anyway, tacos are awesome in many ways. You can fill a taco with just about anything you want, they are easy & quick to prepare, they're inexpensive to make, and they're filling. Tacos are one of my go-to meals to make, especially on a busy weekend night when time is not my friend. I always, as a rule, have a large stack of small flour tortillas on hand. Breakfast tacos are your friend, too.

As a vegan, my main fillers for tacos are numerous. I can use beans, refried beans, seasoned rice, lentils, chickpeas, bulgur wheat, crumbled & seasoned tofu, etc. etc. As for myself, I typically fall back on that bastion of cheap versatility: TVP. Now, if you don't know what that is, it's short for textured vegetable protein. If you ever purchased the bright red, fake bacon bits in the grocery store, they are made out of seasoned bits of TVP. I cook with TVP fairly regularly, as it's a super-quick way to make a variety of "meat" crumbles. 

This won't be your standard recipe, as the ingredients are too diverse to list. Instead, I'll give you basic, easy, vegan taco recipe instructions. Let's get started.

1. Prepare your TVP for your filling. I have an entire post on how to cook with TVP, including recipes for TVP Taco Crumbles. Just click here.

2. While your TVP is soaking up all that flavorful goodness, start prepping the other ingredients.

3. Wrap a pile of soft tortillas (corn or flour are both fine, and a mix of the two is even better) in some damp paper towels, put them in a oven-proof container, and let warm in the oven on the lowest temperature.

4. Chop up your favorite greens and put in a bowl. I make a taco bar where everyone can put on whatever toppings they want! Repeat with any peppers, beans, or veggies you'd like. I'll often put out a bunch of greens, julienned jalapenos (jarred ones are awesome as well), southwestern-style corn, rice, onions, avocado, and some black beans.

5. Next to your bowls of delicious fillers, set out some condiments. In my house, that's typically vegan sour cream, salsa, hot sauce (I love Valentina's or Tapatio), vegan shredded cheese, nooch, and maybe a salad dressing or two.

6. After the TVP is soft, and has soaked up all the good flavors, heat up some oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the TVP and fry, stirring constantly, until warmed all the way through. Turn off heat and remove TVP from burner. Put on your taco bar on a hot pad.

7. Take your warm, soft tortilla shells out of the oven, and set them on your taco bar as well on a hot pad.

8. Assemble your tacos, grab some napkins, and chow down!



See, it's as easy as that! You can mix and match your personal favorites, or use whatever you have on hand. I can remember one time having nothing but rice, chickpeas, lettuce, green chiles in a can, and a jar of spicy, pickled carrots. They came together and made some yummy, quick tacos. Whatever you have, make it into a taco tonight. 



Monday, November 28, 2016

Portrait of Omaha: The Dodge Street Subway



Good morning! It's Monday, and time to go back to work after the long weekend. I got myself back into the groove yesterday, so I think I'm ready enough. Saturday, we got out and did a little sight-seeing around town, an activity we partake in whenever we're not feeling overly ambitious, but would still like to get out and about. You're probably wondering, "You sight-see in your own town?" and the answer to that is, "Yes." I've lived in Omaha for nearly fourteen years, and I still haven't seen all the interesting things here. For instance, on Saturday, my husband reminded me of his desire to see the subway that still runs under Dodge Street. 

Now, subway means "subterranean way", and includes more than just an underground train. Subways are also areas for pedestrians to safely cross super-busy roads that aren't made for walking across. This is what the Dodge Street Subway is. Intrigued myself, we went to check it out--as well as some other sites, but we'll concentrate on this one today--and found out that there used to be several of these subways throughout Old Omaha, but that this is the only one still in use. This particular one was updated and reopened a little over a year ago.

I took several pictures, so I'm putting up my best here today, and it's part of another new series I'm doing called "Protrait of Omaha". I'll take pictures of landmarks, and other sites of interest, and then show them to you. Here then, is the Dodge Street Subway. 




A plaque on the entrance wall explains the origins of the subway in Omaha.





Signs and lamps above the entrance to the subway tunnel.





