Lake Mondsee, Austria

We were coming from Vienna, driving to Salzburg on the A1, looked out the window and saw this big lake. “What, another lake?” I thought to myself, but the girls immediately pointed out the waterslides, mid and high-diving platforms and sailboats. Rog looks at me. I look at him. He takes the next exit.

Where is Lake Mondsee & why should you go

It’s outside Salzburg roughly thirty minutes. Perhaps we wouldn’t have stopped had it not been nearly 100 degrees as a heat-wave had hit that part of Europe, nor had we had an extra day on our schedule. We were so glad we did. The top three reasons to make the drive are activities, food and price.

Activities

From sailing to swimming, the compact but highly fun waterpark and lakeside dining, Lake Mondsee is relaxed and casual, the antithesis of so many lakes in the area. Unlike Area 47, which is more for thrill-seekers, Lake Mondsee, especially near the waterpark, is geared for families.

The high dive platforms are fantastic. Unlike the US, no restrictions exist about age or level of sanity. My 6-year-old launched herself off the mid-platform, about 15 feet up, and my older daughter, 9 at the time went off the 25 ft high platform. Like a numbskull, I did the same, but once did a handstand, landing flat on my back. Yeah, that knocked the wind out of me, and my ribs were actually bruised, which made for some painful walking the next few days.

Waterslides are easy to moderate, not the screamers of Area 47. Even the adults were going up, down in and around. We would have rented a sailboat, but the wind was absolutely non-existent. Perhaps this upcoming trip we will get lucky and get on the water.

Contrast this to Area 47, which is all about high-impact/thrill, daredevil and adrenaline junkies. As adults, we were completely drawn to Area 47, but the limit is age 12 for all rides and in the main area, competent swimming. So, if your kids are younger, or you want a more relaxing experience, the Mondsee water park is the one to hit.

Food

Several restaurants of differing prices sit waterfront, the foot excellent (we went to two of the three). Traditional Austrian dining is mixed with hamburgers and French fries; all casual dining.

Pricing

Waterpark prices are low (less than $10 per person) for an all-day park pass, and the parking in the central area was free.

For those wary of traveling due to language

One of the most consistent questions/concerns voiced about our jaunts to Europe revolved around language, and the reality we speak a few words of several languages, but none of them good. Our German is probably the best, and even that is basic. Our response is this: most of the Europeans speak better English than most Americans. It’s never been a problem, except when we are in the very inner parts of a country and stop at a restaurant. Usually, the owner(s) are older, and don’t speak a word. In those cases where the younger generation isn’t present, we simply look at the food on a plate, point and order. Easy!

Booking a hotel or VRBO

Hotels are plentiful, about 45 in the area, but a VRBO is a bit trickier. We tried finding and booking one six months prior to our next trip, and were out of luck. In general, the area does not lend itself to rental homes. We ended up booking two nights in Salzburg at the Hotel Turnerwirt. It’s small, quaint, local and right in the heart of the town, which is what we look for when we are going to be in and out relatively quickly. The price is also awesome.

Reserve early (at least 3 months ahead)

Since we found Lake Mondsee one afternoon, we decided to spend the night. Boy, that wasn’t fun at all. It was early July, and the only available room in the entire town was at a hotel which was really more of a cross between a hostel and a hotel. In other words, the lobby and rooms were fine, but the air conditioning barely worked and the rooms claustrophobic. Even so, we got up and out of the hotel the next morning, visited Fortress Hohensalzburg and the Mozart residence and then went back to the waterpark.

Mondsee Abbey

For those familiar with the Sound of Music, the inside of the Abbey is the setting for the wedding scene of for Maria and Captain von Trapp. This was about as close as I got to fulfilling the childhood dream of singing “the hills are alive.” It was a short, but worthwhile visit–but the significance, or at least my emotional attachment) was completely lost on my husband and girls.

Mondsee Abbey was the setting for the famous wedding scene in the Sound of Music

Featured image: taken lakeside

Managing Migraines for travel and life

This piece is for anyone suffering from migraines, travelers or not. First, know that I have two proven solutions and a third possibility for you, one over the counter, the other prescription and the last involving diet. Second, this is my personal experience, and not a doctor’s recommendation. I write about what I know and what works so you can potentially benefit.

I have to state right up front I fell in to the doubting Thomas category regarding about migraines, as in, what were they, did they really exist or was it all in the person’s mind? As I write in my novel, In a Moment, Lindsey Gordon, the main character, realizes that she “mocks what she doesn’t understand, and then you get to experience it yourself.” This came from a place of knowledge, and it was migraines.

The background

In hindsight, I figured that God, in his infinite wisdom, finally decided forty years of ignorance was enough, blessing me with migraines starting at age 47. For three years, I’ve been a part of what I call the suffering club. Over this time, I’ve learned how to manage the headaches, and when I’m a really, really good girl regarding my eating, I can almost entirely eliminate them. But alas, I don’t always have that kind of discipline: I travel. I eat. I’m a slightly eccentric author, and succumb. Because of this, you, the reader, are going to get the deep dive so you can travel and potentially a life free of migraines. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, you can manage (and ideally eliminate) your pain so you can experience all this world has to offer.

Migraine vs headache

Headaches (for me) were throbbing, dulling points of pain, which varied in location. I could always continue to work at the office, travel, sleep or exercise, and generally rid myself of the pain with a couple of Ibuprofen. (As a side note, Aspirin would make me nauseas. Ibuprofen didn’t give me that side effect). When the headaches increased in intensity, it moved to what qualifies as a migraine. Mine have always started with a jabbing point in my right eye, which progresses to a complete wash of over my forehead, left eye, then and down the base of my skull. I’d need to lay down, using cold ice packs on all areas , black out the room, then endure until it retreated.

Super fun.

Solution 1: Caffeine pills, specifically, Vivarin

The short-term, immediate and most cost-effective solution are caffeine pills. In particular, Vivarin. Now, before you shout at me that caffeine causes headaches, and that caffeine withdrawal can actually make the situation worse, I will agree with you, but only to a point, and here’s why. If you are traveling and you need to get rid of the pain, run right into the nearest grocery, convenience or drug store and pick up Vivarin. Full stop.

Vivarin strip- 8 per

This immediate solution was gifted to me by my husband on an overseas trip when I started to moan. Initially, he suggested an energy drink (which I hate), and I declined. Then he gave me a Vivrin, and within minutes, the headache eased up.

The benefit

Caffeine pills increase the size of the blood vessels and associated flow of blood to the brain. The increased circulation has an immediate effect (within 15 min). The was my solution for two years, prior to breaking down and seeing a doctor.

Why Vivarin?

I found that Vivarin worked better than any other brand available, and I’m not exactly sure why. I’d test out others when Vivarin wasn’t available, but found most made me nauseas. I have no explanation for this, only that my system wasn’t compatible with these other brands. Trust me, I’d love it if my head responded to all brands equally, but it just doesn’t. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive and over-the-counter, so you can freely travel with these pills across borders. Even today, I keep a handful of tablets in my purses and jackets just in case I run out of my prescription, haven’t been eating as healthy as I should, or both.

The downside

Sleep deprivation and “the bounce back headache.”

The first is obvious. The more caffeine you push ingest, the greater the jitters, irregular heartbeats and inability to sleep. This was intense for me because I haven’t ever consumed coffee or sodas, two primary sources of caffeine. I’d be up for hours (and hours and hours), but eventually addressed this by taking two Melatonin pills each night. After about thirty minutes, I’d start to wind down. For those unfamiliar with Melatonin, it’s a natural sleeping supplement. It’s a godsend.

The bounceback headache

This was an unfamiliar term to me until the day I filled my first migraine prescription medication. After the pharmacist heard my headache-to-migraine journey, he said, “You will really like these (the pills). All the benefits of removing the pain without the bounce back headache.” Users of caffeine pills can attest that the bounce back headache can be can be as bad, or worse than the original. Just as the caffeine pills work to immediately rid the headache, if you go off the pills just as immediately, (thereby constricting the blood vessels) the system goes into shock, and yes, the headache returns in full force.

The step-down approach

If you are going to use caffeine pills, plan on the step-down approach by gradually reducing your dependency on the pills. If you started with two pills, go to one, then a half, then a quarter. It may take a day or two (depending on the severity of what you started with), but you can still function. This is better than going cold-turkey and putting yourself in more danger (for irregular heartbeats—jacking your system sky-high, then dropping like a bomb is extremely unhealthy).

