How to Listen to What Others Have to Say

Have you ever seen those talk shows or news programs where the hosts try to best one another with quick-witted banter and sarcastic remarks? Sometimes it feels as if no one is listening. It seems they all to want to make a point regardless of what anyone else says. After a while, it becomes exhausting.

Listening has become a lost art.

In the book of James, it says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1: 19 NIV throughout).

Is it not interesting that anger should play a central role when communication is concerned? In fact, going back to those TV hosts, you would think that if no one heard their point it would be the end of their existence. Yet, although those off-the-cuff comments may have come out in jest, after everything is over, they do tend to bite.

What James is saying is for us to slow things down, listen to what people have to say before we jump to conclusions with our own point of view.

Someone once said, “If your mouth is moving, you are not listening.” In a way, it is true. Carefully paying attention and giving the floor to others provides us with the opportunity to absorb a whole lot more than when we are talking.

It takes a strong will to refrain from speaking.

James also has this to say about the very instrument that will bring us either incredible happiness or absolute misery, “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

And if you think James is done with his assault on the tongue, he makes it even clearer, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).

The odds are against us. No matter what we do, we will not be able to win against the tongue. How many politicians have sparked an international incident because of their unruly tongues? A slip here, a slip there and the world suddenly becomes unrecognizable.

How many times have we heard someone say, “I have misspoken?” What he or she really means is, “I messed up. I put my foot in my mouth, and I should have thought before I said anything.”

If well-known figures with many years of public speaking experience can still get into trouble with their tongue, what is it to say that we, who have very little practice in lesser situations, will do any better?

That is why it is far better to listen than to speak. It is less likely that we would say something we would later regret when we are listening.

How to Forgive and Forget

Given it was a long weekend for many of us, and given I am also one to crave light reading today, I will make this article quick and to the point.

The main theme these past few weeks has been repentance, but what many may not know is that with repentance comes forgiveness.

For God, forgiveness comes easy. As long as we are truly sorry for what we have done, he will forgive us. In God’s mind, it will be as if we have never committed sin.

Then, why is it so difficult for us to do the same?

For us, we carry grudges. “He did this to me. She did that to me. I hate him. I wish he were dead.”

If God used the same measure on us that we use to lay judgment on others, by now, we would all be dead.

But God is incredibly patient, not wanting to lose anyone to that vile enemy, the fallen angel of light. He wants everyone to share in the inheritance of all things.

“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (Revelation 21:7 NKJV).

With a thought like that, who has time for petty slights, or for that matter, major grievances? No greater possession has God than for him to bestow us all he owns, which also includes granting us eternal life.

Therefore, as children of God, it is time we put away childish things, forgive one another, and look to our inheritance—the universe and everything in it.

Frittata

Simple meals are my favorite. They are easy to make, delicious to the palate and a wonderful break from the otherwise elaborate meals I cook on Saturdays. The best part about it? With a few simple ingredients the meal doesn’t hurt the budget. I also find I can make many of these types of dishes without much prep time either. And that’s a big bonus for those of us on a schedule.

Frittata with sweet red pepper and parsley

Frittata with sweet red pepper and parsley

One of the easiest things to make is a good ol’ fashion frittata. If this is your first foray into Italian cooking, don’t be afraid. A frittata is a fancy way of saying omelet. There is, however, a big difference with an omelet and a frittata, and that is in the final presentation.

The quickest way I make a frittata is this way: take a pan, add olive oil and one small garlic clove. While you’re waiting for the garlic to cook in the pan at medium heat, beat two eggs in a bowl adding finely chopped parsley and salt to taste. Once you see the garlic cooking, flip it a couple of times until it browns. Turn the heat down to simmer, remove the garlic then pour the egg in the center of the pan. What should happen is the egg will cook nice and even, but not stick to the pan. After you see the bottom turn a golden brown, flip the egg over to the other side. Leave it cooking until the other side is golden brown. Remove the frittata and serve with your choice of veggies. I love carrots with my eggs, so you’ll see that happening at Casa Flacco.

