Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fall for Pumpkin Waffles (Recipe)


I may have mentioned it once or twice that fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the colors, the cooler temperatures, and the food.

Pumpkin waffles are a great variation of all things pumpkin this time of year.  They are easy to make.  Yummy for any meal of the day.  I eat mine dipped in local Pennsylvania maple syrup.



Pumpkin Waffles

Makes: 4.5 batches in a 4 waffle section waffle machine

1 ¼ cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
pinch cloves
pinch allspice
½ tsp salt
1 cup milk
6 tbsp pumpkin puree
2 tbsp oil
2 eggs separated
smidge vanilla
  
1. Sift dry ingredients and sugar into a large bowl.
2. Whisk milk, pumpkin, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks in a medium bowl.
3. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks.
4. Prepare waffle iron per manufacture’s directions.
5. Mix wet into dry. Fold in whipped egg whites.
6. Use about ¼ cup of batter per waffle section. Cook for 1.5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Halloween Themed Flash Fiction




My writing group meets twice a month at the library and a few times a year for the various holidays, we write flash fiction or poetry.  I had no idea what I was going to write about for Halloween.  A fellow author at the group mentioned in passing something about driving down the road with thumping coming from the car's trunk.  I scribbled down a premise and used some imagery from this year's road trip to the desert SW.  Pictured above is north eastern AZ.

For your reading pleasure:




Thump

by: IE Castellano



Thump. Thump.
“No. No. No!” She slammed her hand against the steering wheel. “We are not going back.” The old car’s headlights revealed the outlines of cacti and sage brush standing just beyond the dirt road.
Thump. Thump.
“Don’t argue with me. You can’t change my mind,” she said. She wiped her palm on her pants.
Thump. Thump.
Thump. Thump.
“Fine. I’ll tell you. If it’ll shut you up.” She glanced in the rear-view mirror at the dim red dust cloud. “We’re going to a place where you can’t hurt anyone anymore. Where no one will find what’s left of you except for the vultures and wandering coyotes.” She laughed, practically strangling the leather wrapped circle. “Maybe someone somewhere will find a piece of you someday. By then, all of you will be scattered across the desert and no one could put you back together.”
She smiled at the silence. Convulsing fingers turned on the radio. Each push of the button that made the red line move up or down the dial revealed static. After a quick shake of her hand, she clicked it off.
“This desert is a vast, beautiful desolation. People can see everything for miles, yet nothing at all. And that’s what you’ll be—nothing. You hear me?” she shouted. “NOTHING!”
Thump. Thump.
“Yes, we have turned off the road, if that’s what you want to call that stretch of dirt. Won’t be long now.” Her fingers fluttered on the steering wheel.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
The dirt crunched under the tires as she braked. She turned the key with a flourish past the off, keeping the headlights running. “This is it.” She rubbed both hands on her thighs before grabbing the chrome door lever. Once outside, red dirt covered the toes of her boots while she strode to the back of the car.
When she opened the trunk, the dingy, yellow light shone on its only occupant. “Ready when you are.” Her hand twitched then she grabbed the long barreled .38.

Monday, September 17, 2018

An Autumnal Outing

This past Sunday, I attended the Sunday Salon at the Mount Pleasant Public Library in Mount Pleasant, PA.  It was the second salon they did and the last one for 2018.  The library will begin again in January 2019, the third Sunday of the month.

The theme for this month centered around "Falling for Fall."  Three local artists displayed incredible paintings and local authors and poets read fall centric selections.  My selection that I read takes place within the same world of the World In-between Series.  Enjoy.