Caffeine withdrawal is akin to sugar withdrawal, which has been compared to withdrawal of serious drugs, such as heroine and meth. In fact, a dear friend who nearly died from a diabetic sugar withdrawal told me (from the hospital) that the doctors told him sugar withdrawal is 20 times greater than the closest drug. That said, I had surgery, used Oxycodone, and as soon as I could, went off it. In my haste, I ignored the doctor and went cold turkey (after about three weeks on the stuff). For two days I experienced headaches, cold sweats and fever-like symptoms. It’s the closest thing I can compare to going off caffeine.

Summary for the quick fix

If you need a quick fix, are on a budget or honestly don’t want to take the plunge with a prescription (which I don’t blame you, I resisted for over two years), then this is a solution that has worked for me, and may give you relief. Just use the pills properly and know what you are getting into.

Solution two: the prescription, Riztriptan Benzoate

The crossing point for me from Vivarin caffeine pills to prescription was when even three or four pills weren’t killing the pain. With that much caffeine in my system, I was having diarrhea (say it with me: awesome!) and I increasing worried about my irregular heart beat. Even so, I didn’t want to become “one of those people” who were dependent on a prescription. I tried every alternative I could: acupuncture, every natural remedy known to man, alternative healing…nothing worked, but even then, my obstinate, persistent self overruled my rational brain.

It was then that the Big Man pulled out the stops. One day, the migraine was so severe, I’d taken three or four caffeine pills, gone to bed, holding two ice packs, one against my eye, the other on my lower skull. It still felt like needles were going directly into my eye. All night I suffered and cried. When I woke, I was blurry, but functional, somewhat annoyed I seemed to have a dark spot on my right eye that wasn’t going away. Two days later, I finally got out of bed (this had occurred over a weekend), and the same black spot was present, everywhere I looked. My husband laid down the law: I was going to see a doctor.

The doctor listens, examines my eyes and explains the blood vessels were constricted to such extremes vessels that one literally popped in my eye. In other words, this “jelly” as it’s commonly referred to, won’t ever leave. It’s here to stay, in my vision, for the rest of my life.

Rizatriptan Benzoate
small, individual packets

This is the generic version of the brand name migraine drug Maxalt. Instead of paying $800 for Maxalt, I pay $10 for Rizatriptan with my insurance co-pay. However, when I’ve not had insurance, it’s $40 for 18 pills. Can we say massive savings?

I’ve never used another prescription, so can’t speak to alternatives. That said, I have friends who use other brand name pills but don’t seem to have the same result.

The benefit

The first benefit is the pills start to work in about fifteen minutes, almost the same as Vivrin. When I feel the onset of a migraine (again, usually over my right eye), I take one pill, which are chewable, tasting like mint. While the warning says it induces drowsiness, I’ve never experienced this side effect, nor have I noticed feelings of impairment. Sometimes, I’ve felt a little less energetic, but this hasn’t ever stopped me from exercising after an hour or two (unheard of, even with the Vivarin). For someone who went from a debilitating, two-day cycle of migraine to normalcy, this is nothing short of the Red Sea parting. Further, as promised by the pharmacist, I’ve never experienced the bounce back headache, nausea or other issues.

The downside
For international travel, this isn’t enough. You must have the prescription.

Quantity. Rizatriptan, and all drugs in this category, are in the same category as Oxycodone, so it’s regulated. That means doctors usually prescribe 8-12 pills per month, yet migraines can happen randomly, and in my case, 15-20 days per month. The pills worked great, I just needed more. The only (legal) way to do this was go back to my physician, which I did. But prior to that, I called my insurance company.

The right number

After a (long) discussion with the representative from Blue Cross Blue Shield, I learned the initial prescriptions are 8-12 is because: “Over the years, statistics have shown that if you need more than 12 pills a month, you have something seriously wrong.” It was explained to me that “seriously wrong,” meant some sort of brain ailment. Well, I wasn’t in that category, and the woman was sympathetic.

“My migraines were so bad,” she explained, “I had to get shots directly into my head once a month for three years.” Imagine my shock at hearing this. The representative told me I needed to visit with the doctor and request 18-24. If the doctor signed off, I could get my pills.

I figured 24 might be overkill, but 18 was nearly three weeks. That’s what I did, and what I’ve been doing for about 6 months now. Let me tell you this: By the end of the 30-day cycle, I am counting the pills and monitoring what I eat because I can only get the refill on the exact day noted by the doctor.

Summary for Rizatriptan

Excellent solution, has changed my life for the better, and in my case, zero side effects.


Solution three: manage your diet

While I was thrilled, overjoyed and beyond ecstatic to have my old life back, I have never been comfortable with the notion of being on pills for an extended period of time. So, for the last six months, I’ve continued to search for a way to naturally heal my body.

One day, my next door neighbor (she, a doctor, married to a doctor) asked me if I was “open-minded,” and would consider an alternative view of headache solutions. Of course I said yes, and she gave me a book that focused on healing through foods. When one is desperate, one will do pretty much anything, and I was at that point. To make a long story short, I read the book over the weekend, spending lots of time on migraines and the solutions therein. Very specific recommendations were made to reduce and/or eliminate migraines. Further, it listed the primary culprits of migraines, along with inflammatory culprits. The book is The Medical Medium by Anthony William, Chapter 10 is solely on migraines, and page 131 lists triggers.

Triggers

The list of potential triggers is long, and by process of elimination, I’ve narrowed down my personal “triggers” for migraines. This includes non-organic meats and sugar: more than a couple tablespoons, two days in a row overloads my system. Now this may sound like a lot, but it’s essentially one can of Coke, a bowl of cereal or cookie, or even some ketchup. Sugar is in pretty much everything. Regarding meats, when you are dining out, you can never, ever guarantee where/how the meat is sourced.

Nonetheless, I got culinary religion and started eating like a rabbit. While I continued to have dairy and eggs, I eliminated meat and sugar, which means most breads, unless I made it myself. Guess what? I’d still have one or two a month around my period, and that was it.

Food to kill the migraine, not just prevent it

The few times I did get a migraine, I held off taking the pill, and put a few of the recommendations to the test. I juiced up celery, cilantro, apple and cucumber. That’s all I drank/ate for the space of four hours. After the first hour, the migraine reduced to a headache. By hour three, it was a dull throbbing. Hour four, I felt like a million bucks. Seriously. That afternoon, I was walking the dog.

The downside

It’s not always possible to stop and juice up. On local trips, I take my juicer (which I purchased on sale for $125 vs $300), but honestly, it’s a real pain in the fanny to be trekking the juicer with me, going to the grocery store etc. so do my best not to eat trigger foods. Nonetheless, when I’m home, and I’m all stocked up on celery etc., this is my go-to solution.

Summary for dietary changes

A healthier lifestyle is nirvana, what we all strive to achieve. If you are searching for a natural route, I would definitely spend the money on the book 1 and 2 by Anthony William. They are worth it. For me personally, note I said “strive.” I’m not a no-sugar gal, or vegetables only, and because of this, I know that I’m making a choice to try certain foods, or live on the edge that may trigger a migraine. In the end, my lifestyle is probably 80% congruent with my body-chemistry, and 20% living on the edge. For that reason, I have my prescription handy, and as a fail-safe, the Vivarn. In addition to taking your camera and book on your next trip, include at least one of these items. Your head and traveling companions will thank you!

Ketchikan fishing at its finest

A father with his three grown sons, an older South Korean gal with her younger boy toy, me and Rog, a bit-time concert promoter from Florida with his grandson, a media guy from Los Angeles and his surfer father. These are few of the fellow men and women we encountered during our fishing trips up to Alaska. Of those I mentioned, over half had never fished if all. Worried about getting up early and bobbing up and down on an ocean inlet? Don’t be. If land-loving cowboys from Montana can do this, and I, a sun-seeking, fair weather fisherman who prefers lake trolling, so can you.

Casting a new rod

Rog is a die-hard, life long fisherman, preferring fly-fishing, floating on the river at 4 a.m. in the ice and deep sea tuna in the “blue water,” (if you know what that even means, congratulations). Me? I’m a straight up, trolling on the lake at sunset-while-talking-all-the-while girl. I started with my grandfather as a kid, and never changed—or evolved, as Rog likes to say.

