Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lake of the Ozarks: Part Two

We recently took a long weekender down to Lake of the Ozarks for The Teen's 18th birthday. Today, then, it's time to reveal part two of the posting for the trip, with this part being about our day spent at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Of all the parks I've been to over the years, this one ranks up there as one of my favorites. There were so many trails to hike, of varying difficulty, and the entire place was a feast for the eyes. Each trail we took afforded us a completely different view, and it was wonderful.

Located on the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains, Ha Ha Tonka S.P. rises above it's surroundings like a King. Indeed, one of it's signature attractions is some old castle ruins. Now, I'm sure you're wondering, "Castle ruins? In America? In Missouri?!" 

Let me assure you that, yes, there is indeed castle ruins at the park. The area was once the private property of Robert Snyder Sr. who began construction of an authentic European-style castle-mansion in 1905. He picked the location for just that reason: location. His castle afforded the occupants majestic views of the Ozark Mountains and the Lake below. 

Tragically, he perished in a car accident in 1906, and his sons then completed the mansion in the 1920s. After the stock market crash, they eventually sold the home to a private entity that turned it into a hotel in the late 1930s. Unfortunately, the hotel burned in a terrible fire in 1942 and sat abandoned for many years.

The State of Missouri, who already owned much of the surrounding area, purchased the ruins and grounds in the late 1970s, turning the entire area into a state park. Today, the ruins are deemed unsafe and a barrier prevents one from getting too close, or inside, the ruins.

The trail to the castle ruins (Castle Trail), and it's old water tower (Dell Rim Trail), are relatively easy and either paved or covered in boardwalk. The path lies along the ridges of the mountains, making it easy to see the sweeping, breathtaking views of the surrounding scenery.

The former front entrance to the castle, on the opposite side of the Lake.

A view from the boardwalk on the Dell Rim Trail. This trail was the pick of The Teen.

The Castle also had it's own water tower, but it's located a good half mile away from it on the Dell Rim Trail.

Just like the Castle ruins, one cannot enter the old water tower. A large metal gate prevents one from entering the structure or access to the ground surrounding it. I stuck my phone through the metal bars of the gate, however, and took a few pictures of the inside.

All together, we hiked along the Castle Trail/Boardwalk trail for about 1.8 miles of fairly easy hiking.

After leaving Dell Rim Trail, we headed over to the Colosseum Trail. While just a little over a half of a mile, it's considered a rugged trail (i.e. hard). This was my Dad's pick as it has a natural bridge right as you get down the first section of the trail. You can see the "bridge" in the photo above, and it was pretty cool!

The majority of the people we saw at the natural bridge didn't venture any farther down the trail, but we did - of course. The rock face of the mountains ran along the right side of us as we passed the bridge.

We had to climb up and around in a circle where we found ourselves directly across from the Castle ruins. I couldn't find a good spot to take a photo, as all the trees criss-crossed endlessly, but I did the best I could. It sure looks different from here, huh?

The last trail we went on, Island Trail, was my pick. In order to get to it, we had to take Spring Trail connector. Spring Trail connector has 316 wooden steps that climb 200 vertical feet. We figured we were in for it when we'd venture back, but sometimes going down can be worse than going up, and this was the case for the Spring Trail connector.

When we finally reached the Island Trail - which takes one to a lake inlet, a cave, and a balanced boulder - it was also a hard trail. At, again, a half of a mile of rugged trail, we really got a workout taking it. It was well worth it though as the scenery was breathtaking (in the picture above, you can see a kayaker near the last inlet surrounding by the rocky mountain face), the weather was fantastic, and we got a killer workout without having to hike for hours and hours. 

We then took a water/snack break before heading up the Spring Trail connector. After it was all said and done, we were duly impressed with this park. I sure hope you get a chance to visit it one day as it is well worth it. A bountiful park full of beauty and sights to see, it's one that shouldn't be missed!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Lake of the Ozarks: Part One

This past weekend we went to the Lake of the Ozarks, on the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains. It was a getaway that I had planned with my folks in order to celebrate the occasion of my son's 18th birthday. I mean, you only become an adult once so you might as well make it special, right? Anyway, when we considered where to go away for a weekend at the tail end of October, going south seemed like a much better idea than heading north, so we chose Lake of the Ozarks. 

