Thursday, March 30, 2017

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

Good morning! I've decided that I will go back to my normal posting schedule next week as it will just be easier for me to stick to the old schedule for the time being. Anyway, on Tuesday, I posted about the Iowa Mountains adventure we took this past Sunday. We sure did have a lot of fun stopping here and there checking out things that were new to us, and things we had seen before. I mentioned that I had two more posts - out of three - about our adventure, so here's the second one.

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is, as the name suggests, a great place for wildlife. They are particularly a bird haven, wetland and otherwise. While we were there we were able to see many different kinds of birds, and I managed to get some great photographs of them.





Just like we saw last time we went to Wild Heron Haven, we again saw some Mallard Ducks. It's migration season, according to the DeSoto staff, so this is not unusual. You can see the females and the males floating on the water.





The visitor's center at the refuge has many areas for viewing said wildlife. One such area is a direct viewing spot to a bunch of birdfeeders that the Refuge maintains. Because of this, one gets treated to various birds. This one is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. 





Squirrel! He/she looked so cute eating the dropped bird feed that I had to take his/her picture.





This cute little bird is another woodpecker, the Downy Woodpecker.





These two are Red-Winged Blackbirds.





A Blue Jay scavenges the ground for some seed.


We also saw a few Robins and a Cardinal as well, although the latter flew off so quickly that I was unable to snap it's picture. I didn't bother to take pictures of the Robins since I see them pretty much daily. Getting pictures of the birds was fun and a great way to use my camera. It was also fun doing a bit of research to find out what kinds of birds these were. Of course, Nature Girl was super excited to see all the birds as well, and I had a hard time dragging her away.

If you're ever in Missouri Valley, Iowa, along I-29, and need something to do, check out DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Loess Hills Adventure

Good morning! You might have noticed that I wasn't here yesterday with my usual Monday post. Well, there's a reason for that. I've picked up a second, part-time job, and with my already busy schedule, I decided it would be best for me to change my posting schedule to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. While I'll be posting one less blog a week, it won't be lacking in greatness! ;) Anyway, let's move on to today's post.

My best friend and I have been best friends since we were four years old. Four years old! Crazy, right? Well, he just got back from Peru on Saturday. Ever since he and I went on a trip to Ireland back in 2014, he's been on a mission to visit every continent. He's since gone to Germany, Australia, South Africa, and now Peru. He'll be going to China in November, and then to Antarctica next spring. It's so exciting!

We agreed that when he got back that we should spend some time together. With my crazy schedule, I don't get to see people as much as I'd like to, so when he made his usual Sunday stop after church, we made a quick plan. NG and I got ready, packed up a picnic lunch, and off we headed for an afternoon roadtrip of the Iowa Mountains (the Loess Hills for those of you unfamiliar with my nickname for them).


A view of the Omaha skyline from the Monument.

Our first stop was the Lewis & Clark Monument in Council Bluffs, IA. My bestie had never been there before, and it's a good starting point for road tripping the Iowa Mountains. 




NG stands on a stone bench near a frieze of Lewis & Clark.

This monument marks the historic meeting between Lewis & Clark and the Otoe & Missouria Indians.




The rotunda scenic overlook at Lewis & Clark monument.




Now, I've been to the monument a few times, but this is the first time I noticed these locks. I've heard of the famous Parisian bridge where lovers will write their names on a lock then attach it to the bridge as a sign of unbreakable love. I guess it's becoming a little tradition here too. What better place to profess your undying love than atop such a beautiful scenic overlook?




Some more love locks.
We also saw one dedicated in memory of someone's mom. 




These stairs, coming off the scenic overlook, that lead down to the hiking trail. I've posted about this trail before, complete with pictures.





After leaving the monument, we moved on towards Crescent, Iowa, following the Old Lincoln Highway





We eventually made our way to I-680 as it meanders towards Des Moines, IA. There is a Scenic Overlook Tower that I didn't know was there, so we stopped to check it out. Look at this beautiful view from the top!





Way on the other side of I-680 from where we were, rose a set of radio towers. We actually drove along the gravel road next to these before we drove over to the tower.




A view from the other direction on top of the Scenic Overlook Tower.



View of the river pillars from the visitor's center at DeSoto NWR.

After we left the tower, we meandered over to I-29, and since we were so close, drove on over to DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Located west of Missouri Valley, Iowa, this refuge aims to preserve and protect wetland wildlife.




A closer view of the pillars.