Still, I’d heard the romantic retelling of flying to Alaska, watching the shimmering fish jump from the water against a glimmering sunset while in the comfort of the hot tub on a deck before having a gourmet dinner and retiring to a cozy lodge. It was with this ideal in my mind that I bid up the price for a fishing trip to Alaska at a school-sponsored auction. Two months later, we were on our way.T

The overview

Alaska, the fishing mecca for anyone with a pole, instills religion-like feelings about what place is the best and why. Some want the 5-star luxury experience, replete with the spa-like atmosphere, or a 10,000 square foot home and private chef. What’s important to me is one thing: the fish. I don’t want a plush, four-day spa vacation if I’m paying for fishing. If I wanted that, I’d hit Sonoma or Arizona and save the extra two grand. At the same time, I want great food and an authentic lodge experience—along with lots and lots of fish. After looking at the Sportsman’s Cove website, I believed this was right in the middle, authentic yet cozy, guaranteed to bring me home with lots of fish and great pictures. Rog had been fishing in Alaska before, but never at Sportsman’s Cove, and I was excited about this factoid. We would have a firstie—an experience unique to both of us at once, which, Rick Santos, the lead male in A Convenient Date, says, is hard to do.G

Getting there

From Seattle, Ketchikan was a 3-hour flight. With bags in hand, you take the short walk under a covered ramp to a pier where the float plane awaits. Sportsman’s Cove owns their own fleet of float planes which seat six. The flight is a short 25 minute during which you can take pictures of Ketchikan, the islands below, along with the cruise ships which come to Ketchikan daily. On every flight, I’ve seen bear as we near the island where Sportsman’s Cove is located.

the float plane arrives

Once landed, an assigned host greets guests, takes the bags up the landing, and guests are shown their assigned cabin. Depending on the package and requests, guests have a single or double (with a guest). Nestled into the mountain side, the cabins are an adult version of a tree house, the wooden steps leading up to the private rooms. Rustic but comfortable, the beds have flannel sheets, views of the lake, and incredible water pressure with plenty of hot water. 

The schedule

Dinner is set at 6 p.m., where guests meet one another and sit with their assigned captain. Over dinner, guests meet those assigned to their (limit of 6 guests). What I like about this is the administration works really hard at putting compatible groups together, and we’ve never been disappointed. During dinner, the boat Captain provides the daily schedule, preferences for fishing, how he determines the areas to fish, and options for taking the fish home.

The fishing days are simple: full breakfast at 6 a.m. (varies every day, but can be stuffed sour dough French toast, steel cut oats, biscuits and gravy etc.), on the boat by 6:30, fishing until 3 pm then return to the dock. After breakfast (or before, if you wake early) you make your own sack lunch with snacks).

Once back at the lodge, dinner is at 5:30, allowing time to hike, walk the beach, nap or hang out on the covered deck or living room, which has a guitar if a guest has the desire. Around 8:00 p.m., homemade cookies and milk are set out for the guests in the living room. A hot tub is located on a lower deck, which is much desired after a long day fishing.T

The food

The Cove has a master chef, who produces gourmet meals for breakfast and dinner. My fear of eating fish morning, noon and night was unfounded. Fish is only served one evening—the other nights includes every other meat available (beef, pork, chicken). If you have food sensitivities, the opportunity to do this is when the office sends a pre-arrival questionnaire. Dinner is a casual affair, jeans and the coziest top you want. The dining room consists of five round tables– nor more than 5 groups- or 30 in the session total. It’s large enough to have fun, while small enough to be intimate

The rooms

TRustic would fit the description, but it’s not much different than home rentals we have had in Austria, Germany or Switzerland. Think lots of pine wood, small bathroom, shower, sink in the bedroom, a well-loved bed (they are soft, not hard) and a great view of the lake. On my first trip, when I went in, I thought—really? Then I put it in perspective. This is a true lodge, not a 5-star resort, and any disappointment I initially had about the room left at the end of the first day, when I took a long, hot shower, ate an amazing dinner and fell asleep, nestled in the warm flannel sheets as the cool breeze came through the opened window.

The fishing- what to expect

Right after dinner, groups are led to the dock, where chest-high, one-piece yellow rubber waders, jacket and books are provided. You need to bring/wear your own gloves, hat etc., wearing your choice of jeans/pants, tops etc. I always bring my waterproof bag for my camera, but nothing else is required.

The boats leave the cove around 6:45 and then you are out on the water, the mist coming off the water, the Captain determining the location. A roll call of guests determines what will be fished—halibut, salmon, cod, you name it. The majority vote guests wins, but if certain fish are biting more in one area than another, plans change. Also, some types of fishing are more challenging than others. As an example, fishing halibut can test skills and patience, as the hook needs to be bounced along the bottom, then reeling up a 300-foot line can take some time and effort. I personally love halibut, because I’m like a goat. I’ll just keep going and going until I hook a fish. On the other hand, salmon fishing is fast and exciting—you throw the line in, get the hook (fish on!) is what you cry, and then it’s a race to bring in the fish. This can be a nice change of pace if the day is slow.

Throughout the day, you have flexibility to fish, relax, eat or warm up in the cabin, where the heater is blazing, offering comfort and relaxing when you need a break. On the ride back to the cove, the deck hand guts and cleans the fish, throwing the entails off the back. Overized eagles scream and dive for the innards, making for great photo shots.

Weather- the best times for fishing

We have gone every other year for six years running, starting the summer Rog got his snore guard! Why the two-year break? That’s how long it takes to eat all the fish we got.

We have had June, July and August. It was cold and rainy in late June/early July, and a good haul, which was 250 pounds of fish (pre-packaged). Mid-July offered two days of great weather, two days clouds, and almost 300 pounds of fish. August was incredible weather, but only about 230 pounds of fish. That’s because the week we arrived, the commercial fishing season started. Every other day, the larger vessels would chase our fleet when they saw the fish were jumping. Within an hour, four-to five boats would surround us and string their nets, forcing us out.

That said, we still came home with 230 pounds of fish for fishing 4 days. That incident proved that no “bad time” to go exists. The timing comes down to preference of weather (which is never guaranteed) and price.

Best deals

The July spots book fast, but cancellations occur. We are on a “call” list, which means we are alerted if a spot opens up, and you can be too. Call reception and ask to for your name to be added, but be prepared sometimes the notice is only a week or two out. You are always going to get the best deals through last-minute.

December is a good time to sign up because it’s slow, and of course, August slots and early June are often the least expensive, because it’s pre-season or commercial fishing.

Below are a few of my favorite photos from our trips.

Overcoming fear of the water: Scuba certification

I’ve always loved the water, as long as I was on top of it, as in, on a boat, a water ski or a jetski. But get me in anything other than a pool or a foot of water in a stream so clear I could see the sandy bottom and I’d start hyperventilating.
This revelation came as a surprise to my family, because I grew up swimming in a lake with a sandy shore and murky bottom, going to and from the dock (or walking when the water was low). Once on the dock, I’d wait until I felt like a lick of heat on the surface of the sun before I’d jump in. Far be it from me to avoid participation in the ‘night swim’ where’d we take the boat out at eleven pm, turn off all the lights and test our courage by jumping in the frigid water, all for the reward of enjoying a hot shower and hot chocolate afterward.

It was all a front. The water freaked me out. Yes, I know, this coming from the dare-devil she, but it’s true. As a child, I knew that the Loch Ness monster was fiction and I’d never seen a freshwater lake-dwelling shark. Still. Anything below two feet was the great unknown, and it freaked me out.  I’d close my eyes, swim as fast as humanly possible, spending as little time in the water as I could manage so no one was the wiser. When it came to water skiing, I wasn’t the dare devil without a cause. I’d just found the way to spend the least amount of time in the water. When it came my turn to ski, I’d jump off the end of the boat, my ski boot on and strapped tightly, I’d gather the rope up as quickly as possible, scream ‘hit it’ and start to relax the moment I rose out of the water. I didn’t want that ever-elusive man-eating trout to snap off my leg.

It was irrational, and I knew it at the time. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to let on that it scared me to go underwater. Then fate intervened.

The Accidental, Glorious Cure: Scuba training

“Please will you come???” My younger brother was fourteen, I was 17, and he was begging me to accompany him to scuba diving lessons. Dad had signed up but couldn’t make it and the class was…that night.

No, ocean, no way. Not in a lake. I couldn’t even handle looking at the mushy bottom. “Where’s it at?” I asked.

He scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head. “A pool, of course.”