Omelet with hash browns, carrots and marinated eggplant

Omelet with hash browns, carrots and marinated eggplant

Also, you don’t necessarily need only to add parsley to the mix. You can add virtually anything you like. I’ll dice sweet red pepper and have that as part of the egg mix.

Remember how I said frittata is like an omelet? Guess what? Instead of flipping it a second time, you can add a good amount of mozzarella cheese on top, then flip one-half over the other, wait a minute or so and serve warm. You’ll find the omelet will have a nice flavor because of the garlic base you cooked it in and the cheese will have melted inside.

My favorite part about the whole adventure with this kind of omelet is cutting through it to make trailing strands of cheese with every bite. I don’t think I have this much fun with food than when I eat a cheese-filled omelet. There really isn’t anything like it.

Okay, your turn. What is quick to make, fun to eat and won’t cost you much but a few bucks?

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Do you have any quick recipes you’ll like to share? How did you come up with it?

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!

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

Food Favorites

Whenever the family and I go to a restaurant, I look for something different to try. I do have my favorites, but I also go out of my way to find a dish that is unique in taste and original in presentation. Sometimes, I won’t know what I’ll be getting until the server places it in front of me.

For today’s feature Freedom Friday, I would like to give you a sampling of what I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I wish there was a way to transform the photos into real dishes in order for you to smell the aromas and savor the sweet flavors, but this is not the Starship Enterprise where I can say, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” and the replicator will create the item for you. Wouldn’t that be something? Instead, I’ll give you some background to the shot, and relate my thoughts about the experience.

My goal is to make you hungry.

Prime Rib Burger

Prime Rib Burger

Prime Rib Burger—For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d treat my amazing wife to one of our favorite restaurants here in Canada. They have a delicious gluten-free menu she can enjoy while the kids and I can gorge on the pizza and burgers. For this time around, I chose to order a Prime Rib Burger. Since I love mushrooms so much, I added them as a topping for a buck. I can only describe the meal as an explosion to the taste buds. The chef cooked the meat to perfection and the mushrooms added an extra level of flavor. The side Greek Salad complimented the meal, making it all the more enjoyable.

Curry Beef

Curry Beef

Curry Beef—During one of our Thursday night dinner dates, my wife recommended the Curry Beef. I’ve never liked beef unless prepared on a burger. This time, she was right. I had one taste of her dish, and I quickly ordered one for myself. The plate comes with tender sirloin drowning in curry sauce. Added in the mix is a sprinkling of onions and green pepper. A surprising finish to a morsel is the heat delivered by the sauce. Not overly strong, but having a kick, the dish leaves a satisfying aftertaste.

Salmon Sushi Combo

Salmon Sushi Combo

Salmon Sushi ComboThis year’s Canada Day festivities included a trip to our favorite sushi restaurant here in town. While the rest of my family was ordering Vegetable Maki, Chicken Fried Rice and Miso Soup, I order a Salmon Sushi Combo. I gotta tell you, of all my favorite dishes I’m writing about today, this is my absolute favorite. The meal comes with six salmon maki, three sushi and one salmon hand roll. Like all sushi meals, it also comes with a generous helping of soy sauce and wasabi. I have to tell you something. Sushi is the only meal that feels like home to me. I don’t feel stuffed, sick or bloated when eating sushi, and the next day, I’m gearing up for more. I wish the whole world was made of sushi because then I wouldn’t have to wait so long before eating it again.

Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad—As part of an extended celebration my family and I had for my youngest, recently having performed in the drama troupe’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast at a Ribfest, we stopped by the Greek restaurant down the street. I typically order a lamb dish, but that night I had already eaten a bit at the Ribfest, I needed to go for something light. The Grilled Chicken Salad was perfect for this occasion. A Greek Salad topped with the moistest grilled chicken I’ve ever tasted made this meal a treat to enjoy. Every single ingredient was fresh. Every single bite had a perfect finish. One day, I hope to learn to cook chicken this way.

