Posted in Freedom Friday

Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m so glad you’ve taken a moment of your day to visit. It truly is a pleasure to be here as well. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. To you, I tip my hat in honor of your steadfast support of my work, and for all that you do for me over the course of the year. May this year bring you good tidings.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year

As always, my goal is to entertain you.

So, what are my plans this year? Well, last year was interesting, to say the least. I wrote tons about zombies, went off on a tangent delivering my perspective of the Jodi Arias trial, and completed my Ranger Martin trilogy.

My wish for 2016 is to be able to provide you with the best entertainment you can’t find anywhere else. This will take a lot of work from my side, delivering engaging topics, discovering new theories, and highlighting my favorite things.

I think, though, it will be worth it. Much of what I have planned for 2016 will be in the context of what I come to realize as truth then impart to my readership the information as lessons learned. I may actually write more about writing given folks have been asking via email how do I maintain a site so consistently and still deliver a book a year.

You may also find me talking more about human nature, overcoming trials, and getting along.

New York Fireworks
New York Fireworks

But not everything will be serious. I’ll always continue to provide my favorite recipes, my very best photos, my vacation summaries and most of all, an honest opinion. I really want to make this new year a banner year for creativity—not only for me, but for everyone visiting my site.

If this is your first time here, have a look through my archives. I have them grouped in sections so that you can enjoy them as individual pieces or as part of a series. I’ve written my site with two purposes in mind:

  • To attract readers interested in the topics I love writing about, and
  • To support my books

Some topics, such as cooking and family life are not what one would come to expect from a writer who has written about zombies for over three years, yet I think it’s important to get to know a writer from all angles. That’s my honest opinion.

For those of you who have been with me from the beginning, I am in awe that you are still here. The longer I keep contributing my thoughts on my site, the more I realize how wonderful a support you have been toward my writing and me. I’m very thankful for your kind words, your generous views and most of all your ceaseless faith in what I do here, week after week.

Like I said, I’m in awe.

Now, I’m not much for resolutions, yet given today is the typical beginning of New Year’s resolutions for most people, I thought I’d add one for myself.

My resolution for 2016 is to become more transparent with my writing goals in order to provide my audience a peek into what I’m working on.

What’s that? What am I working on now? I can’t say. Shh, it’s a secret.

Oh, well. So much for resolutions.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

What are you doing for New Years’ Day? Have you made any resolutions for 2016?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Marriage and Stuff

Last week, my wife and I had the opportunity to take some time away to enjoy each other’s company. Every once in a while, we’ll leave the kids behind to visit either a place we’re familiar with or a place we’ve always wanted to go. This year, we chose to do the latter and decided to explore The Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains Chalet
The Blue Mountains Chalet

Located a couple of hours north of Toronto, The Blue Mountains is a resort/cottage community that hosts a large following during ski season. Along with a few friends, we managed to secure one of those fancy chalets overlooking the mountains. The view was great, but, having grown up in Italy where I would wake up to the sight of the Italian Alps every morning, it didn’t impress me as much as, say, it did with some of my friends. I can take or leave mountain views. Nonetheless, it didn’t diminish the enjoyment I had with my wife.

The vacation was a wonderful cap to my newest book release. I had been running around many weeks prior that I hadn’t realized just how much I needed the downtime to regain focus.

Rather than give you a summary of what happened every day, as I’ve done in the past with my other vacation posts, I thought I would give you the highlights of what I enjoyed most about the getaway instead, and about the lessons learned.

First off, because we were sharing the chalet with friends, we each had separate rooms and shared common areas. Kitchen, living room, hot tub and balcony were all common areas. Some couples also shared bathrooms. As troublesome as it could have been, it worked out quite well. No more than two families had to share a bathroom, so mornings were fun.

The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains

Other than breakfast, the organizer cooked everything. Kudos to her! The food was simply delicious. The meal I liked the most was also the meal served the last night we were there. It was roasted chicken with rice and veggies. I’m not sure how she made it, but the flavor led me to go for seconds without a problem.