Oh. Two hours later, we were learning the basics of scuba diving. The course was an accelerated two week course, the first five lessons all in the classroom (sooo boring until I started to appreciate the value of gauges that regulated oxygen flow whilst underwater), and then the last five lessons in the pool. We started in the shallow end, and couldn’t go below more than a foot of water. That was so inconceivably boring for a 17 year old, but it served a purpose. The steps of checking out the gear, testing and retesting, then staring at a little bit of water made me want more. We graduated to moving around in our little circle, and then were finally allowed to go in the deep end. All six feet of it. A 20×30 pool is awfully small when that’s all you have to explore.

Yet here again, it served a purpose. My fear of the unknown dissipated as I gained confidence in my equipment, and the power and confidence that came with knowing I controlled my time underneath the water. By the time we went on our certification dive, out in the Sound as it is known, I was ready.

The dive itself would be considered awful by the scuba-purist. The Sound is a body of water that is very cold (we wore wetsuits but the smart divers wore dry suits), it was cloudy (visibility 10 feet) and not full of exotic life. Rather, it was rocks and a few shellfish, except for….

The wall of death. But before I get to that, I’ll say that the first dive removed any and all fear of the water I’d ever had. There we were, diving along at 20 feet, and I was so comfortable the instructor was worried. “Aren’t you breathing?” he asked, worry clear on his face.

“Of course I’m breathing,” I said in my 17 year old trying-to-be-nice sort of way.

He lifted up my gauges to make sure they worked. “This shows you are hardly breathing. Are you stressed? Having anxiety?”

It was then I tried my best to explain to him I felt like I was floating on air, flying underneath with a quiet world all around me. The murky, freezing grey didn’t bother me at all. I was completely and utterly free. Diving was the most wonderful sensation I’d ever experienced.

He nodded and put my gauge down. “You must be relaxed. I’ve never seen a diver with such low figures for a gauge before.” I took that as a compliment, a sign that I’d overcome my issues.

“Time to get you to the wall,” he said, his eyes glinting. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told us that a wall of rock had a sheer drop off down several hundred feet. It would be the “underwater equivalent of looking over a 50 story building, straight down, and then stepping off.” It sounded freaky, and I figured this was going to be my make or break, poop in my pants moment.

The reality was nearly what I expected. We swam along at 30 feet and then came to the edge. Sure enough, we peered over it and look down in to the Abyss. Unfortunately, I’d actually seen “The Abyss,” and those of you who have as well, understand the nature of a huge drop off like the one in the movie (over a mile of straight down). In any case, my heart caught in my throat and I thought I was going to get dizzy. Yet, he swam out over it (and didn’t fall or get sucked in to the great vortex), my brother didn’t hesitate and swam over, so I had to follow. Then….we started to swim down the wall. That too, was altogether like the Matrix, running down the Empire State Building.

Then it happened. We stopped, and the instructor pointed to a dark crevice within the surface of the wall.  I gave him a look like “over my dead body.” I could just image an eel taking a chunk of my hand. He saw my fear and inserted his own hand. Out came a tentacle. It cautiously wrapped it’s limb around my instructors hand, reaching, retracting then extending again. I definitely wanted to try that, so I did. It was the first time I’d ever touched a sea animal.

I was hooked.

I went on to dive all over the place, Australia, the Cook Islands, Oregon, California and Mexico. These aren’t places that the ‘real’ divers I know even bother to mention. They go cave diving, ship diving (all require different certifications), night diving etc. I’m still happy to get under the water. In fact, being underneath the surface is the most relaxing place for me.

It’s not often that someone will voice a fear of the water, and I know why. It’s embarrassing and, speaking for myself, I never wanted to admit to a fear I considered completely irrational. I’m glad I got the opportunity to dive, and for the few hundred dollars it is to learn, it’s definitely worth the price of picking a new hobby (and probably a lot cheaper than a therapist).

Best of Seattle-Snoqualmie Falls walking tour

If you are taking a trip to Seattle, budget in 2 hours to drive east and see Snoqualmie Falls. It is heralded as the most majestic & largest drop in North America, second only to Niagara Falls. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s gorgeous. For travelers, the site has another feature–a 4-star rated hotel that sits on the edge of the cliff. The yoga room actually overhangs over the river leading up to the fall, and the spa is a Japanese/northwest theme. This small-ish resort is sought after for weddings and other special events.

So, since I’m a big believe pictures are better than words on this type of blog, I’ll give you the details.

Parking: Free. lot up top by the lodge (unless you valet) and a bridge connects to the falls. You can also park in a lower parking lot if you want to swim in the river. I highly recommend this if you have food or anything else you need to bring in.

Trail quality: superior. crushed gravel and wide. Some steep areas, but kids of most ages can make it up and down no problem.

Time: about 15 minutes down with children, about 20-25 minutes up depending on your level of fitness.

Travel time: about 30 minutes (no traffic) from Seattle -downtown about 40 min (no traffic).

Food: a small deli/ice cream and gift shop is also located on the site, so you have options if you don’t want to go into the lodge.

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A natural swimming area on the river- 5 min from parking

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the view to the west- downstream. perfect for swimming or fishing

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the lodge entrance

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the west face of the lodge–most of the rooms, restaurant and spa all look over the falls and the river

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the path is lined with signs of plants

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this area actual tubes used inside the concrete pipes that carry the water to the city

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the top of the falls, shot from below

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a view from the bottom of the falls

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the area offers a lot of grassy spots to take a rest

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the bridge connecting the upper parking lot- note- bikes aren’t allowed on the actual trail going down to the falls-

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the road from the lower parking lot to the water is paved

Ancestor’s in the vault: the making of a book

Last year, I’m in Ouray, Colorado, a place fondly known as the “little Switzerland of America,” due to it being in the center of high mountains, itself a teeny, 500 person town (give or take in the summer). The hills are riddled with closed down mine shafts, once upon a time producing streams of gold that eventually ran dry. On the other side of the hill adjacent to Rog’s parent’s (my in-laws) home sits Telluride, thirty minutes by car (right past Ralph Lauren’s 3,000 acre farm), but 12 min my truck if one takes the internal mountain road available to the miners.

An idea for a book struck me: what if all the records of the citizens of the United States were plunked right in the mountain caverns, and through some dastardly deeds of the government (who else), that information was used to hurt the population.

This novel is Incarnation, and the mines are mentioned in the book–you can even hike, or hitch a ride to see the caverns.vault pics

Another series of mountain caves exist in Utah,  the creators of the repository not the government, but the Mormon church. Furthermore, the data doesn’t include just citizens of the US, but of over 150 countries–and alas, no misdeeds or ill intent. It’s all available and free, provided on-line through Familysearch.org. (and yes, these caverns are so cool, they got a mention in the book as well).

You see, anyone who does research on family members, ancestors or also in my case, people I want to know more about for my books, ends up in ancestry.com which now has partnered with familysearch.org. When I came across this video on Youtube talking about Granite Mountain Vault, I was impressed, slightly awed and sort-of pissy that my idea was, oh, 30+ years out of date/taken.

Now, if you are wondering what this means to you- other than peace of mind, you can actually go, for free, to any one of the 4,000 family history centers built by the LDS (Mormon) church around the world. Some are stand-alone buildings, others are within a church building. The volunteers are all LDS geneology-trained-range in ages and are not allowed to preach to you about the faith. If you ask, you will be referred to a missionary, so you can go in, ask your questions and get started.

Granite Mt. Vault

Granite Mt Vault

The good news here (and I’m always in search of good news) is that if the world falls apart, trillions of records will be saved on microfiche, and I’ll always be able to find my ancestor’s records in a vault.

The traveling author


My readers know that the works I create are based on the people I meet, the experiences I’ve enjoyed and the places I’ve traveled. Therein lies the essence of the Traveling Author, for that’s what I am. Where some sit and write book after book, my lifestyle is one where I take a break, traveling to rejuvenate my mind, body and soul, absorbing all that I’ve encountered, then I return to my home and produce a novel.

From reading to reality

It’s always been fun for me, as a reader, to visit a place that’s been well described by an author. The first book in the Danielle Grant series, Made for Me, set in Switzerland, takes readers to Zurich, through the Alps, to St. Moritz and the world-famous gondola in book one. Book two, Destined for You, continues through Prague and Lake Cuomo. The last book, Meant to Be, includes the jazz clubs and famous eateries that you’ll want to be sure to visit when in Zurich and the surrounding areas. By complete contrast, the Lava Bed National Monument and Captain Jack’s stronghold is the setting for Chambers: The Spirit Warrior (book 2 of the series) which blends history and fiction, while Ouray/Telluride is the home for the Incarnation, a series revolving around DNA manipulation. I’m always wondering what I’m going to find on my next trip that will be delivered up to the masses when I turn it into a book? It lends itself to a completely new level of excitement for each new adventure.