That’s it, folks. Are you hungry yet?

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What was the last thing you had that made your latest trip to a restaurant special?

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.

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

Canada Day 2015

Canada Day has always held a special meaning for my family and I. Given we live in a small town an hour north of Toronto, our celebrations are not as low-key as one might expect. We have crowds from the surrounding towns. We have lots of food to consume. And we have fireworks.

This year was no different.

For those not familiar with the holiday, Canada Day is equivalent to the American Fourth of July. Instead of red, white and blue washing the crowds with color, we dawn our own colors to create a sea of red and white. It really is an awesome experience when traveling through Main Street to the lake in the middle of our town where all the festivities take place.

Canada Day Celebrations

Canada Day Celebrations

This year, my family and I took advantage of the silence on our street to sleep in until late in the morning before we decided to head to the lake. I can’t say how wonderful it feels to actually sleep in again after years of battling with insomnia. You can read about it from my previous articles I’d written about the subject.

We left home just before noon and drove five minutes to where the town had cordoned off the area to foot traffic. In this case, timing was everything. We found one of the last parking spots available. You can imagine how happy we all were when that happened.

Our leisurely walk began with a live band playing Celtic music on Main Street. While some of the crowd negotiated their way around the platform, we stayed and listened. I don’t know how anyone else feels about Celtic music, but I love the emotion behind the genre. Given my wife is also from Nova Scotia, when listening to the guitars and vocals, I’m right at home stomping and clapping along.

Celtic music

Celtic music

Booths and specialty tables outlined the street featuring various services available to the locals. One such booth was giving away free popcorn while another highlighted produce from the local farms in the area. I’ll have to write an article specifically for the farmers in our region dedicated to producing quality foods at low prices. I’m telling you, the fruits and vegetables are delicious.

The other part I enjoyed about our celebratory activities is that they are kids-friendly. Event participants had brought in blowup castles where the children could jump to their heart’s desire without hurting anyone. This was a great way for the little ones to expend all their energy before heading home. What parent does not like that?

Blowup jumping castle

Blowup jumping castle

We then headed to the lake where the activities shifted to a more grownup theme. There still were the face-painting tables and the free food samplers given to all visitors, but added was the live band that played modern music. More than any other place, the teens and young adults centered their attention here. It was great nonetheless to see everyone have a great time.

The lake in the center of our town

The lake in the center of our town

One of the most interesting parts of the journey was the cheerleading school that put on a show for everyone. Funny thing about it was how we found it. Actually—I found it. I heard the thump of a bass. I heard the clips of music strung together with a beat. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s cheerleading music.” Seriously. I ran to the where the sound was coming from and there I saw them, tossing each other in the air and making others believe they could fly. For a moment, I believed they could fly. I wasn’t sure how long the school had opened in town, but I’m looking forward to what these kids have planned in the future.

Town's cheerleaders

Town’s cheerleaders

Our walk ended with having a treat from one of the ice cream trucks parked nearby and a few photos of the town’s historical society. I once explained our town was a colonial settlement back in the 1800’s that eventually grew into a bustling commercial center for weary travelers. The historical society preserves the artifacts of that bygone era and our family had the privilege to appreciate them during these Canada Day celebrations.

Historical society

Historical society

Historical society pose for the camera

Historical society pose for the camera

And if you haven’t guessed, it didn’t end there. Like every special occasion, we went out to eat. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll probably know what type of food we had. I won’t describe it, but when we came back home, we were not only tired but stuffed!

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RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

How do you celebrate Canada Day or the Fourth of July? If not those, do you celebrate a similar holiday?

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.

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

Experiencing the Moment

I love playing with my camera. My camera has served me well over the years. During the past eleven years, since the time I’d purchase my first digital camera, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph some of the most beautiful places I’ve had the privilege to visit. From Niagara Falls all the way to Nova Scotia, I have an archive full of memories I’d love to share with you this Freedom Friday.