A view of the tunnel from the entrance. You can tell that it's well-maintained.





The walls are decorated. This side said "Dundee" and then something else that I forgot to pay attention to. Ha! I was too busy admiring how interesting it was.





On the other side is a set of murals painted to look like windows, showing the viewer a glimpse out the window onto Omaha.





A shot up into the sky after exiting the subway.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

It's Teaser Time!



Cover for my book The Box.



Good morning! I hope you are well-fed and well-rested after the holiday festivities. I know I sure am. I really had the two most fabulous days, and I needed them (I'll talk more about that in another post). 

Not long ago, I talked about how my creative pull has been going this year. Now that I've had more time to reflect on it, I know exactly what was going on. I talked about how I felt that I might have had too much creative pull or that I'd been distracted by other things too often. Neither one of those things are true. Not that I was lying, but I think I was unable to admit what was really going on because sometimes you fear the worst and don't want to voice it. I was afraid that my desire to create had died, and I wasn't sure if I would ever get it back. I guess it can be called Writer's Block, but it was more than that. I noticed this Spring that I just wasn't feeling the urge to write, not one bit. I spent months, then, not writing anything. While I have to admit that I enjoyed a break from the writing blitz I had been on for two years, I was nervous that it was going to be a permanent state of mind.

Thankfully, it wasn't. After the fateful weekend of hiking five miles on both a Saturday and a Sunday, I got my drive back. I was very relieved and happy to have come out of the slump that had been affecting, not just the Write Life but, my whole life. Since then, I've been back in the saddle, just like I never left, and the past six months are now firmly behind me.

I'd been so prolific in the Write Life before, so having all this time this year without much writing was tough. I did, admittedly, publish Deep, Dark, and Lovely, but it wasn't really ready, I just needed to get something out there. I've been hard at work on The Box though, and I'm really digging the way it's coming together. I'm plugging away at a good clip on the meat of the story, and it won't be long before I'm on the downhill climb. So, to that end, it's time for a teaser! As always, feel free to leave me comments, kudos, or your criticisms in the comments.


--Feeling a nervous knot in the pit of his stomach, he carefully watched the forest. As he concentrated all his senses on the woods, he started to become aware of movements in his peripheral vision. Remembering the shadows from earlier, his concentration moved from the woods to that which was just out of sight. He could sense the shadows around him, but he could not see them by turning his head. They were always just out of full sight, and it was maddening. He remembered seeing them clearly in the reflections of Heidi’s eyes, and he wondered what they wanted.
            As he pondered, a feeling of dread washed over him, and he glanced back to the trees. The sensation of being watched was overwhelming, and he hurriedly stood up. He decided right then and there that he needed to leave Gran’s farm, and he needed to do so right away. He practically bolted through the house as he ran upstairs to grab his bag. It was sitting right where he left it: on the bed in the guest room, unpacked.
            The sense of dread intensified as he walked out into the upstairs hallway. Hearing all the commotion, Heidi came out from her room with a baffled look on her face. “What…what’s going on?” she asked as she watched him walk down the stairs. Noticing his bag in his hand, her eyes grew wide as she quickly followed him.
            “Where are you going?” she asked.
            “I’m leaving,” Sam said curtly.
            “But why?”
            “I can’t stay here another minute, Heidi. That’s why.”
            “You can’t leave now!” Heidi exclaimed. “We need you here!”
            “Maybe you should leave too,” Sam retorted with a sneer.
            Heidi grabbed his arm and pulled hard, stopping him at the bottom of the stairs. “What’s gotten into you?” she demanded, “You can’t just leave Gran and I here to deal with the box alone!”
            Sam could, once again, see the reflection of shadows in her eyes. They were swirling next to him and behind him, and it took all he had not to shout in frustration and fear. He yanked his arm out of her hand. “Gran’s just fine! Did you ever think that maybe you’re the one with the problems!” he yelled.
            He bolted out to his rental car, threw the bag inside, and climbed in as fast as he could. The car had barely started before he put it into gear, peeled out of the driveway, and sped down the gravel road. It was now completely dark, and he could barely see the security light of Gran’s farmhouse in the rearview mirror through the haze of dust. His eyes moved back to the road.--

Friday, November 25, 2016

Coffee Talk: Thanksgiving




It's time for Coffee Talk. Have you got your coffee ready? I know I do! I figured since the holiday was just yesterday, that I should take some time to talk about it.