This local jumps in front of me and shouts “You need this!”

Travel with Me

In the past, I’ve posted my journeys real time on Instagram and then a novel comes out. Going forward, I’ll publish a general itinerary on my refreshed web site, adding details as the date nears. Through Instagram, I will offer up cool details before, during and after. If a reader wants to/show up and have me sign a book, great! In Destinations, my upcoming five-week journey through 12 countries is published. You electronically Travel with Me as I search out new experiences for my next novels.

Refreshed site

In addition to the Destinations page, you will also find my Essentials for traveling. Also in this section are my top-of-mind issues, such as how to cope with migraines while traveling, note taking for novels or and other real-life subjects.

Feedback

Countmeinsarah@gmail.com is the best place to send messages, but I manage my own Instagram (sarahgerdes_author). If you have a suggestion for travel sites, locations, scenes and people for books or other inspirational comments, feel free to share either in email or for fastest response, Instagram.


Kissing Pete Townshend While Living on a Prayer: Hard Rock PV, Mexico

Kissing a rockstar was never on my bucket list of things to do. Still isn’t. Yet, when the opportunity presents itself, one must take it, mustn’t one?

It all started when Rog said that ‘we needed a break’ and he wanted to spoil me. I don’t recall the order of those two comments, but when one is offered a Mexican vacation, the standard response should invariably be ‘yes.’ When he asks about where I want to stay, I didn’t have an opinion (when you’ve been going to Mexico for as long as I have, you’ve pretty much seen it all–or so I thought).

A day later he tells me he has mixed it up and booked the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta. Yes, I’d seen the ads for the one in Las Vegas (in case you have missed the MTV-like commercials, everyone has seemingly stepped from the pages of a magazine, the music is all that is hot and sexy and the food heaven sent), and yes, they were offering a special ($1,500 worth of hotel credit). Thus, I checked out the spa, read the reviews (mixed on all aspects) and said ‘why not?’

So it was that the plane ride down was all about introspection. That ended the second we pulled up to the hotel and was assaulted with You give love a bad name by Bon Jovi. I turned to Rog. “You made sure to order up all the sexy people right?” He nods, humoring me.

At the counter, we are informed we can rent any one of 22 Fender guitars, along with headsets and amplifiers to we can practice without disturbing anyone. I don’t catch his last comments because A Whitesnake song comes at me from above, like a demon from hell, piped down in overhead speakers (and I only know its Whitesnake because Rog tells me). As we walk through the lobby (with looping videos of Pitbull and past a stream of authentic rockstar items), I’m suddenly face to face with a lifesize picture of the Guns-N-Roses band members. I realize that Slash has bigger hair than me (I feel a twinge of jealously) and Axl Rose was so skinny his entire waist was the size of one of my thighs.

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post Tom Petty and pre Spinal Tap

It’s about four pm, and as we head into the elevator, I’m starting to snicker. No sexy people. The original flag from Woodstock (it’s of big lips btw) hangs just below the arch of the hallway is the line “Love in an elevator,” by Steven Tyler, nicely called out in subdued, foot-size silver lettering. Are you getting a visual yet?

Blessedly, the room has no music, but I can hear the blasting from the pool area. It’s Back in Black and I start to fantasize about earphones and my favorite Sesto Sento Moby remix–really loud.

You can do this, I tell myself. It’s only a week. I keep hope alive that poolside will feature people in my decade and those that evidently chose the music. But first, I want to work out. The sun is setting, the breeze is coming in. The music in the gym has got to match the vibe. Steel, modern, pool front with the ocean in the background. Rog even takes a picture (the smile is genuine. I’m in a warm place, not much clothing and am positive the gym will be rocking).

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Spinal Tap is alive…every day at the gym

It is. To Tom Petty. Who. In. The. H**l works out to Tom Petty? He’s a great writer of lyrics, of course, but I certainly don’t feel like having my heart drug around.

That’s quite alright I repeat to myself, smiling falsely at Rog. I don’t want him to feel bad for booking this place nor do I want to appear an ungrateful shrew for hating the music. I walk forward with fortitude. Right into a life-size picture of Spinal Tap. For my dear readers who are as cool as I am, do you know who Spinal Tap is? I didn’t. Rog did (his Colorado roots are starting to seep through, don’t you think?). Now folks. When working out, isn’t it more appropriate to see images of beach bodies–or no images at all, rather than be forced to look at a skinny man poured into a lycra outfit that should only be worn by downhill skiiers racing at 100MPH? My thoughts exactly.

I know at this point, you really don’t believe me (I could barely believe it myself), so I started taking pictures as evidence. I made it through the workout, thanking Steve Jobs once again   (may he rest in peace) for the iPhone that saved my ears, changed for dinner and walked to the elevator.

Two things then happened at once. The first is I was struck by Bon Jovi everywhere singing Living on a Prayer.

my air guitar

my air guitar

The second thing was I had (somehow) missed the image of Pete Townsend in front of me, doing the air guitar movement. (I call it this because most men who insist on doing the air guitar never, ever, actually have a guitar. They just think it’s cool to whip their arm around as though they were, are or in their fantasy, will be, Pete Townsend. But I digress).

I can’t take it anymore. I lose myself to the notion of being a product of the seventies, channeling my inner flower-child-meets-bic-lighter-groupie and stand by Pete. In a single moment of rock-star-ness, I swirl my arm like every seventeen year old wanna-be guitarist and I become one with the picture. Of course it would only be fitting that in my moment of anonymous greatness than a woman walks by. She offers to take a photo and I do what I’ve never previously wanted to do. I kissed the rock star. Or at least his picture. That’s as close as I’m ever gonna get. kissing peteAnd as the final notes of Bon Jovi fades, I’m thinking about my prayer. One that includes music from the 90’s, 00’s, 10’s and maybe, just maybe if I’m really lucky, 2019. That is, if my prayers are answered.

Incarnation setting….Ouray/Telluride

Isn’t it interesting to think about a world without plastic surgery, or at least one where no one would consider such a thing, because the natural face is…or was, so precious?

That was the initial concept behind this idea…years ago, thinking about the obsession to look better in all ways. I’d just finished watching a BBC series on all the things that had gone wrong and thought…what if? What if the US was a place affected by a virus that would wipe out the DNA structure for the face…and the government benevolently stepped in to help out. Then a few decades later, conspiracy theorists were put in jail for attempting to uncover the truth. Well, this coincided with visiting my husbands hometown of Ouray, just on the other side of Telluride. It’s all the is natural, sexy, rugged and remote, with the bonus of being home to one of the countries largest (and now defunct) gold mines. Ouray and the surrounding area is also famously known as “little Switzerland” because the town of @500 (goes up to 1K in the summer) literally sits in a bowl, surrounding by mountains going straight up. This territory has made it the #1 area of off-roading 4-wheel drives. What that really means is one gets is raised jeeps and tries no to puke going up and over car-sized boulders.

The concept merged with the town to form Incarnation. Really, who can make up a remote town with mine-riddled mountains; a place that has no lights or gas stations, where everyone knows (and dates) everyone, and the natural hot springs bubbling up from the ground pulls in tourists from around the world.

I based the story on a few still living towns-folks, and made up a few others. The bars, restaurants and yes, the Moose lodge, spa and mine all exist. The old miner referenced is actually a man my husband, Roger, worked with as a teenager. The two would ride the house-sized vehicles up the hill and stay in an old, wooden shack, resisting against the gail-force winds at night sucking down moonshine, and during the day, Rog would careen over deep crevases, stringing metal cables–the goal being to prevent the random skier or snowmobiler from meeting an early death.

Without giving too much more away, I will add this first book was a joy, and frankly, it was a bit painful to then transition to book 2 of the Chambers series–The Spirit Warrior. The style, flow and attitude of this book is uniquely its own. I loved it. I want to be Kyle. But then again, I want to be Billy! For a reader who hasn’t gotten in to my other books, the constant is fast-paced, no (or <5 swear words) and hot but clean. In other words, your grandma could read it and not blush, and you can leave it on the coffee table without fear that your six year old is going read something untowards. As an author, it’s a challenge to write within those parameters, but I enjoy it.