To start—I’ve learned a lesson. The lesson I’ve learned is this: To enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it. What I mean by that has a lot more to do with experiencing the moment than it is to relive the moment. Photography has a way of capturing a photographer’s imagination to the point where the subject becomes just that—the subject. I had that happen to me where I did what I could to capture the subject that I’d forgotten to capture one thing. I’d forgotten to live the moment.

Nowadays, I’m careful to put my camera away and take a deep breath to look at what’s going on around me. It’s amazing what I see when I do that. Gone is the worry of thinking I’d miss a shot if I don’t have my camera readily available. Now I see an event for what it is—an experience. And because it’s an experience, I enjoy myself more knowing it’s there to capture not with the camera, but with my heart.

Pretty sentimental stuff, eh?

Okay, I have a whole lot of photos I want to share with you, so I think I’ll start with a few of my favorites from the East Coast. My wife’s family comes from Nova Scotia. Every time I’m there, I end up taking a gazillion photos of the area. One of my favorite places happens to be Citadel Hill in Halifax. The first time I’d visited there, the clouds hung low and gray, and my family and I were afraid of a thunderstorm catching us unaware. Luckily, subsequent years provided a different experience. Here, have a peek:

Path leading to Citadel Hill (Fort George), Halifax, Nova Scotia

Path leading to Citadel Hill (Fort George), Halifax, Nova Scotia

Soldiers march in Citadel Hill, Nova Scotia

Soldiers march in Citadel Hill, Nova Scotia

Rock beach somewhere in Nova Scotia

Rock beach somewhere in Nova Scotia

Fishing trawler near Dartmouth

Fishing trawler near Dartmouth

Marshes in Nova Scotia

Marshes in Nova Scotia

Next up, Niagara Falls. I love this place. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. Since it takes less than a couple of hours to get there from where we live, we end up going there quite often. You can read about some of our trips I’d written from past posts. Whenever we go to Niagara Falls it’s a mini vacation with lots to do and plenty of restaurants to visit during our stay.

Nightlife in Niagara Falls

Nightlife in Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls' Canadian Midway

Niagara Falls’ Canadian Midway

Attractions in Niagara

Attractions in Niagara

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, Canada

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls, Canada

Lastly, here is a collection of some of my favorite photos I’ve had hanging around collecting dust (not really). Some are random shots I’d taken in the heat of the moment, and some I’ve planned. Try to guess which is which, ’cause honestly, I can’t remember.

My view on the train one day coming back from the city.

My view on the train one day coming back from the city.

On the set of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

On the set of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

First snow of the season.

First snow of the season.

Buried in snow.

Buried in snow.

My love for making sushi.

My love for making sushi.

A game of Mousetrap.

A game of Mousetrap.

The story of the stationary Canadian quarter. This actually happened.

The story of the stationary Canadian quarter. This actually happened.

I hope you enjoyed this little slideshow of memories. Granted, they are my memories, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, too. Nevertheless, they are but a glimpse into my life and why I think experiences are special to have and to hold as captured moments of time to relive forever.

[Author’s note: In celebration of spring, I’ve changed the header color to reflect the season. I hope you like it!]

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Do you like photography? Have you taken many pictures that remind you of the memories?

Our Meals

The other night my wife surprised me with a barbecue chicken meal. I say surprised because it was the first time she’d made it. It was delicious. No surprise there since she cooks pretty amazing things for me and the family. During the weekend, I return the favor by cooking the Saturday meal. My kids like it as does my wife.

My  garlic chicken and my wife's coleslaw

My garlic chicken and my wife’s coleslaw

Freedom Friday is not the same if I don’t talk about food in some form or another. Today makes no exception.