The visitor's center at DeSoto is beautiful and educational. There are a couple of viewing areas in which to see wildlife. This is a view of the Missouri River from the large viewing area.





This is a view facing the other direction from the same area of the visitor's center.





A male and female bald eagle are forever immortalized in this display.





The visitor's center, besides having viewing areas, also has wildlife educational exhibits, wildlife movies, walking trails, and are famed for housing the treasures from the wreck of the Steamboat Bertrand. We've been here many times, and always enjoy it. The entrance fee is only $3 per car, so why not go?





After spending some time at the visitor's center, we drove over to the excavation site of the Bertrand. This pond is where the hull of the wrecked ship lies, but the waters were too murky to see it.




NG makes ripples in the excavation pond.

After DeSoto, we grabbed a few nice brews and headed back to my place where we spent the rest of the evening enjoying good conversation and a meal with my husband and the kids. We had a really fun time exploring our area and checking out new and old places. There's always adventure to be had at home if you just look in the right places. Exploring is a good way to learn about where you live and to get out and do fun things, either alone or with people you care about. So, pack up a picnic and hit the road! 

I will be making a few separate posts about the wildlife at DeSoto as well as one dedicated to the Steamboat Bertrand, so stay tuned for those!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

For the love of Music


I have been a fan of music for about as long as I can remember.

I was raised by a single father, and he was always a big fan of what we now call Classic Rock. He also loved Classical, and so those were the two forms of music we listened to the most of. My dad also thought television was a useless brain polluter, so I grew up without one in my house. As a result, we spent a lot of time listening to music. 

When I grew up and moved out on my own, I spent several years watching lots of television, which was probably just my attempt to 'catch up'. Over the last five years, however, I've reverted back to music and away from television. Not that I ever quit listening, but I really got back into music. While it's been enjoyable, I tend to get stuck on certain bands that I find to be amazing, simply because it's hard sifting through Youtube trying to find good bands. 

I recently discovered something amazing though. While I've heard of bandcamp plenty of times, I had never spent any real time there until recently. I was promoted to a moderator status on a music group I'm involved with, and that really fired up that spark inside of me to find new music. I turned to bandcamp, created a fan profile, and started discovering music. Man, oh man, was that one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. I can sift through tags to find the specific genre of music I'm looking for, and then isolate the results even further (i.e. "Newest Arrivals"). 

I've been listening to so many great bands in many different genres, and I'm never out of fresh bands to check out. You can buy their albums and, many times, you can pay your own price. Now, I'm not suggesting you should pay tiny amounts for everything you want to get, but sometimes if you want to support an artist and don't have a lot of funds, you can pay them at least a little something.

I've reached an age in my life where I feel that I should be supporting the artists I listen to frequently with my dollars. Nobody wants to work for free. As a struggling writer, I understand this all too well. Bandcamp makes it easy. If you're a big music fan, go check them out today and create an account. I can't believe I waited so long to do so myself! 

Happy listening,

H.A.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Coffee Talk: Expats, Blogging, and The Write Life.


Good morning! I've got my cup of coffee, the weekend is (nearly) here, and I'm feeling good today. Let's get started.

I've been doing a lot of blog-reading lately. Now, I'm not talking about my own blog, but rather a series of good expat blogs. Ever since I transitioned from the idea of backpacking around the world for a couple of years into the idea of living in another country, I've been reading a lot of these blogs. I specifically seek out the American expat ones so I can get a good idea if moving to another country would be something I'd be interested in doing. 

Anyway, in reading all these blogs, some of these bloggers have some really awesome websites. I admit, it really got me thinking about the design of my own website. I'm very partial to Blogger --having already used Wordpress and finding it (personally) to be difficult to use -- so I cringe at the thought of leaving it. But, I've seen some really cool Wordpress sites and I'm wondering if it isn't time for a change. I'll definitely be playing around with a free Wordpress site and see if it's something I'm interested in doing or not. We shall see!

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I know that I said I'd have The Box finished over this last weekend, but I found myself (once again) being too busy to finish it. My outside-of-work duties have really swelled, and I find myself in a time crunch again. I sat down, then, a couple of days ago and created a schedule for myself. With so many things on my plate, it's absolutely necessary that I create this schedule so I can keep up with everything while staying on-task and on-time. So, the book is probably a couple weeks out yet, and I'm just going to accept that.

