Monday, June 29, 2015

California Excerpt - Day 3

California Trip - Day 3 Excerpt

Day three was spent driving from Santa Barbara to Thousand Oaks so not much in the way of excursions, but there was some scenery and such.

Some plant life along the shores of the ocean.

Margarita at El Torito Mexican Restaurant. Nom.

A view up the palm-lined avenue.

Mountains! And Ocean! In the same place!

A view of the mountain from my hotel room.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Box Of Buried Secrets - Excerpt Chapter One

Hello, readers :)
I decided to share an excerpt of the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2012. This is an excerpt from the revised first chapter.  Enjoy.


Gloria Finley saw a drop of rain dampen the back of her light green gardening glove. She peeked out from under the wide, straw brim of the hat she wore outside and assessed the sky. Cumulonimbus clouds gathered to the east and the first tiny drops of moisture were free-falling Earthward from the late morning sky. Checking her phone, Gloria realized she had, as usual, lost track of time. It tended to happen when she was engrossed in doing something she loved.
She decided to finish planting the sapling and then call it quits for the time being. The forecast had called for rain all day, but Gloria didn’t put much stock in what the weather forecaster said. She had a love-hate relationship with that woman. Shoveling a foot of “partly cloudy skies” off of the front porch had taught her to simply look out the window if she wanted to know what the weather was doing.
Using a gardening spade, Gloria dug into the earth with vigor. She loved the rain and wished there were time to just lay out in the back yard for a while, and let it wash over her face. Gloria’s appreciation for the feel of soil in her hands had her setting the spade aside after a few scoops and removing her gloves. Gardening to her, was the essence of life. It represented the ever-lasting circle of life, death, and rebirth. Gloria delighted in planting the tiniest of seeds in the earth and coaxing forth something beautiful as time passed. As a child, her parents had jokingly voted here “the child most likely to be found playing in the dirt”. When she was eight, her Aunt Megan had begun teaching her, as she called it, the Art of the Earth.
As she dug her hands into the ground to pull out another chunk of earth, her fingers unexpectedly met with resistance from below. She pulled her hands back, wondering what could possibly be in her way. It didn’t feel like a rock or root, which she would expect to encounter now and then. It was too flat, too perfectly smooth for that. Pulling the soil away carefully, Gloria uncovered a what appeared to be a small patch of wood, caked in dirt. She bit her lower lip and furrowed her brow. She wiped a bit more dirt away, and realized the patch of wood was larger than she had first thought. What the heck is this? She wondered to herself. It appeared to be made of some kind of pine possibly. Suddenly she felt a small chill. What types of boxes are made of pine? Coffins! She brushed the thought away with a forced laugh. Surely not a coffin. Gloria laughed at her own over-active imagination and continued digging dirt out of the hole to uncover the entire object.
Whatever it was, it was waterlogged. There was no telling how long it had been buried in the backyard of the small, three bedroom house. Gloria guessed that it had been several years at any rate; the ground was packed well above it, and there was no apparent disturbance otherwise in the lawn. After several minutes of work, the top of the box was uncovered. It was approximately the size of a shoe box, and after wiping more dirt away she discovered it was made of teak, not pine after all. Gloria dug around it with her trowel and scooped it out of the ground. It was heavy, at least five pounds. There were several veins of mold in some of the wood grain, like the tributaries of a meandering river.
The rain began to fall steadily then, but Gloria was completely oblivious as she ran her hands over the outside of the muddy box looking for a catch or latch to open it. Finding none, she set it on the ground and started running her nails along the inside of the seam created by the lid. It was stuck fast, however and wouldn’t budge.
She sat back on her heels, struck by a thought. Considering the shape and size of the box, what could be in this thing? Gloria considered the possibility that it might be some beloved pet that had passed away long ago. Gloria made an “ew” face. Maybe I shouldn’t be in such a hurry to open this thing after all. She decided to call the previous owner of the house and ask her about it before trying to open it again, just in case.
Gloria set the box aside in order to get the last sapling into the ground. She returned some of the displaced dirt to the hole, set the root ball of the young tree on top of it, and used her arms to scoop the soil around the slender trunk. She tamped it down, retrieved the mysterious box, and hurried into the the laundry room at the back of the house just as thunder clapped overhead.
She started removing her gardening clothes which she wore over shorts and a tank top and put them in the washing machine. Gloria looked at herself and sighed, realizing she was going to need a shower. After wrapping the box in a towel she carried it into the kitchen with her. Several minutes were spent wiping mud and mold off of the thing, and wondering if she should try to open it again. Gloria looked at the clock. It was just hitting noon and she had a lunch date with her friend Lori Connors in thirty minutes. The box would just have to wait. Sighing, Gloria set it aside, but the mysterious thing remained at the back of her mind as she got ready to leave the house.
She jumped in the shower, reveling in the hot water steaming off of her skin, loosening the muscles which inevitably tightened up when she was hunched over, gardening for hours. With no time for a proper blow-dry, Gloria patted as much water out of her hair as possible and sprayed leave-in conditioner throughout to help untangle it.
Choosing a brown skirt and pink blouse, Gloria threw them on over her undergarments. She looked at herself in the full length mirror attached to her bathroom door and she ran a wide toothed comb through the wavy mass of red tresses.
Gloria looked at the clock and squeaked when she realized she had only five minutes left. She tossed the comb on her vanity table and grabbed her purse and cell phone. While sliding on her shoes and digging for her keys with one hand, Gloria used her free hand to rapidly type out a text message letting Lori know she was running late and would be there as soon as possible. She knew Lori wouldn’t care. One or the other of them was perpetually running late every time they made plans, though she preferred it to be Lori who was running late.
She took a deep breath to calm her nerves which were slightly frazzled from being in a hurry. Gloria locked the door behind her and slid under the wheel of her Saturn Ion and started the engine. Enya came on the stereo and Gloria let the strains of “Flora’s Secret” sooth her as she drove through town. She lived only ten minutes from The Cocktailery, a swanky nightclub, bar, and restaurant on the northwest side of Cedar Rapids.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