An Autumnal Outing

by: IE Castellano


Brenda twirled on the wooden platform, watching her lilac cloak float in a circle around her. A faint dry crispness tickled her nose. She paused to study the bundle of branches that encased her family’s chambers. Some of the green leaves looked less green.
She switched to skipping across the platform so she could watch the door. Hearing her mother and father convince her brother to leave his trucks at home sounded better from outside. Wally always tried to bring at least one truck with him wherever he went. Boys.
The door opened. Her sister emerged, rolling her eyes. Her mother ushered her brother out the door while her father snatched the truck Wally hid under his cloak. Once the door shut, Brenda raced across the bridge to the entrance of the Empire Tree’s trunk. Her mother called after her.
She waited like her mother asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Wally cried while their father tugged at him to walk across the bridge instead being dragged. Halfway, Wally seemed to accept that he would go somewhere without his toys from his father’s world. He stopped crying anyway.
Brenda dashed inside the Empire Tree. At the top of the staircase, she heard her father’s voice. “We do not run in the Tree.” His stern tone made her stop.
Hearing them in the hallway, she slowly galloped down the steps. She paused at the landing to glance at the Scepter. The white crystal atop white metal sitting in its wooden holder in the middle of the round room sparkled. She continued down the next flight.
Peeking through the doorway on the next landing, she imagined sitting at the Roundtable with a Council of Advisors. Her brother’s voice echoed off the wooden stairs. She hurried down the final flight, almost colliding with a column of green. Looking up, she said, “Sorry, Alfred.”
The elderly Elf chuckled. “It’s quite all right,” he said with a grandfatherly expression. “I know how you don’t want to miss it.” He patted her head, then continued up the steps.
“Are you okay, Alfred?” her mother asked.
“No harm done, Empress,” he replied.
Brenda hid behind a purple drape. As she listened to footsteps, she spied the thrones in front of the carved relief of the Sages’ Seal. The drape tore open. “Katie,” she said to her sister.
“You’re going to make us late,” said Katie.
From the dais, Brenda noticed her parents receiving packages from Theodore, the Head Tender. Spinning around her sister, she zig-zagged through the Reception Room to the central steps that led to the doors.
“Brenda Chase, go down there without us and you don’t go this year,” her mother threatened.
Brenda pretended to be a statue at the edge of the stairs.
Her mother took her hand to walk with her. “You will behave yourself,” her mother told her. “Not everyone is as forgiving as Alfred for almost knocking him down the steps. As a daughter of the Emperor and Empress, you represent the Empire Tree and all it embodies. Do you want everyone to think that you can’t go anywhere without your Fairy Godmother?”
Brenda glimpsed at Katie who no longer needed a Fairy Godmother. “Like Wally and his trucks?” she asked her mother.
Her mother smiled.
The cool morning air swept through her dark red waves outside the double wooden doors of the Empire Tree. The drying smell intensified on the ground, but it mingled with roasted fruits, nuts, and pumpkin wafting from the Sages’ Grove market square.
“When’s the Cider Master coming, Daddy?” Wally asked.
“Not for weeks yet.”
“Can I help him build the kettlebarrel?” he asked. “I’m older now.”
“We’ll see,” their father answered.
The dirt path wound to the gates of the Sages’ Grove. Beyond the wall of interconnected live trees, the forest beckoned. Once twigs and underbrush crunched under their feet, her mother let go of her hand.
“Race you there,” said Katie as she leapt past her younger siblings.
Brenda sprinted after her sister in fits of giggles. She heard her brother jump over a log, then thuwmp. The girls stopped. Turning, they saw a tree shake with laughter. Branches morphed into long arms that reached for Wally. As the tree lifted him off the ground, it became a lithe woman with dark skin, bright green eyes, and wild greenish hair with hints of yellow and orange.
“Wally, what do you say?” asked their father.
Wally’s neck cricked back to look at the Sprite. “Thank you, Miradelle.”
The Wood Sprite waved before returning to her tree form.
“Come on, silly,” Katie said, tugging on his arm. “We have to at least beat Mommy and Daddy.”
The children weaved around trees and bushes until they reached the edge of a small clearing. Katie took both of their hands while they stepped into the knee-high amber grass.
A gnarled, gray barked tree rose out of the grass. “Did we miss it?” asked Wally.
“Not yet,” replied their mother as she and Berty followed their children into the clearing. “Help with the blanket.”
After the blanket and basket of food sat on the grass, Silvia gathered her children around her. “See there? Way at the top?” she asked, pointing to the center tree.
“Yes,” breathed Brenda. Her mother pointed to the first fully golden leaf on the old ash tree.
“Watch it carefully,” whispered Berty.
Brenda held her breath.
A gentle breeze shook the golden leaf free of the top branch. The leaf fluttered in slow motion, turning this way and that, past all the branches, past the gray bark until it rested on top of the grass.
A broad smile stretched across Brenda’s face while she joined her family in applause. Autumn finally arrived.

Find the World In-between Series on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Building Character



I live in a house built over 100 years ago.  The house has charm and 100 plus year old cast iron drain pipes.  Although previous occupants improved and changed and modernized, projects cannot be evaded.  And some projects that you thought were finished need to be revamped.

Case in point, the powder room under the staircase.  New floor, paint, sink, vanity, medicine cabinet, faucet, hardware, and toilet installed years ago.  However, the toilet leaked into the basement.  We concluded that the wax seal failed.  So, after gathering all the necessary tools and parts, we removed the toilet only to find that the wax seal wasn’t the problem.