Speaking of books, I've tried using Pronoun to republish an old book, and am running into some frustrating issues. I know it will be beneficial to work them out, but, man, who has the time sometimes! *laugh* I just need to do it and stop whining. Stay tuned then for the re-release of Cold. I will definitely get that done this weekend.

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Here's to a forthcoming great weekend!

-H.A.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Five Year Shift



Passages of time can be marked in so many ways: the celebration of a birthday, a daily commute to work, or a special memory that is never forgotten. Each occupies a different space in our minds, but are still markers of time. I think the passing of time is objective and subjective at the same time. While time passes for everyone -- of that there is no doubt -- how we perceive of our time is personal. 

Ever since I turned 30, I've noticed a marked change in myself every five years. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that I feel like I've grown and changed a lot every half-decade since I've turned 30. I noticed a change at 30, but I was really struck by how much had changed since then when I turned 35. Thirty-five was a big life-changer: I was now a mom of two children, I was embarking into school once again, and I started to be acutely aware of my own mortality. By the time I turned 40, I went through another big change (one that I've documented here countless times). 

I turned 45 towards the end of last year, and I've noticed another five-year shift. I don't feel the same sense of urgency that I did when I turned 40. Instead, I feel confident, sure of myself, and find myself to be a true goal-setter. Every five years in your life marks changes in the progression of your life, and a fairly significant one at that. I'm excited for what the next five years holds, and I look forward to another decade birthday...maybe not right at this moment, but I will be. After all, it will be another five-year shift, and I'll be ready.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Ipsy's March Glam Bag

Hey everyone! I know that my monthly Ipsy post is a bit behind schedule, but I got the bag about three days later than normal. I was wondering why it wasn't there on the 15th -- which is when it usually arrives -- so I followed the tracking number they email after they send them out. I found out that there is/was bad weather on the East Coast (which is where Ipsy is located) so packages were arriving later than usual. Anyway, it's here now and that's what matters, so let's get started!





The bag itself and the card. The card is a small one and doesn't have the standard theme. Instead, we're encouraged to pass this card along to someone who could use a pick-me-up. The bag itself is elegantly simple and quite large! This is going to work great for packing makeup.





The contents of the bag.





First up is eyeko's Fat Eye Stick in the color Satin. I've seen these (although not this particular brand) in stores, but have never bought one to try. I'm excited to use it, and like usual, Ipsy has given me the perfect shade.





Next up is Beau Gachis' tapered blending brush. I got one of their smudging brushes last year and I LOVE it, so I was pretty excited to see this brush in this month's bag.





This is First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Face Moisturizer. Like I've mentioned before, I love getting new face moisturizers to try. I'll be using this shortly as my main moisturizer is almost empty!





This is a 4-in-1 Light Concealer from PUR called Diappearing Ink. I like concealers as I have some blemishes on my face. This makes covering them up easier, although I have yet to find one that covers super well. (I'll have to make a trip out to Sephora for that one of these days.)





Last, but not least, is tarte's tarteist lip paint in the color delish. I have other lip paints that I've gotten through Ipsy, one from The Balm and the other from Ciate. This one is very similar in shade color as the other two I've received. Ipsy knows how to custom-tailor their bags for you! At any rate, I like the lip paints, they are perfect for a night out.


So there you have it, another month of Ipsy's Glam Bag. You really can't beat the price ($10/month, no tax, free shipping) to try five new products each month, and each one comes with a cool bag! If you're interested and want to learn more, check out the Ipsy website.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Celestial Events for April


Good morning and Happy Saturday! Yay, it's my favorite day of the week, and I've got a full day planned, plus the weather is going to be gorgeous all weekend, so I'm excited to get out and get moving. I also fully intend on getting my book The Box finished as well, so my weekend is going to be busy too, but I digress.

It turns out that April is going to be a great month for viewing the night sky. February and March weren't as exciting -- at least for those of us in the Northwestern Hemisphere, so this month will be more exciting. Here's what's happening:


  • Friday, April 7: Jupiter will be closet to the Earth, and, because of this, will be illuminated by the Sun. This means it will be nice and bright, making it easy to view throughout the entire evening, so make sure you get out there (telescopes or not) and take a look or snap a few pictures.
  • Tuesday, April 11: The Full Moon is back, woo hoo! There's nothing quite like an impressively large, bright Moon hanging out in the sky. This particular one is also known as the Full Pink Moon because it typically denotes the appearance of the moss pink phlox, a spring flower.
  • Saturday-Sunday, April 22-23: The Lyrids Meteor Shower will peak during the night of the 22nd through the morning of the 23rd. It's anticipated to be dark enough to get a good look without a telescope.
  • Wednesday, April 26: A New Moon is out. A new moon is located on the same side as the Earth, making it absent from the night sky. This means that it's a great time to view objects in the sky that are usually drowned out by the moonlight. Faint galaxies, planets, star clusters, and the like, will all be easier viewed.
  • Saturday, April 29: Today is International Astronomy Day. Some places will hold local events for the occasion, and hopefully you'll be close to one of them. For more information, click here.