While my folks have been there a handful of times, we had never gone there. I rented a three bedroom condo off of AirBnB - which was a great price for the off-season - that was right on the water (as you can see in the photo above). It was a bit dated and needed a bit of a deep cleaning, but it was comfortable, roomy, had all the comforts of home, and was right on the lake. 

We headed out early Friday morning, and arrived around 2:00 in the afternoon. We unpacked and headed out to Lake of the Ozarks State Park for a leisurely hike and a look-around.

My folks were more worn out from the trip down than we were, so while my Dad is an avid hiker he was a bit tired for anything major. We settled then on a short one-mile trail close to the Park Office. Located in the Ozark Mountains, it was just southeast of the Lake and afforded us a beautiful view of Autumn.

While lovely, these leaves are poisonous so we didn't touch them.

I love seeing the various leaf patterns during the Fall, and enjoy taking pictures of them. I didn't bring my big camera with me as I hate taking it on big hikes, but, in hindsight, I wish I had.

Walking the trails during Autumn is about my favorite thing ever, and the Ozarks were in full Autumnal bloom.

The trailhead we took was near this cute little old cabin that served as a trail information center. Basically, it was open and had several trail maps and a few brochures in it, but was unmanned.

After our easy little jaunt through the woods, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to the condo. A cute set of string lights were attached to the deck railing, so we turned those on for mood lighting. The host was kind enough to leave us some beer and wine for our stay, so we sat on the deck with our wine and took in the sights and sounds. The weather was pleasant as well and we relaxed while enjoying each other's company.

The next day after a big breakfast, we headed more southeast to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. That park was amazing, and, rest assured, I'll be posting all about it soon. Until then, have a great week and enjoy Fall if you can.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

On Becoming a Man

Yesterday, The Teen turned eighteen. We marked the occasion with a special trip to Lake of the Ozarks (a special post about the trip is forthcoming), and today we pack up and head back home.

I'm the only one awake right now, and as I sit here and enjoy the lake view with my cup of coffee, I reflect on my son.

He's all the best parts of me: intelligent, kind, caring, witty, and hard-working. I'm so proud of him for all the effort he's put into his life in order to attain his goals.

I'm proud but I'm also a bit envious. I wish I would have pushed harder for the future when I was his age. Then again, things were different when I was growing up. I've done my best to lead him into adulthood by largely pointing my fingers and saying, "Get out there."

The best gift I can give him is independence and the confidence needed to handle it. He's ready. I'm just not so sure that I am.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Ipsy Favorites: Part Two

Recently, I posted about my Ipsy favorites. I had decided awhile back to start posting favorites on occasion because you can see what I've liked and used, as opposed to just seeing what I've received. Why? Well, honestly it's because I don't always like or use everything I've gotten, and because I feel like I should give at least a brief report on those items that I do like. At any rate, here's part two of my faves!

The item on the left, is in here by accident! It's a Maybelline product I picked up at the drugstore, so I'm not going to review it here. 
The second item is Smashbox's Camera Ready primer. It has that nice kind of tacky texture that helps makeup adhere to your face, so I like to use it for special occasions when I want a fuller coverage that lasts for a few hours. 
The third item is Boo Boo Cover Up by Boo Boo Cover Up. It's got pretty good coverage for hard to conceal areas. I dab it onto blemishes or other problem spots, let it sit for a bit, and then tap it in with a sponge.

Chella's eyebrow maker -- it is an eyebrow cream contained in a screw cap on the bottom and also comes with an angled brush that is covered up as well -- makes deliciously perfectly pointed eyebrows. 
The Mad Lash mini mascara by the Balm is black as night, has good coverage, and I can lay it on thick and chunky for hitting up a metal show. 
However, when I prefer a more even and elegant mascara look, smashbox's X-rated mascara is better. While the Mad Lash has a hard, plastic bristle (perfect for blobbing on), the X-rated wand has numerous, soft bristles.