The original to the house cast iron closet flange had partially disengaged, unsecuring the toilet to the floor and drain pipe.  A new flange was not something we prepared to replace.  For days, the toilet loitered in the hall, the bathroom door was kept closed, while we scoured the internet for ideas about how to fix it.  Finally, we found the information that would hopefully save us from sawing through a four inch cast iron pipe.

The old house did not make it easy to remedy.  Too much of the flange broke off to fit it with a new collar.  The old flange did not want to release from the pipe.  However, we found a part made to replace in such situations.  Just not in a local hardware store.  We had to order it and wait.

The new flange arrived in the mail in the morning and by the afternoon, the toilet was reinstalled.  No more leaks.  What a great feeling of accomplishment.  It propelled us to replace an old toilet in an upstairs bathroom the following weekend.

This toilet was probably installed sometime in the ‘50s or ‘60s.  We, again, felt prepared to tackle whatever the house threw at us.  That bathroom holds the other original to the house bathroom plumbing.  We turn off the water and begin to unscrew.  Then, one nut on the floor bolt decides it doesn’t want to budge.

An hour or so project becomes a weekend long project.  The corroded metal was also stripped.  The wrench had nothing to grip.  Spray some loosener on it and wait, again.  The next day, it still doesn’t turn.  We break out the hacksaw.

After sawing through the bolt, the replacement went smoothly.  This cast iron flange stayed intact.  More feeling of accomplishment.  I am primed to tackle the next project, which has more plumbing involved.

My plumbing adventure of the past couple of weeks is a real life example of how to build a character.  The situation a character faces may be similar, but the problem is different, and therefore the solution is different.  The character grows, ready to tackle the next task.

Small trials, achievements and failures, can be as significant as life altering events to tweak character.  One little thing develops the momentum to get to the next little point, which, in turn, get to the big points.  Before you realize it, a character has surmounted a lot.  It’s like that proverb that talks about climbing a mountain one step at a time.  A character builds one task at a time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Independence Day Poem--Poetry Wednesday 4 July 18


Fortitude



I braved the ocean
Swells breaking against the bow
Foam washing across the decks
I carried on

I built log by log
Storms sweeping the land
Hunger wasting deep inside
I carried on

I packed the powder
Crates floating in the night
Sulphur smoke lighting the way
I carried on

I toiled with tools
Rock sparking in the depths
Steam billowing through grain
I carried on

I marched with the sign
Venom burning invisible holes
Barricades cascading in fragments
I carried on

I severed the cord
Wisdom traveling by swipe
Binary measuring liberty
I carry on



—IE Castellano

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Comma Field Guide


Sometimes, I edit manuscripts that make me question all I have ever learned about punctuation, especially commas.  I devised this quick guide to commas to reinforce what we learned (or didn’t learn) in grammar school.



When to use a comma:


Addressing a person by name or nickname.

Example:

Hello, Sweetums.

Jane, do this.

Show us on the doll, John, where the commas have hurt you.


Linking two sentences with a conjunction (and, but, or, so).

Example:

This is sentence one, and this is sentence two.


Dependent clauses and words that act as clauses.

Example:

After this clause, you put a comma.

Second, a comma goes there.

Yes, these examples are on the snarky side.

I spent hours editing pages of comma issues, producing deep snarkiness.

Had the page not run red, due to my markings, I would have only experienced a mellow, not to mention short, snarky mood.


In a list of more than two of the same (nouns or verbs) and before the and or or (aka the Oxford Comma).

Example:

Paper, pen, and pencil revolted against keyboard, monitor, tablet, and laptop.


Between two or more adjectives describing the same noun.

Example:

The small, lonely, often misunderstood comma only separates that which should not be together.


In if-then statements.

Example:

If you start a sentence with that two letter word, then you must use a comma before the then.


In dialogue punctuation.

Example:

Tom asked, “Should I use a comma here?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Always use a comma instead of a period at the end of the last sentence before a dialogue tag.  However, never use a comma when you should use a question mark or an exclamation point.”



Commas separate thoughts, clarifying a sentence for the reader.  Used right, they make your pages come alive.  Misused, all a reader will say is, “Huh?” and not read any more.

More online reading about commas:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rules of the Road Trip

The Long Lonely Road


Tips and tricks learned from our recent two week road trip.


1.      Be Organized


This applies to both before and during the trip.  Plan where you’re going, how long it will take to get there, how much time will be spent at each place.  I kept a spreadsheet to calculate a budget that included gas, tolls, entry fees, food, hotels, etc.