I hope you can get out and view at least one of these events next month! Stargazing is a great way to bring Space closer and learn more about the rest of the Universe. For tips on how to view the night sky, click here.




Friday, March 17, 2017

Turning Forty



My husband recently turned 40, on a Saturday no less, but it wasn't the bright occasion I had hoped it would be. We always go out, on a date, for each of our birthdays. I typically find a Groupon for a nicer restaurant, we stuff our faces with good food, and then take our full bellies to a cozy, dark bar somewhere to get a few nice cocktails. It's the perfect excuse to have some adult time which translates to quiet, elegant, and relaxing. I had, then, found a good Groupon for an Indian restaurant and brew house that's pretty well-known around here for having excellent food. My husband had been looking forward to it all week, so when Saturday morning -- birthday morning -- rolled around, and he was crabby, I was a bit surprised, but chalked it up to a rambunctious Nature Girl.

When afternoon came and he was still crabby, The Teen made an aside comment to me, "Mom, he's probably just grumpy because he's turning 40." Right after the words left his mouth, I realized how much sense that made. Decade Birthdays are milestones with which people start to gauge and reflect upon their lives. 20 isn't that big of a deal, but 30 starts the thought process that Decade Birthdays bring.

For me, 30 was hard. I admit it...I cried. I didn't want to be 30, I wanted to be in my 20s! Being in my 20s meant I was still young, so turning 30 meant I was getting old and I definitely was NOT ready to get old. Forty was a different beast. I didn't mind turning 40 in the least. I changed a lot from 30 to 40 and I was ready for the new decade. Besides, an older friend of mine had told me -- during a wonderful conversation over wine and sushi -- that 40 was fabulous. 'Well, sign me up!' I thought.

Since then, my friend has been proven right. While it hasn't all been sunshine and roses, the forties have been my best decade so far. What has changed to make this true? I'm older so I'm wiser, more sure of myself, more confident, more engaging, more outgoing, I'm not afraid to try new things or take risks, and a host of other things that I wasn't ten or twenty years ago. I know who I am, and I know where I'm going, and I wouldn't change that for the world.

Back to my husband: I cuddled up to him and asked him if he was having a hard time turning 40, and he admitted that he was. I reassured him that 40 was so much better than 30, and that things were going to be (more than) okay. We talked for awhile and his spirits were lifted, so we proceeded to celebrate his birthday like we were supposed to. A friend came over and had a few drinks, and then we mosied over to the Indian restaurant. The meal was fabulously fantastic, and we stuffed our faces until our bellies were full.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Coffee Talk: Newsletter, Free Book, and Things


Good morning! Do you have your cup of coffee? I sure do, as well as a breakfast sandwich composed of sauzage and hashbrowns. What? It's good, trust me. Anyway, on to Coffee Talk.

I sent out my first Email Newsletter this week!  Woo hoo! It may sound minor, but it's something I've been meaning to do for awhile. I don't have many subscribers (2, it's 2 okay!) so I was waiting for a few more. Since no one else has signed up (cough, cough, wink, nudge, wink), I went ahead and started doing one. For now it will just be a monthly thing except for special editions here and there. If you haven't signed up yet, just look for the sign-up box on the right-hand side near the top of where the blogs start. Go ahead, sign up...I don't bite, or so I've been told.



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Right now, at this very moment, my first book Cold is available for free on Amazon, and will be through the 18th. You better go get your free copy while you have the chance! It's a short, entertaining, easy-to-read thriller. Here's the link: H.A. Larson's "Cold" 



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In other book news, I've decided that after my KDP Select contract runs out on my currently-published books, I'm going to pull them out. If you don't know what KDP Select is, it's Amazon's exclusive contract with ebook authors. Basically, how it works is that an author decides to publish exclusively with Amazon, and, in exchange, the author can run book promotions as well as borrow out the book to Amazon's Lending Library for so many cents for each page read. If you've ever read a book through the Kindle Unlimited, this is where those books come from.