Several years ago, my husband and I got tired of traveling and dealing with family drama on Thanksgiving (as well as Christmas), so we decided that we would just do our own. Ever since then, I wake up early, make a filling breakfast for everyone, then begin preparing a feast. Last year was the first Thanksgiving that I was a vegan, so it was my first Thanksgiving meal that I veganized. While it was good, it wasn't as good as my previous omnivore Thanksgiving Day meals. It definitely had some room for improvement, then, and this year, I did just that.

I made all my standards, just in a vegan way, and they all came out delicious. I also invested the time and energy into making my own seitan roast. Seitan is a meat substitute that is made using vital wheat gluten, and it's quite delicious. Companies like Field Roast, Tofurky, and Gardein make scrumptious seitan roasts that vegans buy for holidays such as this, but they are pretty pricey. I've gotten good at making seitan--as well as other meaty items using vital wheat gluten--that I thought I'd try making my own. I turned to my Vegan Fairy Godmother, Isa Moskowitz, for inspiration and found this: Seitan Roast stuffed with Shiitakes and Leeks. I doubled the recipe, because I need lots of a good thing, and used garbanzo beans instead of pintos because that was what I had on hand. The roast was heavy since I made one large roast instead of two smaller roasts, so the slices are rectangular in shape as opposed to a circle. It didn't affect the texture or flavor, however, and it came out amazingly delicious. I'll never buy another seitan roast again!

Of course, I had to make desserts, so pies were done first. I made a vegan pumpkin pie with cocowhip, and then I made a new and easy favorite: blueberry pie. For this pie I simply buy a cookie crumb crust (as opposed to graham cracker crust), fill it with a can of blueberry pie filling, and top it with an entire container of cocowhip. I then chill it in the fridge until ready to serve. Secret: I already ate a piece of it for breakfast this morning. 




My pretty set table.



A nice shot of my plate. From left to right, going clockwise: seitan roast, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole, buttered corn, and scalloped corn.



Pies! Blueberry and Pumpkin.


I see many people have been giving their thanks all month, and many people gave thanks yesterday. I stayed off social media for the most part as I was busy cooking, and, instead, really invested my time and energy into the day. It's the one time of the year where I have a nice set of days off in a row, and I can enjoy my favorite meal with my three favorite people. After a day of alternately cooking and doing dishes, I'm going to relish in a day of laziness. We'll eat leftovers today on disposable dishware so I don't have to worry about dishes building up, and I can enjoy a relaxing day.

I'm thankful, not just on the holiday, but every day of the year for what I have. I never forget how fortunate I am, even when things get bleak or seem formidable. I have a family that I adore, great friends, good health, a job that I enjoy, and all my parts are intact and working. I have money put aside, I always have food & other basic necessities, and I have a fulfilling personal life. 

I also have this: The Write Life, and you, my dear fan, follower, and reader. What can I say but "Thank you!" Thank you for joining me on my journey. You're appreciated.

I hope your holiday was everything you wanted it to be, and that you have cause to be thankful.

From me to you, many warm regards,

-H.A.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November's LVJ Subscription



This month's Louisville Vegan Jerky subscription came early, which made me happy. I love this jerky. Here's this month's card: a group photo of the employees of LVJ. The only person missing is me! Just kidding, but I do love this jerky.





I was completely surprised when I opened this month's box. Typically, a month's subscription contains two standard flavors and one test flavor. Not this time! This month, I received my usual three bags, but they were all test flavors. Here we have Gochujang Kimchi BBQ. 