Some of my favorite meals my wife makes are the simple ones with lots of flavor. For instance, during those cold winter nights when the heat cuts in every two minutes and the snow piles high outside our front door, she’ll dedicate a good portion of her time making all sorts of soup. Squash soup, heavy on the hot pepper, is a regular treat for dinner. It lights up the palate and soothes the chills from the bitter wind blowing from the Arctic. Broccoli soup is another one of her specialties. I don’t know what she puts in it to get it so creamy, but I have to say it’s so good.

Although not a meal, my wife has taken to making batches of Greek Tzatziki sauce. It’s a yogurt-based sauce with bits of cucumber and lots of garlic in the mix. We use it to dip fries, chicken and pita bread in it. I can only describe the flavor as divine. The creamy richness of the sauce provides the meal a missing element of flavor that few sauces can compare. Simply outstanding.

My wife also cooks the traditional Italian dishes for our family. Pasta sauce and meatballs is a staple in our diet. Our typical Tuesday night meal consists of lots of pasta—penne, rigatoni, spaghetti, etc.—drenched with her homemade sauce and lots of spicy meat as part of the plate. She’ll add salad and vegetables as side dishes, but her salads are meals in themselves. Standard ingredients in her salads are sliced cucumbers, chunks of feta cheese and at times, Greek olives. I suppose you might call it a Greek salad with a little something to boot.

My Saturday meals can be anything. I’ve been on a curry kick lately, making everything from curry chicken to any meat with curry in there. I have a handful of ingredients I use on a regular basis to bring out the flavor of the meat in a wild and exciting way (coconut milk, curry, garlic, onion, salt, black and cayenne pepper).

I’ll sometimes make lamb as a special treat on a long weekend. I love my garlic, so I’ll mince garlic in the lamb, add olive oil, salt, pepper and Dijon mustard to give it an extra kick. I don’t want to brag—oh, why not—it’s one of the best dishes I enjoy making and eating with the family.

Lastly, the best part about our meals is sitting together as a family and talking about our day. Nothing quite beats that.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

What foods do you enjoy making or eating? Do you also have recipes you like having for special occasions?

Time Is Precious

This has to be my favorite time of year. With the days getting shorter and the nights growing colder, I don’t miss the sweltering heat of summer. But I’m sure if I live through six months of frigid arctic weather, I would grow weary enough to want to have the sun back. Just, not right now, though.

The Woods

The Woods

I can’t believe how quickly October went by. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day telling how this month disappeared. Then again, I did have a book release, so that did make the time fly. Nonetheless, my friend felt time has been speeding along while all we’re doing is enjoying the ride.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the woods while the leaves were turning colors and I had the opportunity to have my camera with me. Actually, I went out to take a few photos, so the opportunity was a planned event. As I walked through the woods enjoying the scenery, I noticed how quiet it was. I noticed it before, yet it never hit me quite as dramatically as that day.

I sat on a log and took it all in. I could hear the leaves rustling in the wind. The squirrels were dancing along the perimeter foraging for food. And the air was still warm, left over from the summer.

The Woods - A week later

The Woods – A week later

A week later, I went back to that same spot and the leaves had all but changed to a brilliant orange. Gone was the multi-colored tapestry nature gladly spreads honoring those who venture nearby. In its place, a bed of leaves surrounded my feet. A cold wind ran through my jacket as I sunk my hands into my pockets. And the gray sky made everything barren-looking. I couldn’t believe how quickly everything changed.

I’ve been noticing that quite a lot lately. I’m not sure why that is. In the town where I live, construction has overtaken major roadways. What used to be a peaceful area now bustles with workers. They’re improving the area. At least that is what I think they’re doing. I notice it more when I have to drive through it, running errands.

How quickly things change.

The log

The log

This time of year calls for nostalgia, wanting for things to be the way they were. I miss those days when things were simpler, when I didn’t have all the responsibilities I have today. I’m longing for those people who were once in my life, but are no longer there. I miss them. Their ghosts come and go, yet the present remains the same.