The black and silver pen on the end is a triangle-shaped eyebrow pencil that I used completely up. While I wasn't fond of it at first, I got used to it's unique shape and ended up liking it quite a bit. I used it up entirely. I have to admit in hindsight though, nothing really beats a pencil-powder combination. 
The item in the middle is Seraphine's Liquid Coal eyeliner in black. Ever since Almay introduced their felt-tip liquid eyeliner years ago, I've been a huge fan. In fact, I always use a black, felt-tip eyeliner on my tip lids, and this one - while possessing only a small tip - is perfect. It is black as night and covers well without easily smearing. 
The last item is Skinn's Bright Eyes nude eyeliner pencil. I love this item! I use it on my water line to brighten up my eyes. This is especially great on work days when I'm tired in the mornings. It really perks up my eyes and showcases them.

Ofra's Banana highlighter really has a banana-yellow color. It's a subtle highlighter that I love for a day look.
The bottom left item is a bronzer/contour pot. I've used it quite a bit as a blush, but I have used it as a contour as well. While some people would lament how it doesn't apply as well as one would like...for my purposes it has worked great.
Seraphine's Ginger + Gold peachy blush is awesome. I use it for times when I don't want a pinkish blush, and the coverage is perfect. In fact, I stopped using the bronzer for blush after I got this one.
Last up is Urban Decay's Afterglow highlighter. Now, this is THE night highlighter to have. With a flesh-colored undertone and a bright, almost glittery overtone, it's the perfect way to highlight your face for a night on the town!

And there you have it, the second of two posts about my ipsy favorites. It won't be the last, not technically, as I will no doubt show you some more of my faves in the future. Until then, have a great Wednesday and a great rest of your week. This weekend, I'll be posting from the road...stay tuned!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Friday the 13th

It's no secret that I love Autumn, Halloween, and generally anything scary. These reasons are why October is my favorite month. It's gorgeous outside, it's the month with the best holiday in the world, and it's always the perfect month to watch scary movies/read scary books.

Filmmakers and publishers will release more scary material this month than any other. Halloween sells! For fans of the macabre, like myself, we revel in this. I revel in this (along with all the other cool stuff I mentioned that makes October my fave) because it means I can get out and see new scary releases, or read them if I prefer.

Of course, my love of the genre doesn't prevent me from indulging in the classics either. If you'll remember, last year I posted about all the classic horror movies we watched leading up to Halloween, and this year will be no exception. However, I got to indulge in one of my favorite classic scary movies in a whole new way.

There's been a resurgence of movie theatres screening old movies. My best friend and I went to see Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" a few years ago and it was fabulous. Getting to see a classic movie -- that you've only ever seen on a television screen -- breathes new life into it. On top of all the other great stuff about October this year, there's a Friday the 13th in it. This means that, yes, you guessed it, one of my local theatres was showing the originial "Friday the 13th" on Friday the 13th.

My best friend and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to see it, and we thoroughly enjoyed it! It really is a different experience to see a movie in the theatre as opposed to home, and Alamo Drafthouse ensures you have a good viewing experience. They showed old trailers for "Friday the 13th", "Sleepaway Camp" (among others) and screened Jon Lajoie's music video for "A New Beginning", his nod to "Friday the 13th: A New Beginning". They even had a local horror movie podcast host come and do some trivia questions and door prizes.

If that wasn't awesome enough, Alamo has strict movie viewing policies. If you arrive late, you don't get in, and they enforce a strict "quiet zone" during the movie. If anyone violates this, you get one warning before being removed. I love this policy as I get tired of always encountering people talking through entire movies in theatres or hearing people's phones ring. This chain also serves beer and food, and has a tastefully decorated theatre with no snack counters. For more info visit their website.

Alamo routinely shows older movies. I've seen them promote "Kill Bill", the entire Miyazaki collection, and for October, it's a whole month of classic horror films. Even if you don't have an Alamo where you live, see if you can find a theatre that will show classic films. We went to an entirely different theatre to see the special screening of "Rear Window", and that same theatre was showing "Friday the 13th" at midnight on Friday the 13th. I'm really glad we went to Alamo instead.

Hey...what's that behind you?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Profound Sense of Loss

It's been a quiet week of repose for me as I lost a friend recently. While we weren't the closest of friends, I still considered him a friend, and his loss has definitely had an impact. He was smart as a whip - able to see things about life and the world that I just can't - and he was genuine. To say that he left an empty space within those of us who knew him is an understatement. There are those moments here and there when you think, "I wonder what he would say?" or "What would he think about that?"