Now, I know that kimchi is a spicy, fermented condiment made with cabbage, scallions and/or other ingredients, but I had never heard of gochujang. I looked it up, and it's another spicy Korean condiment made from red chilis, rice, fermented soybeans, and sometimes other ingredients. Interesting!

It's a Korean BBQ flavor too, so the combination of the bbq, kimchi, and gochujang should be some spicy-hot, sweet-bbq-flavored goodness. I can't wait to try it.





Here we have Peanut Thai flavor jerky. I love peanut Thai anything, so I already know I'm going to love this one!





The last flavor is Pineapple Sweet & Sour. Now, this isn't their first go-around with this test flavor. I received it once before, and it was the only LVJ jerky flavor I didn't like. It was hard, dry, and difficult to eat. Other customers seemed to have the same issue, so I'm wondering if they have improved upon the original recipe. I hope so, as I'm willing to give it another try.


So, it seems LVJ has given us some cool test flavors to try out this month, all with an Asian theme. I've recently started using their jerky for more than munching. I have used the Smokey Chipotle in tacos, and I used their Chorizo test flavor for breakfast scramble. They also sell other items, such as bacon bits. Their bacon bits are far superior to the fake commercial kind you find in any grocery store. I guess, then, I will try out the Pineapple Sweet & Sour in a stir fry, or something, and see if I like it any better.

If you're interested in LVJ products, or their subscription, click here.



It's now Wednesday, and since there's a holiday around the corner, it's "Friday" for many of us. I'll be back on actual Friday with a new Thanksgiving post, but until then, I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with laughter, good food, fun, and love.

Much love,

H.A.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Downtown on a Saturday Night



Saturday was a lazy, but good, day. I mean, we got chores done and I got a long way in The Write Life, but, after that, we had a lazy day. Nature Girl and I went over to the Dollar Tree and purchased a variety of snacking goodies. We also spied some Thanksgiving tableware so I grabbed some themed napkins, paper plates, and a cute centerpiece (more on that in a few days).

The snacks were purchased with movie day in mind, so we came back home where NG retreated to her room to watch her preferred movie on her tablet, while my husband and I commandeered the living room for a grown-up movie. We watched the Korean movie "The Wailing". It was long, but it was very good, and I highly recommend it if you like horror-thrillers.

Around 7 p.m., I started feeling a bit restless. I like lazy days at home, but I hate being cooped up as well (it's a conundrum). I also wasn't feeling like doing anything major, nor did I feel like getting all ready to go out somewhere, I just wanted to get out of the house. We settled on the idea of taking a drive, so the three of us set out to do just that. We drove down towards the Old Market and just went with the flow.

We started down at the riverfront by driving along the boardwalk. It was weird to see Rick's Boatyard/Storz Trophy Room all demolished. It's a shame that they had to take that building down, it was a cool riverfront building, as well as a landmark. We kept going until we got to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. It was too cold to walk it at all, but we admired the bridge all lit up.

From there we went into the downtown area. We did get out and walk around Gene Leahy Mall, where we got some great pictures of the Omaha skyline.




The Omaha skyline as seen from Gene Leahy Mall.




A view of the Omaha World Herald building & the Holland Performing Arts Center from Gene Leahy Mall.




A couple of posters that adorn the walls of the Fairmont's Movie Theatre.

After leaving the Mall, we found a parking spot by the Fairmont, so decided to wander around in there. If you are ever in Omaha, I highly suggest stopping down in the Old Market. It's the heart of the city and is lined with brick streets. It's a quaint place with storefronts of unique shops, and a variety of galleries, bars, and restaurants. One of it's most interesting stores is the Fairmont Antique Store/Hollywood Candy Shop. It's a huge building that is as much fun as whimsical. Inside is a true candy shop, with every kind of candy known to man practically, as well as a large selection of soda pop in bottles. 

It also contains a throwback to the 50s-style soda fountain/lunch counter. Past the candy store and soda fountain, is a veritable feast for the eyes. It's a flea market and showcase for a bygone era. There's a movie theatre inside, where they show movies occasionally and have had a few famous guests stop by.




A replica of a steamship inside the Fairmont's Antique Emporium.