Time is precious and there’s no escaping it. What is today will become yesterday. Let’s enjoy every moment.

[Another Freedom Friday post inspired by fall.]

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

How do you view time? Does this time of year also spark a longing for the way things were?

Toronto Zombie Walk

Founded in 2003, Toronto’s Zombie Walk has drawn the attention of thousands throughout the years to participate in one of the most elaborate cosplays ever. This year, however, the organizers face a challenge. Unless a generous benefactor makes an appearance, a financial shortfall may shut the doors to future events permanently.

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

Since I live an hour north of the city, I thought I’d highlight Toronto’s annual walk for my Monday Mayhem series in hopes of encouraging local readers to support this awesome event.

According to news sources, rising costs to shut down streets, insurance and policing has left organizers scrambling for donors. As of this writing, a fundraising campaign has yielded less than half of the $7,000 needed to keep the project going. Should organizers not meet target amounts, they will need to dip into next year’s reserves in order not to cancel the event.

Another obstacle organizers face is the popularity of zombies in mainstream culture that has grown exponentially for a number of years. Founders of the walk, Thea Faulds and her husband Adam Pearson, first hosted the event to a small group at Trinity Bellwoods Park. Recently, though, the crowds have grown to a massive 12,000+ attendees featuring people in full zombie garb stomping the city streets to invade Nathan Phillips Square.

Although the party is free to the public as a pre-Halloween bash, cleanup is not. With thousands of people dragging their way to the downtown core, logistics behind garbage collection efforts is astronomical.

On the positive side, the event attracts the attention of zombie fans all over the world, making Toronto a delightful tourist destination during the October offseason. Organizer, Stefania Zanini says to The Toronto Star, “It’s a family, free, inclusive event that accepts everyone. All you have to do is come in costume.”

Igor Baranov (right) [Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

Igor Baranov (right) [Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

One of those supporters is Igor Baranov, avid photographer and one of my longtime friends. Not only does he have an eye for the perfect photo, but he’s also captured the essence of the event through his wonderful imagery. Much of his work oftentimes demands him to interact with his subjects who are more than willing to pose for the camera.

Here is as sampling of his work and what the Toronto Zombie Walk is all about:

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

[Photo credit: © Igor Baranov]

If you find yourself in the Toronto Area next month (October 25, 2014), you may want to check out the walk to see firsthand what the zombie craze looks like in action. Perfect timing as well, since The Walking Dead will have also returned to AMC. What better way is there to celebrate the show than to dress up and have fun with a horde of undead?

[Thank you Igor Baranov for granting JackFlacco.com the use of your 2013 Toronto Zombie Walk photography for this post.]

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

Have you participated in a zombie walk/run/event? What did you like about it the most?

Ranger Martin Cover Design

If someone were to have told me this time two years ago I’d be in the process of releasing my second book Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion, I would have said they were nuts. And yet, here I am. Another book release. Another cover. I’m not ready to take that yacht cruise I’ve talked about just yet. But maybe one day, when all the work is complete and I’m itching to try something new, I’ll indulge in a little R&R. For now, I only have this story to keep you entertained—this Freedom Friday story about the new book cover.

Original photo I'd shot for the cover

Original photo I’d shot for the cover

As with my first book Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse, I left the cover design process to the very last minute. It was not because I procrastinated, not by any means, but because I didn’t know how best to represent the story through art. I knew it needed a flying saucer, that was a given. I also knew it had to have a dark sky, again, another given. What kept me from going further was how all the elements would fit with one another in a nice little package.

Like last year, I had to dig deep in my 16,000+ original photos collection in an effort to find a handful of images that would work. Not an easy task. I was looking for woods scenery, but then I didn’t know how the spaceship would fit into the design. I was lost and time was slowly creeping away.

It wasn’t until I showed my son a few mockups that the creative juices began to flow. He had some amazing ideas and I wanted to incorporate all of them. One of his thoughts involved an onlooker watching the saucer from behind a tree. The forest scene would be reminiscent of those WWII movies where an escaped POW would be observing enemy planes passing overhead in the distance. I knew of the perfect picture and had no trouble finding it.