California Photo Album Day 2

Day 2 of the California Trip. 

Mountain in the distance - taken @ Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Stone Stairs in the forest. Taken @ Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

This grey squirrel was adamant about getting into that tree!

Baby ducklings are basically yellow floofy marshmallows of cuddly cuteness.

Looking back at the mainland from the end of Goleta Pier

Goleta Beach, Santa Barbara

Delightfully Bouffant ducks!

Mamma duck and the babies!

@ Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara - some decorative terra cotta stairs.

A purple flower outside the Loop & Leaf yarn shop. Santa Barbara

A Flower outside the Loop & Leaf yarn shop. Santa Barbara

Amazing yarn shop! Santa Barbara

Catcus plants at Santa Barbara botanic garden.

Peering up through the canopy of Redwoods. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

California Photo Album Day 1

We got back from California on Wednesday the 17th. It was a bit of a grueling trip home. We had to drop off the rental car and then take the shuttle to the airport, where we sat for several hours before boarding the plane. Mainly, I think the trip home was worse because the excitement of going on vacation was over and done.  The flight back was slightly longer due to our lay over being in Detroit instead of Minneapolis.

The plane landed in Cedar Rapids at about 8:50pm so we all ended up getting home around 9:30pm after picking up our luggage and finding the car in long term parking. It was a nice change of pace being able to get somewhere in 20 minutes or less.

I wanted to share some of the photos of wonderful California scenery I took while Westward.

A Magnolia blossom. I haven't seen one in years.

The Welcome to LA sign just outside the airport terminal.

A friendly turtle living in the lagoon at our Santa Barbara hotel

Sunning themselves in Sunny Santa Barbara

A water lily floating lazily in the lagoon.