Besides the theatre, there are several stalls of people selling their antique wares. It's basically an indoor, permanent flea market, and it's a neat place to wander around and see things, whether you're buying anything or not.




A wall of old beer and pop cans in one of the stalls of the Fairmont Antique Emporium.



An old music poster in a stall of the Fairmont Antique Emporium. I would go see this show today, in a heartbeat, if it came to town!


After leaving the Fairmont, we drove up to the Durham Western Heritage Museum, where we got a great view of the city. My pictures from there didn't turn out very well, as is the case more than I'd like to admit. I am getting a better camera this holiday season, and I can't wait.

I hope you have a great day! It' might be Monday, but it's "Wednesday" for most of us as we only have a three-day week. Thanksgiving will be here Thursday, and I'll dedicate a short post to that day. 

Until then,

H.A.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ipsy's November Glam Bag



Hey, hey, it's Saturday, my favorite day of the week! I've got a full weekend planned of writing, busy work, outside things, and family time. What are your plans? Well, it's that time of the month again...yep, you guessed it, Ipsy time! Let's get started.




Here's the bag and card. At first, I thought the bag was covered constellations, but I was wrong. Actually, I was half-right. The bag is a velour-style, dark blue bag with makeup items styled as constellations. It fits the theme of the month: Rockstarlet.





The contents of the bag.





First up, Ofra Comestics Banana Highlighting Powder. I'm more apt to use a highlighter over bronzer, so I'm definitely using this next time I get dressed up to go out.





This is Nuxe Paris' Nuxellence Detox creme. It's touted as a detoxifying and anti-aging creme. If that's the case, then I'm expecting it to lightly lift, tone, and revive aging complexion. We shall see! I love getting face creams to try, as they can be quite expensive (for quality ones), so doesn't always fit my budget.





Next up, Skone's Brow Wand. The one eyebrow pencil I received from Ipsy quickly became my favorite, and I had been wondering what I would do when it ran out! Luckily, I've received another. It's the same, perfect color as my last one (dark brown), with a spoolie on one end--this one, unlike my other one, has a cap though!--but the pencil itself is shaped like a triangle. I'm going to have to research this one a bit before I use it as I've never used a triangular brow pencil before.





As I've mentioned in past Ipsy posts, the Balm makes my new favorite colored eyeshadow (Matt (tri)Mony). This month, I've received a new product from the Balm called Mad Lash. It's (obviously) a mascara. It has a curved wand and plastic spike bristles. These are the kind that are built-in/part of the brush itself, and I've had good luck with those. I'm happy to own it as one can never have too many mascaras!





Last, but not least, is another item from Starlooks. It's a lip gloss in the color Rose Gold. I love lip glosses. They're more appropriate for a day look, but are great to put over a bold color for a shiny night look. It's really pretty, and, like you'd expect, it's a pretty pink color with a touch of shimmery gold. I can't wait to use it.



And there you have it, another successful month of Ipsy. Ipsy is inexpensive and the perfect way to try out makeup items! Head over to their website for more info: https://www.ipsy.com/

Friday, November 18, 2016

Recipe of the Week: Soups and Stews



It's starting to cool down outside, albeit slowly for this time of year, and that means it's time to dig out my soup pot. I mean that literally, not figuratively, as I have the good fortune of owning some old Wagner Ware Magnalite. I own the Dutch Oven and Turkey Roasters, and they are wonderful. Nothing is more durable or longer-lasting than this cookware (Yes, cast iron is awesome, but it can rust. Wagner Ware doesn't rust.), and they can be used on top of the stove or in the oven. 



Wagner Ware Turkey Roaster (not mine).



Wagner Ware Dutch Oven (also not mine).


Many a good meal has been made in my Wagner Ware, and the Dutch Oven is perfect for making delicious soup. Why? Well, mainly because good soup needs to be made in large quantities, but also because when a good soup is made, it gets eaten in large quantities. No one wants to run out of good soup too soon! Making a good soup is easy. If you have broth (or something to make broth with), and any combination of protein/veggies/grains/seasonings, you can easily whip together a tasty soup. If you want it heartier, put a larger ratio of items in, and thicken the liquid up with either flour or cornstarch. Easy!