Personally, this cover ranks right up there with my fav covers…and probably because of the guy chosen and double helix, it might even edge out my other favorite covers as the best so far. (wow. do I like this one). This image in the back is actually Ouray, and I’ve uploaded a few other fav Ouray pics to the book listing just so those of you who have never been can take the virtual tour. It is about 5.5 hours drive from Denver, or a short flight into Montrose. In the winter, it’s all about ice climbing in the ravines in the center of town, and in the summer–the four-wheeling as I mentioned. (sorry for the poor quality but they were phone pics:)

Because the cover is so gorgeous, it actually comes out a bit purple in the print version.

Here are the links for all types of devices and purchased preferences.

Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo, Scrbd, 24Symbols, Playster, Smashwords

The book is also available at all the major on-line bookstores in ebook version. You can request a library stock order if that’s your preference. I can’t wait to finish the 2nd book.

Halloween Treats- Gross Earwax Marshmellows (gluten free)

This is a great, gross, gluten-free idea that I found on Pinterest but decided to modify. In that version, a marshmallow was cut in a triangle and put on the end of a toothpick. I thought

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Bags of plastic bones

that was OK, but why not upgrade it? I went to the Halloween store (Spirit Halloween) and purchased two packages of small bones for $3.00 each. I then used my Ghiradelli chocolate used for melting and once I affixed the small marshmallows to either end of the bones, dipped them in chocolate.

Walla!

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bones with the marshmallows attached. You can see I basically pushed the marshmallows on the ends, which were helpfully curled. you have to be fast about this, because they start to harden, and you want the chocolate on before they turn crusty!

See the pictures. BTW- this also doubles as a game. The bones have two holes. String some fishing line in between and suddenly you h

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after dipping in chocolate.

ave a game that kids, or raucous adults can play–as in, eat the marshmallow off the line first without it falling to the ground. (I’d recommend you confiscating iphones before you do this however. It gets pretty silly).

 

Storage
Refrigerate (on parchment paper) because the chocolate will stick to a regular pan. Even then, be careful when you lift it off, because the chocolate/marshmallow may slide right off the bone. This happened probably 10% of the time so it wasn’t big deal.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Beyond that they taste stale.

 

Halloween Treats- Gruesome Ripped Ears

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after using the heart-shaped cookie cutter, take your edged knife (this is a pastry/fruit knife) and make a curl that will make the form for the inner ear. carry it all the way down

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The finished product

This is my other divinely gruesome treat. Ripped ears. It is made from the same dough that is in my recipe for Witchy Fingers. Since I’m sure you’d hate popping back and forth, I’m putting it below. This is far easier to create and form the ears–so once again, don’t be intimated. Let your inner spooky-self flow as you create these.

Requirements
Food coloring and a small paintbrush
If you have it, a heart-shaped cookie cut-out will make your life a LOT easier. If not, you can use a round one and modify it. OR, you can free form with a sharp, non-serrated edge knife.

Ingredients- Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature

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this is what it will look like after. make sure to take eat the center circle:)

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

 

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

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mold and shape the ear using your thumb and forefinger. Before this, I will typically pick it up and work it in my fingers for the basic shape, then put in on the Siplat cooky sheet and get it a little better.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Making the ears

Divide the dough into two halves. Put one half back in the fridge to keep it cold.

Roll out to be @1 cm thick. If you are going to err, make them a bit thicker. If the dough is too thin, it will tear and you have to start all over (e.g. chill, roll out then form).

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using the end of the paintbrush (or a toothpick) create a hole to represent an earhole (so you can make it black or colored later)

Use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Using a knife, make a basic ear (see the pictures). Lift one side out, then start to form the ear. The key technique here is to use the thumb and forefinger to create the ridges of the outter and inner ears. The bottom lob can be modified, but again, don’t make it too thin or it will rip and not hold its shape.

Tip: as with the witchy fingers, if you are going to ERR, do so on the side of overexaggeration. It’s better to have an ear that is thick and has form than one that’s too thin and doesn’t hold a shape.

Once this is done and the ear if formed, take the edge of a knife (I use a pastry end that has a ridge for texture) and make some ‘cut-lines’ in the inner ear–which is actually the ripped part.

Painting the ears is really the easy part. First, color the holes. This does nothing more than make it look ‘ear-like’ and gorey. The next painting is on the inner ear, the part that’s ripped. Play around with this. Brighter red makes the blood look fresh while darker blood (red mixed with some blue or green) gives it an older, burnt look.

The both taste great!

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food coloring in a little pie dish (I use these micro pie dishes that are only about 2 inches across) for convenience

Tip: wait for a few minutes before you brush on the egg white, and AVOID the painted parts, trying to get along the edges and in the depressed area.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. You should underbake these little because you’d rather have them moist than dry. They hold for 3 days in an airtight container. After that, they simply don’t taste that great.

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painting the inner (ripped) ear

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sometimes, after baking, the ear will raise, and you will want to counter this by using the edge of a spook or whatever is handy an press down along the inner ridge. This will give the ear the best shape possible. It holds, so you only have to do this once.

 

 

 

Halloween treats- Witchy Fingers

One of my two, personal favorite bite-size treats. The other is the gruesome ripped ears. Both of these are divinely gross and absolutely delicious. They are also made from the same dough. The only difference is the witchy fingers are cooked longer while the ripped ears are slightly undercooked. I might also add that these take a bit of time (about an hour and a half) but are great to do with kids. They are also big attention getters, which I also like!

Promise- people get intimidated by the nails (the almonds) and creating the actual fingers. This is super easy. My motto is: if I can do it, so can you. I’ll give you step by step pictures on this. You can do it!

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Took a picture to show what “just incorporated means.”

Requirements
Food coloring. A box will give green, yellow, red and blue. You will use all but the yellow.
A knife, rolling pin, and small paintbrush (to color on the blood and moldy ear slice).
Parchment paper

Ingredients (first, the nails)
Food coloring – you will use this last
30 blanched almonds

Directions
In boiling pot of water, dump the almonds. You may want to do more than 30, just in case a few split.
After 1 minute (exactly) remove and strain. Immediately run cold water (from the tap) is fine. Only need to do this about one minute.
Dump on a paper towel. As you start to rub the almonds, the peels will come off. Not all though–perhaps not even half. Don’t worry. With your fingertips (thumb and forefinger) you can easily rub once or twice and the shell slips off.
Place the blanched almonds on the cookie sheet (this is where you will paint them once fully dry)
At this point, stop and make the cookie dough. The reason is you will need to refrigerate the cookie dough. As this happens (about 30-40 minutes or longer) you will paint return and paint the fingers.

Ingredients- Finger Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Tip: For rolling out, divide in half. The reason is simple. It takes time to roll, parse (or separate) the individual dough pieces for fingers. then you must roll, detail and place the finger. The remaining dough will get too soft, and become gooey. So take out only as much as you can reasonably use before it gets warm, which is about half.

At this point, place the dough in the fridge and paint the fingers.

Painting the fingers
place red, green and or blue food coloring in separate bowls. holding the almond between fingers, paint both sides. Tip: I use a rubber glove so I don’t stain my fingers. It takes several days to come off and I hate that. Then again, it is Halloween so who cares? Let stand until you are ready to roll out the dough and make the fingers.

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this is the dough, already rolled out, then cut and formed into a 2-2.5 inch piece

Making the fingers
This fun. Don’t be worried. Just put on some good chill music and go for it.

Take half the dough and place the other half back in the fridge. Roll it out to @1 cm thick. Using a cutting utensil (I use a pastry spatula), cut the pieces into a manageable size (e.g. about the length of half a real finger. It will elongate as you roll it out.

Roll the dough out into @a 3-inch piece. Then using your forefinger and third finger, depress a little, which will raise the middle (to create the middle knuckle). Adjust the end tip, to resemble the end of the finger. Adjust as necessary– e.g. raise the center, depress the in-between parts (as they will raise slightly during baking).

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depress the center. this makes the knuckles. 3 simple lines will do it

Take one of the almonds and wedge it within the end. Don’t place on top, as this will ensure it falls off after baking (I’ve done this before and ruined the whole batch). Make sure you have a bit of dough above, below and on all sides.

Take a knife or other untensil and create the ridges for the knuckle. Walla! you have created your finger.

Tip: Create the entire batch of the fingers and then brush lightly with the egg white. If you do this too soon, you will depress the ridges on the knuckles and it won’t look that realistic.

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now you are ready place the almond as the fingertip

Tip: Err on the side of exaggeration. In other words, if the ridges and length of the fingers aren’t pronounced enough, the finger will come out basically smooth. So if you are worried, its better to have a finger that’s super bony rather than one that looks flat and normal. You don’t want normal!