My wife and I spent most of our time together with the exception of breakfast, lunch and dinner, which we spent with our friends. Our main entertainment was each other, and because of this, I’ve learned something interesting. I knew about this little truth but didn’t know until recently how to put it into words.

Before getting married, we did everything together because we enjoyed each another’s company. What that means is we did what we could to spend as much time with each other, not because we had to, but because we wanted to. It wasn’t duty. It was because we really enjoyed being together.

After getting married however, somewhere along the way things changed. Jobs, kids, finances, new homes, deaths, health issues–you name it, resulted in the creation of a quiet mission statement that stated we were bound to please the other person. Not to sound preachy, but the idea that we wouldn’t be happy unless the other person was happy crept into our lives. It’s not a bad thing to want to please our mates. It is, though, a bad thing doing it out of duty.

With that realization, this past year our marriage has gone through a transformation of sorts. We’re no longer doing things to please each other, but we’re doing things because we enjoy doing them together. For us, it has become a matter of perspective. The idea being, we now share acts of kindness with each other, not because we have to but because we want to. All of a sudden, the enjoyment we once felt before marriage has returned and we can’t get enough of each other.

Okay, so maybe that was an overshare.

But I don’t care. If it helps others find what they once had, then I’ll shout it from space!

Anyway, that was our weekend. What are your plans this weekend?

Get the Ranger Martin zombie trilogy now!

What do you like about traveling?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

My Vacation

A few weeks ago, I took a much-needed vacation. This means, other than the three articles I publish on my site every week, I didn’t write a word anywhere. I can safely say I enjoyed every moment, and I would love if I could do it all over again.

Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada (taken with my iPhone)

Instead of packing my bags and leaving this pleasant town I call home, my wife and I decided to stay local and host my mother-in-law for two weeks. Wow! What a great time that was. I don’t care what anyone says about mother-in-laws, mine is as cool as they come.

She’s eighty years old. When I suggested we all go watch Jurassic World in 3D, she jumped at the idea. She hadn’t seen a 3D movie since the Fifties where red and blue lenses made up the 3D glasses.

Her verdict? She loved the effects and the heart-pounding action sequences.

Okay, let me repeat what I said earlier—eighty years old, folks.

She also didn’t show any fear when I asked if she’d like to eat hot sauce on her food. She went all out and enjoyed it. In fact, you know what she said to me? She said, “I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to it, but the sauce is weak.” The hot sauce is the suicide chicken wing sauce I use to drown my meats in while I cook.

Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada

Apart from my mom-in-law visiting, I had a lot of time to spend with the family and hanging with friends. My kids had their yearend recitals at the performing arts studio they attended during the 2014-2015 season. Both came home with awards. My older one brought back the Most Improved Speech Arts & Drama Performer and my younger one took home the Most Outstanding Overall Performer playing Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. I kid you not folks, the audience was in tears for his portrayal of the beloved patriarch.

Greek Salad
Greek Salad
Greek Lamb Dish
Greek Lamb Dish

The other part of my vacation involved food—lots of it. We went to our favorite sushi restaurant gorging on all the succulent all-you-can-eat dishes we could consume. The joy of this restaurant is having the ability to eat what we want and sharing the dishes among each other. It’s great. My mom-in-law didn’t wince once. She had salmon sushi even after saying the thought of eating raw fish didn’t appeal to her. She’s courageous, I’ll give her that.

The other place we went to was our favorite Greek restaurant. I don’t think I packed in so much food in one sitting. I had a lamb dish that simply rocked my taste buds. If I die, can I request this to be the first dish I eat in heaven?

Lastly, I took time simply being in a quiet place to exist. I allowed the silence to fill my soul with peace, and I took the opportunity to soak in the calm. Incredible what happens when I do that. All of a sudden, life’s trials don’t appear so big anymore. They still are there but they in turn become little troubles I could work through to a resolution.