NOTE: My books will still be available for sale on Amazon, no worries! They will just no longer be able to be borrowed through Kindle Lending Library/Kindle Unlimited.

For authors who move lots of copies of their books, and are fairly-popular authors, this makes sense. For authors still trying to get some recognition and exposure, it doesn't. I move so few copies that I stand to do better selling individual books. Not to mention, if my books aren't enrolled in KDP Select, I can publish them to other ebook markets and gain more exposure (and with it, hopefully, more readers and more sold copies). 

It's harder to make money being an ebook author than it used to be, especially where Amazon is concerned. Don't get me wrong, they help self-published authors mold themselves into real authors. I write a better quality product now than I did when I wrote Cold. Not to take away anything from myself, but I've grown and improved, and not just in my writing style either. I've come a long way in learning better ways to format and edit my books as well.

But I digress. I'll be publishing my books through Pronoun after their Select contracts run out (so expect a free book run right before I pull each one), and will be available through multiple markets. I'm going to improve the formatting on each one as well before re-publishing them.



Well, that's it for me today! It's Hump Day, which means we're that much closer to the weekend. Hope your day is grand,

H.A.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I Forever, Dreamer

A view of the sunset from the rocky coast - The Burren, Ireland


I'll never forget the moment I took the above photo. It was one of the most sublime and emotional moments of my life, and it forever changed me. It was the culmination of a dream realized, and I've never stopped dreaming since.

Growing up, I never realized the true potential for myself in this world. In fact, I barely conceived of much of the world, except for what I had seen in an old travel catalog when I was about ten years old. It was a catalog of luxurious, guided tours to Europe whose pages I pored over with rabid fascination. That fascination remained nothing more than a tiny spark in the back of mind, stored away for "later".

Later never came in the way that I thought it would, but I did become a woman of a certain age. A certain age that started me thinking that it was 'now or never' to start realizing my dreams. So, I published my first book Cold, and a week later I was on a plane for Ireland. These two events have proved monumental in my life since then, and I dream and live life with two things in mind: a head for planning, and a zest for life.

I've dreamed about another trip overseas ever since I returned from Ireland, but four more books later and I still haven't gone back. Sometimes things don't work out as we planned, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming about it. Aside from dreaming, I've begun to realize that things that had seemed impossible before, are actually completely possible.

So often, people limit themselves out of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of starting over, or fear of the what-ifs. This fear stops us from achieving things or trying things. Over the past five years, I've really gained a lot of confidence and lost that fear. Instead of thinking, "I can't pick up and just move to another country," I think, "I can totally pick up and move to another country." The only thing that would stop me would be poor planning and fear.

My fears, in the past, encompassed thoughts like that one and others that would seek to prevent me from writing a story, making some music, or deciding exactly how I want my future to play out & then work towards that goal. When you realize your fear is the only thing between you and diving into something you want to try, you have to ditch that fear. Does that mean that everything you take a risk for will be successful? Nope, it sure doesn't, but you'll never know unless you try.

I know I'm going to try to live my dreams. How about you?



Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Day in the Clouds

I got a chance, recently, to have a day to myself. It's a rare day indeed when I can enjoy some solitude, so I made sure to take full advantage of it. I started off by getting the house clean & tidy in the manner I like it. Then, I got some little things done: I finished & started a new chapter of my forthcoming book; did some small tasks around the house that needed done; and ran an errand...all before noon. I finished by swinging through a drive-thru and then heading out to the woods. What? Did you think I wouldn't take a hike?

The icing on the cake was arriving at Neale Woods to find out that I was alone there as well. Ahhh. How great is that? As I began my hike, I was really struck by how clear & blue the sky was, and how surreal, puffy, and white the clouds looked. I captured some good shots that day, so enjoy!



My lone car! I had the whole place to myself, and look how gorgeous my view was.



There is an old sundial there. It's not telling accurate time anymore. I think it's been messed with.



As I headed on the path down to the woods.



















I took this shot from the machine shed. The patterned roof tiles gave the shot some contrast and interest.



View from the other direction.



Almost to the woods!



One of the trail signs that dot the landscape at Neale Woods.



When I finished my hike, I sat at the bench opposite the old visitor's center. You can just make out the Omaha skyline off in the distance. It looks beautiful, even if they recently burned off the landscape during their yearly controlled burn.



One last shot of the clouds. The Sun was hiding behind it momentarily.