Death comes, like a thief in the night,
taking from one the burden of life.

He was young, younger than I, so inevitably, I start thinking about my own life. I've talked about this more than once in the past, and ever since this tragedy has befallen us, I'm more resolved than ever. I'm resolved to make better connections with those I care about so I can have more meaningful relationships. I'm resolved to take care of my body so I can live a longer, healthier, and more robust life. I'm resolved to think more mindfully so I can approach conversations and important tasks in my life with patience and wisdom. Last, but not least, I'm resolved to make plans for my future so I can live the life I choose and not the one I'm stuck with.

Life is an entity, breathing and thrashing,
heart beating and teeth gnashing.

I think too about my friend himself. If I had known he was going to leave this life so soon, I would have made sure to say some things...anything really. Part of the shock is knowing that I can't impart any kind of goodbye, and it makes me sad. I also think about his wife and his kids, and how they are now alone. They're not alone in a literal sense, but they are no longer complete. All they have now are their memories. I've often said before to people, "Take comfort in the good memories you have." While that is certainly true, memories - no matter how great - will ever take the place of the living, breathing, person that you love.

Memories of you float in the air,
I mourn you here, I mourn you there.

Rest in peace my friend. I wish I could tell you how much you'll be missed.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Coffee Talk: The Write Life, Rain, and Random Bits

Good morning! Ahh, there's nothing quite like the smell of fresh, brewed coffee, and that first sip is like heaven. Pardon me for a moment while I take another sip. All right, that's better.

The Write Life had been progressing fairly slow as of late. My husband's computer died, and since he's in school full-time now, he really needed access to a computer. This means, of course, that he's been using mine for the last four months. It's hard to get any of my own work done when he's been on my computer nearly every waking moment doing homework. A couple of weeks ago, we finally got him a new computer, so I've now been getting reacquainted with my computer. Ha!

I've finally, then, been doing some serious writing, and I have to say that it's good to be back in the saddle. Now that I have free reign over my technology again, I'm really hoping to get some freelance work done for extra cash. Vanished is progressing along nicely as well, and I've finished the second chapter. This is definitely a longer book than my previous offerings which means my chapters are longer as well. I'm excited to finally be working on it more aggressively.


For the seventh day in a row, it's been raining. While I love, love, love the rain -- and understand it's importance -- it's been making it hard for me to walk to work. I wasn't able to walk much this last week, only twice actually, so I thought I'd take a walk when I got home in the evenings. But, it rained off and on every day, making it difficult to walk at any time.

Today, I've resigned myself to defeat and plan on doing an exercise video each day this weekend. It will be a great time for me to catch up on projects and start watching classic and new scary movies for Shocktober. (Of course, you can expect a Halloween movies post in the future.)


Last Saturday, we had our annual potluck bbq, and it was a great success as well as being lots of fun. We had a good turnout this year, and my homemade schnapps were a big hit! I wish I had made more, so next year I will double the batch. This was the 5th year of the bbq and we always provide the protein while others provide the sides. It's a BYOB event, except for the communal schnapps I make, but guests were gracious enough to bring communal booze as well. It was a pleasant surprise the next morning to see the leftovers, so I put them away for this weekend. We enjoyed some seriously nice drinks last evening, so thank you to my guests a second time!


I hope your weekend is enjoyable, and you spend it doing something that brings you joy or a sense of accomplishment. - H.A.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Majestic Iowa Mountains

A gate at Preparation Canyon State Park reminds people of where they are at.

Ahhh, the Iowa Mountains. There's nothing nearer and dearer to my nature-loving heart than this magnificent set of formations that are but a stone's throw from my home. I talk about them quite often, something you know to be true, but what are they exactly?

My son stands on a ridge, during a lovely Winter day, at Hitchcock Nature Center.

While I call them the "Iowa Mountains" they are really called "The Loess Hills". There are a few ways to correctly pronounce "loess", but the one I prefer is "luss". Loess is a silt sediment that is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust. While you can find it in various places around the world (it covers about 10% of the Earth's surface), it's only concentrated in a few places. One of these places is my beloved Iowa Mountains that stretch from the northwest of Iowa to the northwest of Missouri.