Anyway, that was my vacation. I’m hoping to do it all again soon, but first I have to get my next release out the door.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Are you planning a vacation soon? Where are you thinking about going to?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Our Anniversary Weekend

The cool thing about being married for over twenty years is that we finish each other’s sentences.

Me: Honey, where did you put my slippers?
Her: Did you check under the bed?
Me: Yep.
Her: Did you check the closet?
Me: Yep.
Her: Did you check—
Together: The bathroom?

The other cool thing about being married for over twenty years is that we can go on an anniversary weekend getaway without worrying about the kids.

Our walk by the marina.
Our walk by the marina.

In fact, just recently, that’s exactly what we did. For a number of years now, we’ve packed our bags, loaded the car and headed to wherever the wind would take us. This year we ended up going north into cottage country where the moose are aplenty and the wilderness is our friend. We booked a hotel in Barrie, Ontario and took each day as a blessing without worrying about what came next.

My wife took the liberty to grab the honeymoon suite with a gorgeous Jacuzzi in the middle of the room. I must say, she knows me so well. I should have been a water baby.

The first thing we did when arriving on the Friday night was to unpack, jump on the bed, then relax a bit before heading to our favorite sushi restaurant. It’s a tradition of ours to find a sushi restaurant and stick with it for life. We have a modest dive in our town that only seats twenty. The food is incredible, and we wouldn’t give it up for the world. Similarly, in the town where we were staying, we found a sushi place a few years ago that we always go to regardless of the drive.

I would say the best part of the trip is the unwinding part. Whatever we had brought on the trip, we left in the sushi restaurant when talking about the day. A funny thing happens when we do that. It feels like a cloud lifts and we officially hit vacation mode. In between the Salmon Maki and the Chicken Fried Rice, our life suddenly become less complicated after knowing we have a few days of relaxation to do whatever we want.

Salmon Maki, my favorite of all.
Salmon Maki, my favorite of all.
Seriously, Sashimi is incredible.
Seriously, Sashimi is incredible.

From there, we headed to the theater to watch Tomorrowland. My wife enjoyed it. I, however, was so tired by the week that I fell asleep about halfway through the thing. Interesting tidbit of the evening: A couple of teenagers were sitting next to me doing nothing more than kissing up a storm. I was surprised to find by the end of the night their seats hadn’t caught fire with me going up in flames next to them.

On the Saturday, we spent the entire day in the hotel room. Yes, some of you might be thinking what a waste, but if you knew the hectic schedule my wife and I have during the week, you would take a month in deep cryogenic stasis to regain your energy. Besides, it had a Jacuzzi in the middle of the room—I mention that, didn’t I? I don’t think I need to say anything else.

That evening, we headed over to Boston Pizza then took in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time, I did not fall asleep. What a great movie.

It looks like an abstract but it's really the blue lights illuminating the outside of our hotel.
It looks like an abstract but it’s really the blue lights illuminating the outside of our hotel.
The marina where my wife and I took our walk.
The marina where my wife and I took our walk.
I'm not sure what this is, but it was awesome to photograph.
I’m not sure what this is, but it was awesome to photograph.

The next day, we checked out early. My wife suggested we try out the marina about ten minutes away. Wow, if there ever was an idea so awesome, this was it. We stayed there a few hours taking a walk on the boardwalk, talking about our future. We dreamed of having a boat someday. Actually, it was I dreaming about the boat and it was her saying, “You’ll have to take care of it. You know that, right?” My feet came back to earth and we continued hand-in-hand talking about other dreams.

We wound the day by heading home, sweet, home where we took the kids out to eat in the evening while talking about our weekend getaway.

I don't eat them often, but chicken wings sure hit the spot.
I don’t eat them often, but chicken wings sure hit the spot.