For cooking
Heat the over to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats (French non stick baking mats are my preference).

Using a non-stick brush, brush lightly with egg white.

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this is what it looks like before its cooked. you can add as much dough around the edge as you want. for fun, I sometimes go back and make them scraggly, but it tends to gross people out then they won’t eat them!

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This is a row PRE- covered with egg whites. I forgot to take a picture of that, but they slightly glisten when covered with the egg white

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this is a pic of just the green-tipped ones. This year I made red, green and then black.

For the presentation, my favorite way to display for eating is sticking out from within a cauldron. That way they are reaching out to you, saying EAT ME!

 

 

 

Halloween Treats- Mummy Milanos

Easy. Fast & delicious.

Requirements
Milano cookies (every grocery store has them). Tip: get the dark chocolate. Every stinking time I get the milk chocolate, the inside is crumbly and the milk chocolate tastes old. Clearly, people prefer the dark chocolate. It holds up better and is fresh. And yes, this is a IRK.
Milk chocolate especially made for melting. I use Ghiradelli. It is fresh, melts well and delicious.
A spoon or knife (to drizzle the chocolate)
Either chocolate icing (with a tip) that can be had for @$2.50 at most stores

Ingredients
1 package Milano cookies
1 package Ghiradelli white melting chocolate
1 container chocolate icing (or little chocolate speckles for the eyes)

Tip: do NOT use the gel icing sold in the stores. I used this and it doesn’t dry, even after four hours in the fridge. They smudged when I tried to layer them. Next time I went for the fast-dry icing.

Directions
Arrange the Milano cookies on a cookie sheet.

Melt the chocolate according to the directions. Short version is place the white chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 30 seconds. Every 30 seconds, stir. It will melt. By minute 2, it will be completely melted.

Immediately dip the end of your spoon or knife in the end and drizzle according to your desire. Before the chocolate dries, add the sprinkles. If you are using the icing, wait until the chocolate dries before applying.

 

Best Caramel Apple Dip

After many attempts to perfect this recipe, I’ve yet again mutated it into a dip that gets completely devoured at parties. The reason is it’s not “too caramelly,” which is a way of saying the caramel is overpower. Personally, I hate things that are overdone, which is what the original recipes is. This isn’t. It’s perfectly balanced between the caramel, cream cheese and marshmellow. For those people (e.g. men) who claim to hate cream cheese, they can’t even tell. As in, my husband Roger, hates the divine, bovine created product. Even he loves it. This recipe is a winner.

Requirements
A beater with a three-pronged paddle. The creamcheese need to be room temperature (softened, but not warmed in a microwave. I’ve done this and it curdles the product, ruining it).

Ingredients
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese. tip: on this, don’t go light. go full cream cheese. the consistency is much better and creamier
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark has richer flavor, but I prefer the light brown)
1/2 cup caramel- I hate the liquid, ice cream topping this calls for. Most versions have a horrid aftertaste. Go for the kind in a container. it’s very thick and can be found an most all grocery stores.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow crème
3 medium tart apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, caramel topping and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the marshmallow crème. Cut apples into vertical thin slices–I actually use my fun, holiday cookie cutters just to be different.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and water. Toss the apples in the lemon juice mixture. Drain. (it prevents the apples from turning brown).

Tip for serving: you have a lot of fun options for making a simple dip look impressive. You can:

a) drizzle some caramel on the top
b) add nuts of any type to the top
c) put paprika on the top (don’t use Hungarian Paprika though. it’s too strong and will give a weird aftertaste whereas regular paprika won’t).

Lastly, on the color and flavor. If you want a darker look, simply add more caramel. This will enhance the flavor. Adjust to taste.

Halloween Treats – Meringue Bones

A light weight, gluten-free party favorite for all ages is bones. I’m talking meringue bones. It’s simple, fast and impressive. Most important, it doesn’t require a fancy icing tip. As a backdrop, I’ve tried a number of recipes from major sites, and I hated all of them save one, and even that, I modified. The following has a basis in the recipe from fishieking on allrecipes. My first round, I didn’t totally like the consistency of the bones (too mushy both in the better and final outcome). I increased the amount of cream of tartar just a hair and it was perfect.

Tip: make sure the Cream of Tartar (its a spice, just in case you haven’t heard of it), is within the expiration date. The first batch was ruined, and I looked at the culprit, which turned out to be 6 months overdue on the expiration. The next batch made with a brand new bottle turned out normally.

Requirements
Egg beater, big Ziploc plastic bag, parchment paper to line the cookie sheet.

Ingredients
6 egg whites (room temperature)
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch salt
1 1/3 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used bourbon or Madagascar vanilla. it makes a huge difference)

Directions
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F (110 degrees C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (I prefer this to the tinfoil in the original recipe. it’s less sticky)

Beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt with an electronic mixer until egg whites are foamy. Gradually beat in sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, beating until the sugar dissolves in the meringue before adding more. Continue beating until the meringue is glossy and forms sharp peaks. Add the vanilla. At this point, the batter should be very gloppy (a technical term of course).

Spoon the batter into a Ziploc or pastry bag.

Tip: when I read this direction, I thought great. Reality is that I use a large KitchenAid mixer and couldn’t hold the bowl, and the Ziploc and spoon the stuff. I enlisted my husband, who held the bowl as I used a spatula to slide the batter into the bag.

Cut the end of the tip with a scissors.

Tip for formation of the bones.

Start at the upper left hand corner, draw down to the bottom of the V. Then go up to the right of the V. Quickly take the tip straight down for the long center. Then draw down for the lower left, then up to the base V then down to the lower right. Lift up the tip.

I made a few testers, which necessitated me changing the grip of my bag. It’s easy enough to push out, but half-way through, the bag will deflate and air bubbles will collect. To prevent this, stop, open the bag, squeeze out the air then resume.

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Meringue bones – gluten free party favorite

Key directions for cooking

Place the cookie sheets and bake for 1 hour. Do NOT open the oven door, not even to peek. I ignored this part of the directions (thinking it wouldn’t make a difference. It did. They flopped). So, lesson learned. Leave it shut for an additional hour. (seriously. do not skip this).

When removing the bones, slide off the parchment paper onto a rack. Wait until cooled, then place in an air tight container.

Tip for storage

The original recipe didn’t give any commentary on storage, but I read that they could be sealed, room temperature for several days. I made one batch on Tuesday, thinking they would be fine for Saturday. Well, I checked on Thursday, and they’d become really brittle. By Friday, they were falling apart at the touch, with the exception of a few of the thicker ones. That meant I ended up creating a new batch, which I served the following day.

Pictures show the formation and the outcome.

By the way- I had these on a “gluten free” table, but all the guests had them- adults and kids (about 50 total). They were the first to go!

Halloween kid games (but work for adults)

Graveyard bowling

Graveyard bowling

Fourthings to do that work equally well for kids and adults, because really, when it comes to Halloween, adults revert back decades, dress silly, act sillier, and generally have no shame when it comes to what happens in the darkened rooms of a Halloween party.

Graveyard bowling

All you need is an empty space about 10 5-8 feet long. Carpet works, as does cement or wood. What you need:

  1. A sign. Pumpkin bowling. $3 bucks for the black cardboard. white spraypaint. tacks.
  2. old water bottles, 1/3 full of water and red food coloring (strip off the label).
  3. round, white cut outs on taped to the floor. 10 of them.dsc_0907
  4. smallish pumpkins.

Place the bottles on the floor. Behind the bottles, tack the cardboard. Walla. You are done. I was surprised how many adults wanted to play this bowling game. It was hilarious.

 

Mummy wrapping

This was a party fav two years ago with the kids & the adults had so much fun I ddsc_0901id it again. It’s easy. Teams of 2 or 3, and two rolls of toilet paper. One package from Costco means 2 rounds of ten-give or take, so the teams of two can each hav a chance to wrap and be the mummy.

Toss the finger & eat the earwax

This is easy, but unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the former and only one of the latter.

Tossing the finger means you get a bucket (we have a cauldron) and set it about 10 feet away from the kids (in a line) and they toss 3 fingers. The one to get all three wins the prize. Adults do this to. The cauldron can be on the piano, side-stool, inside or out. You’d be surprised how few people can get the finger in (or eyeballs work) in the cauldron!