During the trip, I carried a piece of paper with the name, address, and phone number of each hotel booked as well as what type of room, final price, confirmation number, and credit card used.  It was easy to plug the address into Google Maps for directions for each leg.  I also wrote down the wifi password and lockbox combination of the AirBnB we stayed in for a few days.  So handy.

A place for everything and everything in its place.  A saying to live by when packing both luggage and the car.  Helped get in and out of hotels quick, painless, and without forgetting something.



2.       Make Reservations


When you’ve been on the road for 9 hours, not including your stops, all you want to do is crash.  You don’t want to search for a hotel as well.  Most of our hotels were reserved at least a few days to a couple of weeks in advance.

But, only most.  Want to stay in an historic hotel?  Or in a popular tourist trap?  Or maybe you want to stay in an AirBnB?  You may need to reserve months in advance.  We structured our trip around when we could reserve a room at the historic Blue Swallow on Route 66 in New Mexico.  Five months prior to leaving, when we were making our plans, they already had their weekends booked.

Also reserve tickets.  If we hadn’t gotten our tickets for the Grand Canyon Train in advance, we would have been driving.  They were sold out the day we went.


3.       Use Technology


Although we got a TripTik and maps from AAA, we also used a tablet with travel helping apps.  Before our trip, we added our car to our mobile data plan.  This made the car a wi-fi hotspot.  The tablet and laptop could connect to the car as well as boosting our phones’ data signals.

On the tablet, we used Google Maps for turn by turn directions, Gas Buddy to search for the cheapest gas we could use, Rest Stops to know where those were and whether or not they were open, and Waze to get road information.  Each of these are great, but they all have their drawbacks.  Google Maps doesn’t let you search for gas stations too far from your current location, nor do they mark rest stops.  Gas Buddy is better in map mode and is only as correct as the people who report.  Rest Stops didn’t tell you exactly how far the stop was from you or at which mile marker.  Waze works best in more populated areas (essentially highways east of Kansas and Oklahoma).

Other useful apps were My Radar and 1 Weather.  They gave us weather notifications for where we were and where we were going.  In 1 Weather, we could add up to twelve locations to check the forecasts.  Their widgets worked great to give us weather at a glance.

However, technology didn’t always work or was accurate.  Hence, the paper of written things.  Arizona was the worst state for cell service.  We used a ton of data on our trip.  I highly recommend engaging the data savings in settings and manual app updating.



4.       Be Efficient


Make the most of your stops.  When stopping for gas, try to refuel at a travel plaza.  They have large restrooms, convenience items, small gifts, and fast food.  Using the bathroom at the same place where you get gas reduces the number of stops.

Carry a cooler in your back seat.  We kept water and snacks cool with the help of reusable ice packs.  When heading to high elevations, water is essential for combating altitude sickness.  Two of us went through two and half cases of water during the two weeks.  Not only were we at least five thousand feet higher than usual, but thirty degrees hotter than when we left and returned.  Snacks in the form of cheese and flat bread or tortillas makes a great lunch.  Saves money and time.  Most hotel rooms have mini fridges to store cooler items overnight.

Stay at hotels that have a free breakfast.  Then, actually eat that breakfast.  I purposefully made reservations at places with breakfast.  However, we never ate there.  We filled our travel mugs with their coffee though.  Breakfast consisted of a Cliff bar and jerky.

Pack light.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Sure, there’s no luggage fees in a car, but how many bags do you want to carry in and out of hotels every night and morning?  I rest my case.



5.      Be Flexible


Sometimes, you find that you don’t have enough time to do everything you wanted.  That’s when you get out your trusty online map and search for other points of interest near your route.  Instead of going to Mesa Verde National Park, we diverted to Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec, NM.  A great site.

Then, there are a high wind warnings, so you rearrange your schedule.  Or, in some towns, all the museums are closed on the day you’re heading through.


Bonus Tips:


Bring travel mugs.  Because those carboard cups of coffee can be squishy.

Ginger tea bags.  Add hot water, steep, and drink.  No travel tummy.

Eat where locals eat.  Best tamales were at a gas station in Vega, TX.

Tucumcari, NM has the best donuts ever (right on Rt 66)!  They even keep well going to AZ for when you want to share with your in-laws.

Leave space or an extra bag (collapsible) for souvenirs.

Do laundry during your trip.

Resupply water and snacks at local grocery stores.  Never know what you may find.

Keep phone/tablet chargers in a make-up case.  Use twist ties to hold cords together.

Despite best intentions, writing (work) doesn’t happen.