In the midst of it all, my wife and I eventually concluded as much as we love our getaways, there’s nothing quite like family.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Do you take weekend getaways with your significant other? What is your fondest memory?

Posted in Freedom Friday

The Habit

Summer’s the perfect time for relaxation. It doesn’t matter if it’s outside in the park or the backyard. There’s always something to learn when easing into a lawn chair and allowing the mind to drift into a different direction.

Trees in our neighborhood
Trees in our neighborhood

I’m writing this Freedom Friday post with the sun in my eyes and the wind in my hair. Once you finish reading it, you’ll know what I mean.

The other day, my wife took me to our backyard and showed me something I hadn’t noticed before. I thought I’d seen everything in my life, but she once again astounded me. A tree, of no certain type, was growing underneath our deck to sprout its leaves through one of the cracks in the floorboards. Like I said, I’d never seen anything like this before and since then it has given me time to pause and reflect.

For a tree to grow under our deck like that, it had to have a seed. Our backyard has a generous helping of vegetation to have produced such a seed. We live in farm country where the woods are mature and the forests are alive. I’ve always been thankful not to live in a neighborhood where everything is flat and brown. The trees abutting our fences soar between sixty to seventy feet into the sky. The tree in the front of our house also towers to a grand sixty-plus feet. Again, I’m thankful I don’t have to look at a scrawny twig when I wake up in the mornings.

Anyway, back to what I was talking about—the seed. That seed had to fly through the air, in between the floorboards and sink below the soil to germinate. Given that under the deck is cool and dark, the seed also needed sunlight, which I might add, could only come from the crack from whence it came. Let’s not forget, it also needed water to nourish it. Again, I’m assuming the crack provided that nourishment.

Tree in our backyard
Tree in our backyard

So, you see, the odds of that seed ever making it as a tree were so against it. Yet, it grew!

Of course, me being the guy who owns the deck, had a problem on my hands. How do I get rid of it? I mean, I appreciated knowing of its resilience, but I just couldn’t have the thing grow and splitting apart my nice deck.

First, I tore apart the lattice under the deck to find the roots. This involved removing nails and producing a whole lotta sweat on a hot summer day. Second, once I found its roots, I had to chip away at it, since it had embedded itself against the foundation post and grew into a knotted mess. Last, when it proved too time consuming to pull at it with ordinary tools, I had to whip out my chainsaw.

You knew this was coming, right? Zombie writer. Tree. Chainsaw. C’mon, you didn’t think I’d pass up an opportunity to use my favorite weapon—I mean tool. To make a long story short, the tree’s gone, left in a yard waste bag by the side of the road.

But there is a moral to this story. I hope you can sit through a minute or so of philosophy.

Just like the seed of a tree, a good habit can grow to become a majestic wonder. It can sprout from within, take root and dominate a person’s life leading to create beautiful music, build a strong home or anything as routine as slipping on a pair of socks. A bad habit can lead to destructive friendships, poor judgment and all sorts of nasty ticks. Whatever the habit is, good or bad, it all starts with a seed.

In the case of the tree under my deck, looking at it from the surface, the tree seemed to be a perfect example of beating all odds to reach the sunlight. Had I left it growing, it would have destroyed the deck. In other words, what sometimes seems too good to be true may be just that. I know I’m speaking in riddles, but this message is for those who have ears. The other part of the equation is the seed grew out of the darkness, which we don’t notice until it’s too late. By that time, it would have already made a mess of things before its branches saw the light of day. Remember, I ultimately had to use a chainsaw to destroy its roots.

To make it even more confusing as to what I’m saying, if the roots set deep enough, habits tend to be hard to break. It’s better replacing a bad habit with a good one than to try to fight it alone.

Okay, enough of the deep talk. Let’s go back out there and enjoy summer!

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What do you think? Is this subject too deep for summer?