His next idea included deep dark clouds with a storm raging in the background. For a while, I wanted that, too. I tried adding clouds from a series of photos I’d taken a few years ago, but none them really worked. I ended up tossing the images and drawing my own clouds. Yep, them there are fake clouds, all right.

The last piece of the puzzle was the saucer. In reality, though, it was the first thing I’d worked on.

So begs the question—what did I use for the saucer? Initially, I wanted to throw a Frisbee in the air, take a shot and paste it into the scene. But my lack of motivation and lack of Frisbee prevented me for doing such a thing. I also had a hubcap I could have held from a fishing pole, yet again, my lazy self said, “I don’t think so.”

I eventually decided to work with a sightseeing landmark, cropping it, playing with the lighting, distorting it to have it look like the saucer in my head. The challenge was the bottom. Because the landmark is a tower, I had to erase the foundation and replace the underside with a pattern. Wouldn’t real life be simple if by the stroke of a mouse buildings could disappear? I’d totally replace them with parks and trees. By the way, if you can guess the landmark, I’ll give you the biggest kudos ever.

After I completed the work, I showed it again to my son. He liked it, but there was still something missing. I thought so, too. It needed color. That’s when I added the green ray firing from the bottom of the ship, the same ray featured in the first book of the series. Once I had drawn that, I knew there wasn’t anything left to do with it. I had finished.

And that’s the story behind the cover to my new book, folks. I really hope you enjoyed it, but most of all, I really hope you like the cover.

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

Did I miss anything? Do you have a question I may have not answered?

Getaway

A few weeks ago, my wife and I left the northern climes of our small town and travelled to Mississauga, Ontario for our annual getaway. No kids. No family. And no responsibility. Just the two of us. We settled on a small inn off the highway where close by we had access to a huge commercial center featuring a movie theater, restaurants and a mini golf place. We were in our element. For Freedom Friday, let me tell you how it went.

The Inn

The Inn

For those of you who may not know, we’ve had our share of travelling and this time around, we wanted to stick around our own province. Nothing quite compares to exploring the surrounding region and having fun doing so.

Arriving at the inn, we unpacked quickly and that evening, we headed to an all-you-can-eat sushi bar. My wife’s never been to one and it was an experience for her. I knew exactly what we were in for, so I walked her through it. This particular sushi bar provided customers with iPads at the table to order their food. The uninitiated would find the food choices overwhelming. Folks, the point of a sushi bar is not to order everything in one shot, but to experience a relaxed atmosphere while eating at a leisurely pace. Customers tend to make the common mistake when they enter an all-you-can-eat restaurant to load their plates and then they have a table full of food they can’t finish. Guess what? The restaurant charges for leftovers. Surprise.

Night at the movies

Night at the movies

I’m happy to say, I taught my wife to pace herself. We ordered light at first, going for small avocado salads, headed for medium dishes such as maki and sushi, then we hit the big dishes like Salmon Teriyaki and chicken fried rice. By the time we were done, three hours had passed and we were ready for a movie. We took a long walk talking about our life together, the kids, our family, then went to see the new X-Men: Days of Future Past on opening night in 3D. Wow. Wow is all I can say. Great movie.

For all you romantics out there, yes, we held hands and yes, we snuggled.

Sushi

Sushi

Spicy salmon

Spicy salmon

Salmon, avocado and cucumber dishes

Salmon, avocado and cucumber dishes

Mushroom dish

Mushroom dish

The next morning, the inn provided a free continental breakfast where we had a chance to relax without the stress of being somewhere, having to do something or needing to finish quickly. We—wait for—took it easy. I’ll tell you something, whenever I hit vacation mode, something happens in me that always makes me want to sleep. A switch in me says, “Jack’s in vaca mode, time to shut down the factory.” I’m quite all right with it, too, since my wife’s the same way. It feels as if all the stress washes away like a blanket pulled from a bed.