A tern, walking in the waves, and looking for dinner at Leadbetter Beach.

I always wondered what a Sea Grape looked like. Warning: Does not takes like grapes!

At Stearn's Wharf is the Longboard Grill. Delicious margaritas and food.

Nobody goes hungry at the Longboard Grill at Stearn's Wharf!
There were also a number of lovely shops on the wharf including a rather scrumptious truffle shop where I indulged my inner chocolate-lover with a variety of delectable goodies. The coconut cream truffles were one of my favorites!

That wraps up Day 1 of my California Adventure! Stay tuned for a Day 2 excerpt coming in the very near future!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tales From The West Side

Good morning, Readers!

The current time is 8:35AM California Time.  This is my first trip to the Pacific Time Zone, and I am loving it!

Day 1 (Wednesday) was a little sketchy at first due to having to be up at 4:30AM (Central Time) to get to the airport.  Then of course, once we were in LA, we had to find our way out of the terminal, wait 20 minutes for the shuttle to take us to the car rental place, and then wait another 30 minutes to get through the line there.

We hadn't planned for all that extra waiting around time and as a result we were all hungry and a little cranky.

Spirits were lifted once we got out of the parking lot that is LA freeways and stopped off at a Jack-In-The-Box, which we don't have in Iowa. We made a pact not to eat at any restaurant we have at home.

I give it a 3.5/5 for taste and quality. It's fast food so...yeah.

We also hit up Stearn's Wharf which I recommend for the atmosphere and food. Longboard Bar & Grille is pretty amazing and they have good margaritas to boot!
Amazing chocolate truffles can be had at the Chocolate shop across the pier from the restaurant as well.

We took a walk on Ledbetter Beach before we headed back to our hotel. It was so amazing, seeing the Blue Expanse again after so many years. It made me feel how tiny we are by comparison.

After a day of traveling, walking, and wandering, my traveling companions and I took full advantage of the heated pool and jacuzzi before calling it a night.

We are about to check out of our Santa Barbara hotel and do some more running around before heading to Thousand Oaks.

Have a shiny day!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Quick and Easy Taco Bagels

Good morning, Readers!
I am back again with another quick and easy recipe.

Last night we had tacos for dinner, and there was still a third of a pan of taco mix left over. Obviously I didn't want to just throw it all out, that would be a huge waste. So today I decided to see if I could repeat my delicious bagel recipe from last week with a taco twist.

(Serves 1 adult or 2 kids)

What You Need!

1 bagel (I used Hy-vee Bakery Asiago)
1/2c to 3/4c taco mix, reheated in the microwave (whatever you normally fill your taco shells with will do nicely)
Cheese (I used Hy-vee brand Taco blend)
Salsa/Sour Cream to garnish - optional (I had none on hand so there is none in my recipe)

What You Do!

1. Slice the bagel (if not pre-sliced) and as we did with the pizza recipe, gently pull out some of the bread inside.

2. Toast the bagel, pre-heat the broiler (you can also use the microwave if you wish), AND microwave the taco mix for about 2 minutes.

3. Once the bagel is toasted, put approximately 1/4c taco mix into each bagel half. Use more or less depending on preference and bagel size.

4. Top with cheese. You can use shredded or sliced cheese. I used about 2 TBSP shredded on each bagel half.

5. Put the two halves on a cookie sheet and put that bad boy under the broiler for about 2 minutes.
Broilers can quickly burn food which I found out the hard way, so be sure to check on it frequently.

6. Top with salsa, sour cream, or whatever taco garnish you prefer.

7. Enjoy!

Taco Mix is whatever filling you like to put in your tacos. The mix I used this time consisted of the following:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
Minced onion, cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, italian seasoning, and poultry seasoning to taste.
I added chopped onions and sliced black olives to mine as well right before spooning into the taco shells.

Have a shiny and delicious day!