Posted in Freedom Friday

A Bad Haircut’s Like…

For those who don’t know, I cut my own hair. You can read my entire journey to hair follicle grooming in my post My Dark Secret. Suffice it to say I’ve had mishaps but none so challenging as last week’s clipper misfire. You can stop holding your breath. This Freedom Friday post will not have pictures of the dastardly deed.

Burnt Toast
Burnt Toast

How did it happen? In all honesty, I had good intentions. Cutting my hair for over a year, I guess I became too cocky. I only wanted to trim the top. Allow me to rephrase—I ONLY WANTED TO TRIM THE TOP!!!!!!!

That’s as much information as you’re going to get from me regarding this educational melee of sorts. The best way to describe the feeling I felt, when it dawned on me that I’d made a mess of things, is to compare the incident with others I’d experienced.

What you are about to read below is true. I did not embellish it in any way, and I certainly did not make any of this up. Each episode is my own and mine alone.

A Bad Haircut’s Like…

  • …smashing your thumb with a ball-peen hammer while attempting to hang that picture of the wonderful vacation you had last summer, and realizing you had dropped said hammer on the beautiful hardwood floor creating a dent you will never forgive yourself making.
  • …turning on the computer to the sound of whirring and sparking then smelling smoke as it fills the whole room, and knowing something’s not right since the splash screen is nowhere on the monitor.
  • Raccoon (Photo by: Cliff Nietvelt Photography)
    Raccoon (Photo by: Cliff Nietvelt Photography)

    …seeing your nine-year-old son open the shed door to freeze in his tracks, watching the color drain from his face, and knowing there’s something terribly wrong when he closes the door ever so slowly but then tells us we have raccoons living in our shed.

  • …meeting someone at a party with tousled, matted hair thinking they had just woken up and gotten out of bed without practicing proper hygiene, and realizing that’s as good as they will get because that’s how they look all the time.
  • …driving on the highway late at night with no cell phone and the car stalls forcing you to steer to the curb, walk to the nearest service station, call for a tow, and wonder if they’d yet caught that serial killer preying on the homeless.
  • …standing in conversation with someone going on about how their impacted molars collect food particles causing inflammation and swelling, all the while you’re trying to swallow your delightfully tasting hors d’oeuvres.
  • …following the instructions on the GPS when prompted with a twenty-minute timesavings option then realizing halfway you’re in the middle of redneck country with no form of communication for miles.

I have a lot more, yet that would take days to unravel and I don’t have days to entertain y’all with my silly stories of mayhem with haircutting clippers.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Do you cut your own hair? Have you ever made a haircutting mistake that’s taken you days to fix? What other experiences can you think of that would compare with my haircutting nightmare?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Weekend Getaway

I’ve sat here for the past fifteen minutes trying to come up with a witty and funny intro to last weekend’s getaway I spent with my wife in Barrie, Ontario. But the more I tried, the less I accomplished. I suppose trying too hard, if that is possible, makes for an unproductive experience. In some ways, I can see why.

Barrie, Ontario, Shore
Barrie, Ontario, Shore

Welcome to my Freedom Friday post where I talk about whatever comes to mind. And what’s on my mind at this moment is last weekend. What did we do that was so special? My wife and I loaded the car, dropped the kids at friends, and spent three days away from it all. We enjoyed a mini-vacation, if you will, without the cares and worries of life’s little inconveniences. You know the ones. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, dusting, shopping, mowing the lawn, washing the windows, picking up and dropping off the kids to their activities, and a myriad of life’s other chores we do, but have only so many hours in the day to accomplish.

Barrie, Ontario, Rocks
Barrie, Ontario, Rocks
Barrie, Ontario, Fountain
Barrie, Ontario, Fountain

When we arrived at our hotel last Friday night, I unloaded the car while my wife took care of our room. The first thing that’d happened, which set the tone for the rest of our stay, was my wife’s chitchat with the desk clerk led to a free upgrade to the room. There was a lacrosse tournament happening that same weekend, and rather than have us stuck on a floor with partying teenagers, the desk clerk booked us in the honeymoon suite complete with a king-size bed and Jacuzzi. When I say Jacuzzi, I mean hot-tub-in-the-center-of-the-room Jacuzzi. It gets better.