Anyway, last night I got out my Wagner Wear Dutch Oven, and decided that a good stew was in order. I perused my veggie and protein options, and settled on the ingredients. I also decided that I needed dumplings, because who doesn't need a good dumpling sometimes? I made a delicious dumpling stew called:

Smoky Tofu Stew with Chive Dumplings


Here's the Smoky Tofu Stew with Chive Dumplings right after it finished cooking. You can seen the tofu, veggies, and dumplings.


Smoky Tofu Stew with Chive Dumplings. Yummy!


Here's how I made it:


Smoky Tofu Stew with Chive Dumplings


Ingredients:

For the stew:

2 T. coconut oil, or oil of preference
6 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
3 medium carrots, cut into chunks
1 can of Navy bean, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. each of frozen peas and corn
10 c. vegetable stock*
1/3 c. flour**
1/2 c. cold water
1 T. smoked paprika
2 t. each salt, pepper, turmeric, Old Bay, granulated onion, and granulated garlic
2 T. parsley flake***
1 t. celery seed powder****


For the tofu:

1 block of tofu, cut into chunks*****
2 T. vegetable oil



For the dumplings:

1 c. flour (I used whole wheat white)
1/2 c. millet flour******
2 t. baking powder
1/4 c. dried chives***
1 t. each salt & pepper
1.5 T. coconut oil
1 c. unsweetened, plain almond milk*******



Instructions:


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Coat tofu in oil and spread out onto a cookie sheet.
3. Bake the tofu for 15 minutes each side, or until lightly browned on either side. Remove from heat.
4. Warm the coconut oil over medium-high heat in dutch oven.
5. Add the potatoes and carrots, and stir to coat well. 
6. Sautee, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes.
7. Add vegetable broth, beans, other veggies, and seasonings. Stir to incorporate and then gently boil over medium-high heat until potatoes and carrots are tender, approx. 15 to 20 minutes.
8. Whisk together the flour and cold water until a smooth paste forms. Add to the stew and stir well. 
9. Add the tofu to the pot of stew.
10. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the stew until it starts to thicken.
11. While this is happening, mix the dry dumpling ingredients together until well incorporated.
12. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the coconut oil until incorporated and the mixture looks mealy.
13. Add in the milk until you have a sticky, wet dough.
14. Drop by teaspoonfuls into stew pot.
15. Turn the heat down to medium, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
16. Remove from heat and let cool before eating as it will be molten hot.



Recipe Notes:

*You can use any stock you want, but I prefer Better than Bouillon's Vegetable Stock. The flavor can't be beat!

**You can use any flour you want. Gluten-free flours like chickpea and millet work fine here if you prefer.

***You can use fresh herbs if you prefer, but if you do, you need to use less.

****You can use half a stalk of fresh celery if you prefer, cut into small pieces. If you do, add this to the potatoes and carrots during the sautee step.

*****You do not need to press the tofu before baking. Baking removes the excess moisture, saving yourself an extra step.

******I add the gluten-free, millet flour in addition to the regular flour because it gives it more density, therefore making it heartier. You can omit this and use all wheat flour, but in this case, cut the milk down to 2/3 c. You can also make gluten-free dumplings by using your favorite recipe and adding the chives. 

*******I use unsweetened, plain almond milk everyday, but you can use any plant-based milk you prefer. Just make sure it's free of sweeteners and flavorings. 

Of course, this recipe is open to variation. Use ingredients you have on hand! If you have different veggies, use them. If you have margarine instead of coconut oil to make dumplings, use it. If you want gluten-free, it's easy to sub out (as I've shown you).

Happy Friday and happy souping!

-H.A.







Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Coffee Talk: Supermoons & other Tales





Good morning! I decided to roll out another new segment of my blog, and I'm calling it Coffee Talk. I'm sure it will be like Recipe of the Week, and not necessarily be a weekly thing. That's okay, things don't have to be done rigidly in The Write Life, right? Right! Anyway, it is coffee talk because every morning that I work on the Write Life, I drink coffee. I also wax poetic, or erratically at times, so why not call it Coffee Talk? I'll talk about a variety of things as well as specific topics as well, just depends. We'll have coffee, we'll talk. Okay, I'll be talking, you'll be listening...so to speak. 


First off, did you check out the Supermoon that was out Sunday night and Monday night? You had to have seen it! In fact, it's been so big, and so bright, that you can see it during the day:


A photo I took of the Supermoon on Tuesday morning.


Last night, I was visiting a friend, and the Supermoon was still very visible. It's not quite as full as it was at full wax, but it was still pretty impressive nonetheless:


The Supermoon on Tuesday evening.


It's probably this first picture I've taken of the moon that didn't completely suck. Seriously, if you've ever tried taking a picture of the moon, you know the struggle. I'm not sure how long one can expect to see the moon in this awesome form, but if you're looking up at the sky this morning, or this evening, I bet it will be there. For more night sky happenings this month, check out the post I made earlier this month.

This last weekend, I was busy (again) on Saturday doing the weekly podcast that I run out of my house, and so I didn't end up getting outside like I had wanted. We usually do the podcast on Sunday evening, but my best friend went to South Africa and I had to pick him up from the airport at the same time as we usually run the podcast. 

Sunday though, when the boys were at work, Nature Girl and I decided we needed to get outside. I really wanted to go somewhere different, and so I remembered Lewis and Clark Monument over in Council Bluffs. I can vaguely remember hiking the mountain bike trails there once, but it was so long ago, that I figured it would be like going somewhere new. 

Lewis and Clark Monument sits on top of the Loess Hills as they make their way through the city. If affords sweeping views of the landscape, and you can clearly see Nebraska and Iowa as you stand there (as is the case with the Iowa Mountains in general). 


Nature Girl blows her bubbles from on top of the world at Lewis and Clark Monument in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

While we did walk the peak trail, we had to stop as the remaining ones are all mountain bike trails, which are treacherous to hike. My balance isn't as great as it used to be either, and, while I tried, gave up. Even Nature Girl was a bit nervous. We instead went into the trailhead we saw for the forest area of the park, and we walked along that for awhile. It's not a pleasant walk per se because, unlike most managed forests, they do not do any controlled burning. Controlled burning allows a nature area to keep the overgrowth at bay while allowing for easy growth of new fauna in Spring.

We decided to move on and kept following the road that leads to and away from the monument. We ended up in Crescent, Iowa, and since we weren't done with nature just yet, decided to make a pit stop at Hitchcock Nature Center. We leisurely walked along the boardwalk blowing bubbles, and then walked along a bit of the nature trail. 

All in all, it was a gorgeous day and we got a few miles in of nice walking.

The boardwalk trail at Hitchcock Nature Center in Crescent, Iowa.


The other day, I found out about a short story contest for horror stories. I went ahead and started writing a story for that. This year has proven to be a difficult year for me to write (at least up until recently). I'd been having trouble being inspired, and I felt weary of writing. I still kept at it, albeit super-slowly, but I just wasn't feeling the creative pull that I usually had. This seemed to be coming from within me, as I hadn't felt very compelled to be productive at much of anything.

Well, after my massive hiking weekend, I really got myself out of that slump, and I've been back to my normal self in my daily life, routine, and The Write Life. I've not only picked up steam on The Box, but I wrote the first page of the book that will follow it (I got hit with a great idea for the story so went ahead and put it down while I still had in fresh in mind). Combine that with the short story I've started, and baby, I'm back! 

Indeed, I feel renewed overall. I feel energized, inspired, and creative. I have to admit, that I'm more than glad that the slump is over. It begins to wear on your confidence when you sit around doing nothing most of the time, and are not being the creative, productive, and outgoing person that you usually are. Even worse, you wonder if it's a permanent state, and that is a frightening thought. My mood then, has really been given a boost.