An early Spring view of the meandering Hills from Murray Hill Scenic Overlook.

They really are a beautiful sight to behold, and I've encountered some of the most varied and breathtaking views along its ridges.

A Summer view from the same spot at Murray Hill Scenic Overlook.

I've hiked the Iowa Mountains as far north as the Broken Kettle Grasslands in Westfield, Iowa, and as far south as Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Forest City, Missouri -- a distance that spans about 212 miles as the crow flies -- and many places in between.

The distance between Broken Kettle and Loess Bluffs. 

My daughter hiking along the eastern ridge of Hitchcock Nature Center on a warm Autumn day.

These hills have kept my sanity over the years, helping me to escape, even for a short while, the bitter pill of reality. Not that reality sucks all the time, I'm not pessimistic, but let's face can get rough. It's during those rough times that I find solace in the Iowa Mountains, the most majestic and beautiful place near me, and one of the most awe inspiring and gorgeous places on the planet. Some people may not agree with me on that, but my resolve on the matter is pretty firm.

An early Fall view of a farm nestled in the valley from the ridges of Turin Prairie.

While I've traveled the world and seen some pretty amazing nature on a much larger scale, it takes nothing away from the smaller-scale nature I'm fortunate to live around. It took me a long time to appreciate that I had incredible vistas outside my back door, but I never take it for granted now. I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse into the Iowa Mountains that I talk so much about, and I sincerely wish for you to be able to see them for yourself one day.

Until then, here are a few more pictures from other areas of the Iowa Mountains I've been to:

A panoramic view from the top of the hills in Loess Hills State Forest on a picture-perfect Autumn day.

A view in a valley at Broken Kettle Grasslands in early Summer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Back in early August, I posted about how much I had backslid in my overall road to health, and that I had recommitted myself to making a lifestyle change. If you've been following my blog for a good length of time, you already know my story. Four years ago, I was on a sure road to early death. I smoked a pack of cigarettes every day; I was incredibly overweight (obese, if we're being honest); I drank nearly every day; I had gotten to the point where I didn't want to eat anything remotely healthy; I had bad knees, high blood pressure, & hives all over my body; and it was painfully evident that I was in the beginning stages of chronic bronchitis. On top of all that, I was depressed and miserable which only perpetuated and exacerbated my problems.

I remember waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and being completely mortified by what I had become. I was desperate to make a change, but I saw how far I had fallen and was completely overwhelmed. I liken it to a kid who's room has gotten so insanely messy that they don't know how to start cleaning it. That was me, I didn't know where to start.

Since I knew I had to quit smoking or die, I quit on January 13, 2014. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but one of the best. By the end of that year, I was still unhealthy in every other area of my life, so I started incorporating vegan food into my diet. I also cut my drinking back to just a few days a week. By the following May, I went full vegan and cut my drinking down to Fridays and/or Saturdays. By Fall of 2015, I had dropped 65 pounds and was feeling the best I had felt in a few decades.

When Spring of 2016 came, I was in a job I hated so I left that job to start working at the one I'm working at now. I love my job and coworkers, so it's been a great mental boost to me. The downside is that there is a constant array of sweets and goodies at my job, and over the past year and a half, I gained back 20 pounds. Not only that, but my activity level had stagnated and I was starting to feel bloated and crappy.

So, on that August day two months ago, I decided I could either cry about gaining back the weight or I could do something about it. I made a decision, then, that I needed to change my relationship with food once and for all, and to start being more active. In other words, I needed to make a permanent lifestyle change. I started counting my calories every day using MyFitnessPal, and I made a goal of walking - at first it was 2 miles a day four days a week, and now it's five days a week - that I map using MapMyWalk. It connects with the calorie counting app, so I can easily see where I am every day.

It was hard at first, but I've kept with it every single day, and I am pleased to announce that I've lost the 20 pounds I gained! This means I'm back to my original loss, and with all the exercise, I'm feeling really good. No more bloat, no more lack of energy, no more sitting around. I'll be doing this as a permanent part of my life, and I'll definitely check back in after the next 20!