Our hotel was close to the highway, making it easy for us to travel from one activity to another. Most of our time, however, we spent in the throes of relaxation. The word downtime comes to mind. It doesn’t even come close to describing what we experienced. Believe me, a weekend without the kids does not inspire a time of planned recreation.

Inside the hotel room, we dropped our bags on the spot and left for dinner. We have a special restaurant we visit whenever we’re in town called Ling’s Cuisine. I can describe their food as delicious, yet somehow the phrase needs some work. Beyond delectable? How’s that for a description? Their atmosphere is quiet, and their service is perfect. Their servers know their menus, having the ability to recommend plates and understanding their ingredients. For instance, I didn’t know what tobiko was until our server said they were flying fish eggs. The eggs don’t fly, it’s the fish that breed the eggs that fly. Good to know, anyway. I ordered a couple of plates of salmon maki while my wife chose a Miso (vegetable) soup and Salmon Teriyaki. As we enjoyed our dinner, my wife nodded regarding the couple behind me. They, too, were enjoying time alone. They had a full bottle of white wine with their meal. By the end of the evening, it was all gone. She smiled at me knowing where they were going.

Ling's Cuisine
Ling’s Cuisine
Philadelphia Maki
Philadelphia Maki
Salmon Teriyaki
Salmon Teriyaki

Our Saturday consisted of waking up late and heading to the pool. The water was cold yet manageable. I spent most of my time in the hot tub gazing out the ceiling windows into the clouds. One cloud in particular caught my attention. It was the puffy white kind set on a crystal blue background. It shifted. First, it turned into a genie, then it became a cowboy. As the minutes passed, it became apparent it was disappearing before my eyes. It sparked a thought. Our lives are like the clouds, passing so fast that one day we’ll also disappear into nothingness. One day we’re here and the next—poof—we’re gone. Well, that was the morbid portion of my post. I also do song and dance on demand and recite funny limericks.

That afternoon we headed to Boston Pizza, a Canadian gourmet pizza franchise that also specializes in serving gluten-free pizza. My wife was happy, and as I said once beforehappy wife, happy life. This time our conversation centered on how nice it was not to have any responsibilities for the weekend. Both of us had dopey eyes for most of the meal. Boy, we thought, we should do this more often. Amazing what alone time will do. You young parents will know what I mean when you’re away from the kids for some time. It’s like a natural sedative.

Boston Pizza (Exterior)
Boston Pizza (Exterior)
Boston Pizza (Interior)
Boston Pizza (Interior)

For our Saturday night entertainment, we enjoyed that wonderful Jacuzzi and went back to Ling’s. Good things go a long way. You know, it’s funny. We were driving to the restaurant and I notice a biker in all his glory on this amazing-looking bike. I mentioned this to my wife, telling her how much I admired it. She said, “Yeah, Jack, but it isn’t a Harley.” I thought, who is this woman who I’ve known for almost half my life. Is there something she hasn’t told me about her past? How does she know what a Harley looks like?

On Sunday, we wanted to head over to see the new Star Trek movie Into the Darkness, but we had the complimentary breakfast in the guest lounge downstairs, and went back upstairs in the serenity of silence instead. Without a doubt, we got our money’s worth from our room. The explanation I have for you there is when you get free time away with the person you love most in this world, you don’t want to spend it watching a movie. So we sat next to each other on the bed reading.

Salmon Lover Roll
Salmon Lover Roll

And, as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end. We got back home late that evening after having treated the kids to the Sushi Garden. I guess you can say we all enjoyed a sushi-filled weekend.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you ever gone on a getaway weekend with your love? What did you end up doing?