I've picked up this steam during NaNoWriMo, and while I'm pretty sure I won't finish The Box during this novel-writing month, I'll at least be close! Last year, I finished The Station during NaNoWriMo, so I did what many people set out to do. Are you writing the next great novel during NaNoWriMo? 


Well, my coffee mug is nearly empty (again), and it's time for me to get some writing in before I get ready for work. I hope you enjoyed Coffee Talk, and I'll be back on Friday with a new post. 

-H.A.



Monday, November 14, 2016

Investigation of Prospect Hill Cemetery



Prospect Hill Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Nebraska, with it's first burial recorded in 1858. It was a Pioneer Cemetery, which needs no explanation. It's a bit run-down, but is still in use to this day, and, surprisingly, has a good website. The website's neatest feature, in my opinion, is the page about it's famous burials. The cemetery is the final resting place of some of the most influential people in Omaha's history. A walking tour guide and map are included on the page.

Another, more discrete, reason for the popularity of this cemetery is it's reputation of being quite haunted. I had tried to ghost hunt here before, but as it's not in the best part of town, wandering around at night is best done in groups.

Saturday night, then, a small group of us finally made it out to Prospect Hill Cemetery for a short investigation. Investigating this place isn't necessarily the easist. There is some noise pollution--although not bad for being in the city as the area is heavily trafficked--such as a car here and there driving by, and occasionally you could hear a yell or a bird. We were actually interrupted by a total of four cars that were passing through, leading me to realize that this place is popular, but there wasn't all these "kids" that are purported to hang out here at night.

I've gone through all the cool photographs I took, and there were a couple of things that *might* give me pause, but not enough for me to say, "Okay, this place is haunted." I ran audio as well as taking photographs, and while I didn't catch any voices on audio, I did have some weird audio anomalies. My voice recorder skipped out several times and, when it did, would make a weird sound. I haven't had that happen before, so it's another something that *might* give me pause, but, again, nothing definitive.






We investigated in the oldest part of the cemetery. The oldest grave I found was from 1886, although I know there are older ones in the cemetery.













This is one of the famous burials of the cemetery. The Hummel family was an influential, early Omaha family whose name, interestingly enough, graces the other reputed haunted place in town: Hummel Park. Hummel Park is home to the Morphing Stairs as well.





Here's the oldest grave I found while wandering around the cemetery. Sarah Frank died in 1886 at the young age of 39.





A shot up of one of the tallest tombstones in the cemetery. If I remember correctly, it's from around 1927, and is big, fancy, and of good quality because it's still in pristine condition after nearly 90 years of weather.





As a contrast, many of the older tombstones look more like this: worn, crumbling, and leaning (if not downright fallen).









These two cross tombstones, like many of the grave markers in the cemetery, are falling. I'm not sure if the slabs behind them were put there to prop them up, or if they were originally on top of the slabs, fell off, and were then propped up against them.





Another shot of the cross tombstones.













I was standing at a crossroads on the North side of the cemetery when my camera refused to focus. I got excited thinking back to our investigation of Edinburgh Manor, and how when my camera refused to focus, I got EVP phenomena. I went ahead and started asking several leading questions, but upon playback, I got nothing. I find the green orb interesting as it's not a typical dust particle that are evidenced in several, if not most, of the photographs from this night. What it is though, remains a mystery.





Here's a shot of the same area when my camera finally focused. As you can see, whatever is causing the green orb in the unfocused picture, isn't here in the focused picture. 





The grave immediately to the left is of someone from the Lobeck family. This is another famous grave as Charles Lobeck was a small business owner and, later, a politician from Omaha.





As you can see, dust orbs stole their way into pretty much every shot I took.



While we never got anything definitive during our short investigation, it would be best, in my opinion, to go back to the cemetery during the "Witching Hour". Ghosts are said to be most active between the hours of 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., and I'd like to test that here. It's just a hard time of the night to be in an old graveyard in a part of town that isn't the safest. I'm sure going to try though, as I'm sure I'd have less noise pollution to deal with as well.