Later that morning I hopped into the pool and had a nice one-hour swim, and followed it up with a long stay in the Jacuzzi. When I got back to our room, we hit a local Greek restaurant and talked for a long time about our future. I don’t know about other couples, but for us, we’re always thinking about what’s next in our lives. We purposely have long conversations mapping our destiny with little interference from anyone’s influence. If this is what freedom is, then I’m all for it.

After the restaurant, we went to see the new Godzilla movie in 3D. You can tell we’re avid moviegoers. Boy, were we surprise. Incredible movie in 3D is all I can say. By the way, the theater that afternoon was, how should I say, ice cold, it felt like I had walked into a meat packing plant. Do theaters really have to be that cold? But maybe it was me. After all, I had a T-shirt and shorts on, but I’m not complaining.

Yes, more snuggle time with my baby.

That evening we stayed in and had fun playing video games together on my tablet while sitting on the bed watching TV. Nothing beats that alone time I spend with my wife away from the stresses of the world.

The next morning, we woke up late, had breakfast, packed our things and left the inn refreshed and feeling great about the coming months. From there, we ended up at the glow in the dark mini golf place. My wife cleaned up the game. Eighteen holes of pure defeat for me as she pounded par or strokes under par to blow me away. She had her game face on and totally trashed my game. Gosh, I’m proud of her.

Glow in the dark golf ball in my hand

Glow in the dark golf ball in my hand

From there, we popped over to the same sushi bar from a couple of nights ago and feasted for hours until we left to pick up the kids that afternoon. By the time we got home, we had all we could do to keep from going to bed early. That’s when I knew we had an incredible time.

Writing this today, I can’t wait until our next getaway. I’m not sure where we’re going, but we’re certainly again going to have the time of our lives.

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

Do you take getaways with your significant other? Where’s the last place you’ve gone?

Love Is…

Love is helping the elderly carry groceries to their car. Love is holding the door open for those behind you. Love is making hot soup for someone sick in bed with a bad cold. Love is forgoing our needs in order for others not to need.

Love is flowers in full bloom.

Love is flowers in full bloom.

Allow me the liberty of this Freedom Friday post to share my deepest desire with you. That desire is to see others help those less fortunate through genuine acts of kindness motivated by love expecting nothing in return. To give in love so as others do not lack. Perhaps one day they, too, will love in the very same way, helping those who need it most.

Therefore, love is giving of our time to a cause even if it seems silly at the time. Love is filling the bowl for the homeless at the local soup kitchen. Love is returning money to the shop owner who gave you too much in change. Love is giving up your seat to the pregnant woman on the bus. Love is saying please and thank you to the waiter who treats you poorly at the restaurant.

Love is picking up the neighbor’s mail when they are on vacation. Love is buying groceries for the family down the street whose father lost his job when his company made his position redundant. Love is waking up five every morning to give the folks next door a ride to the train station because they can’t afford a car.

Love is cleaning the home of a friend stricken with illness because they can’t do it for themselves. Love is driving a friend home from an activity knowing how far they live and doing so would be out of your way. Love is helping a friend pick up furniture from a secondhand shop, lug it two flights of stairs to his apartment while hoping the good deed won’t irritate an already bad back.

Love is giving a warm smile to the individual who hates you, just as you would show warmth to your own family. Love is uttering uplifting words to that spiteful person who badmouthed you behind your back. Love is not allowing bitterness to enter your heart in spite of what others do to you.

Love is hugging. Love is kissing. Love is crying for loved ones who have achieved their dream.

I’m sure you can find other ways to love. The list is endless. It may simply be a matter of listening to that still small voice gently leading the way. Whatever we come up with, nothing compares to the joy we feel when seeing happiness in the eyes of the recipients to our selfless act of kindness.

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

How else can we help? What more can we do to show our love for others?

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