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Earwax on a bone

The second game is awesome! This came about when I saw this Pinterest idea for earwax on a stick. I modified the idea by purchasing bones at the Spirit Halloween store (25 for $3.00). I then took a small marshmellow and stuck it on both ends of the small bones. After than, I melted Ghiradelli milk chocolate and dipped the ends in the chocolate. It looks like brown earwax…so grossly awesome. The game came about because the bones came with two small holes. I was able to run string (I used fishing line) through it, then hung the bones. The kids were able to see how many they could eat without the ear wax falling on the floor. Adults are way more grossed out on this game than the kids–no telling why.

Look for the recipe and other info on the earwax which doubles as a treat in other blogs.

 

 

Enlightenment & fasting

S teve Jobs has been on my mind; not for his fame, fortune or black mock turtlenecks, but for his use of fasting for the goal of enlightenment.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Fasting has been used for thousands of years for a whole multitude of reasons. Inspiration (think the original Buddha), mental and physical strength (athletes) enlightenment (yogi’s, Jesus) rendering the mind & heart humble and pure (Saint Augustine)  cleansing of the body and soul (millions of unnamed people). The length inspirational quoteand means are as varied as the people and the times. Jobs tended to use the fasting that skipped everything but juices (not to be confused with a cleanse, which is about losing weight but not enlightenment). A fast is generally considered eliminating all food and living on water, although I know people modify this to address dietary and health requirements and/or restrictions.

Whatever the form and function, a “fast” has a purpose, and end-goal if you will, that is ever-present and top-of-mind throughout. Then, when the goal is achieved—vis a vis the sought after enlightenment has occurred, then the fast ends.

Let’s go back to Jobs. Carrot juice being his fasting method of choice, if he had a problem to solve, he’d go on a juice fast until he received the answer (or enlightenment) he sought. (As a side-note, I’ve read and experienced that those who don’t believe in a God tend to use the word enlightenment versus received an answer- which denotes an answer from ‘someone.’ Perhaps this is why fasting itself is so universal—because a universal response is being given at the individual level, and thereby the promise of the fast is achieved).

I love the yoga teachers that throughout my twenty-year study have often gone full-on fasting—not even water—which of course means it has very physical limitations. So too have the martial arts instructors I’ve worked with over the years. The parallel experiences and stories have mirrored those who have removed certain foods from their diets-the difference, I might emphasize, was speed and clarity.

The voice of clarity

Now, I made this promise not to get too personal with this blog, but I have no issue telling the world what I have personally fasted about, because it’s pretty much anything important. For inspiration before a business meeting, college exam, plot ideas, who to date and/or marry, whether or not I should move, accept a client or job, to have or not have a baby. Those are personal. I’ve fasted for others, parents, siblings, even strangers, like those suffering from miscarriages of justice, the survivors or victims of attacks or accidents.

Why, you might ask. It’s because as a person who believes in the power of fasting for others and self, I also believe in the power of positive energy. At the subatomic level, our bodies are composed of energy (as identified in 1951). We can send out this to others regardless of distance. At the simple level, our heart pushes out an energy field 12 feet from our bodies.

It goes like this

  1. Start with the intention. Every self-help guru, yoga instructor, pastor, sales executive and even Oprah, will tell you it starts with the verbalization and visualization of the intent or goal. What is it? What do you desire? What do you need? This is what you are putting out there to the universe if you will, and if you believe in Deity, it’s that entity. Visualize and verbalize. State it and be clear.
  2. Prepare to fast and make the commitment to a timeframe. This is the optimal way to do it…as in, three meals, a dinner, overnight and then breakfast and lunch the following day. Twenty-four hours is a good starting point and there is a methodology. As said by one of my martial arts instructors (an 8th degree who was as agile as a mountain lion but as peaceful as a cool breeze), the goal is to bring the body to submission of the mind, and the mind itself to a place where it stops making noise. Depriving the body of food physically weakens it. Only when this occurs does the mind become quiet. Once the mind is quiet, then inspiration can occur.Now, that said, sometimes it takes some of us (ahem) more time to physically and mentally settle down than others. Honestly, I’ve witnessed that vegans who refrain from caffeine are simply a lot more chill than the average adrenaline junkie (self include). So, when I say that one sometimes needs to prepare for a fast, I’m being serious. If I’ve had a lot of chocolate lately (which has caffeine) I have to ease off so I won’t go through withdrawals. Then I have to clean out my body (by further eliminating bad stuff like sugar) and then I’m ready to be clean physically.For those that live a cleaner diet than I do, fasting is probably easier and produces quicker or stronger efforts.
  3. Constantly reiterate and repeat the intention throughout the fast. Think about it. Consider it. Roll it over and over in your mind. The more you think about the problem you are wanting to solve or outcome you desire, the greater the expansion of your thoughts. This is where the ideas suddenly come from—or the enlightenment. Many have referred to this as a sudden burst of light. For writers, many times this comes in dreams. Others have the ‘a-ha’ moment that seemingly comes from nowhere.

 

Does it last forever?

What if you fast for a day, even two, are weak and weary, and have received nothing. Nada. No answer. No inspiration. You are frustrated and think the whole notion is bunk.

Actually, a phrase exists for this condition, and it’s called a stupor of thought. That, in fact, is the answer. The answer “no” comes in many forms, and this “blackness” as it’s sometimes called, is the clearest form of answer possible. Should I go out with this person—stupor of thought—is a no. If it were a yes, then it would be a warm, peaceful feeling.

A yoga instructor told me about sending her child to a school that had been recommended, but she wasn’t feeling good about it. She fasted for a day or so and spent concentrated time in meditation (for additional clarity). While she didn’t receive an answer of what school to go to (she hadn’t asked that), she received a strong feeling—described as a sickness in her stomach—every time she thought about sending her child to that school. The longer she fasted and meditated, and thought about this option, the more acute her feelings became. Once she visualized not sending her child to this school, she felt peace she described as a complete calm. That was a validation of her prior answer.

As with anything—exercise or a new job, fasting becomes easier with practice, to the point of becoming second nature. Many people I know fast on a regular basis, either once a month, once a week (usually on a particular day where they can plan a day free from a business meeting luncheon or skipping a workout).

I’d like to end this with a flippant line, such as–the worst case is you have freed your body of toxins, but the reality is that flippancy reduces the power of the fast and the answers that come along with it. We have been put here to learn and grow, and that requires us to push, achieve and fully live to our potential. Fasting is one tool for us to reach the heights awaiting us. All we have to do is take the initiative and jump.

Rapid Hair Loss

It started when our daughter Porsche was six. Her golden locks started falling out in quarter size clumps, what the doctors called alopecia, or hair loss. “Normal,” we were told, for girls starting around six years old. When the quarters turned to dollar-size swaths by the time she was seven, the doctors said it was “severe,” but still “normal.” Let me tell you this: nothing is normal about four inch strips of hair falling out. As Porsche reached her eighth birthday she was mostly bald, and with only some strands of hair left. Just before Christmas, we had the task of taking her to a wig store specializing in children, mostly those suffering from rare forms of cancer.

Porsche at 3

Porsche at 3

To shorten the reading time, suffice it to say that the dermatologists all said hair loss. The actual “hair doctors”- or those that typically do graphs, transplants and the like, said this was not normal. In fact, we became indebt to Dr. Robert Nebalski, one of the most successful hair specialists in the Northwest, for his work in tracking down and identifying the underlying cause of the loss was first connected to girls between 7-13. For years he’d been studying this in concert with another doctor in Italy. At the same time, a friend from church happened to stop by and mentioned that her neighbor’s daughter suffered from a similar condition and it had been linked to her well.

The well. This wasn’t the problem, for wells have been around for a millennium. It was the toxins–and specifically–the metals in the water. Those metals- and think of everything that’s in the ground. When I mentioned this to Dr. Nebalski, we had her metals checked and found her levels were off the charts. So high in fact, that she should have suffered brain damage. (At the time we were on a different well system).

Now, if you, or your daughter (or son, or wife) have had rapid hair loss that can’t be explained, look to the water. That’s the first take-away. Second, forget what the department of health says is actually ‘healthy.’ That’s general. Every person has a different chemical make-up, and some are more sensitive (e.g. susceptible) to metals than others.Progression over 3 years

The second take-away is that testing the water itself (for metals) is very expensive- as in, $35 per item, and for our full testing it was sub $400. It was a good thing to do, but as were preparing to drill our own well it was sort of after the fact.

I’m jumping ahead here and doing so on purpose, because if you are reading this page, you are probably desperately seeking a solution just like we were. What we learned was this:

  1. you can decrease the metals in your body (which actually reside mostly in your head, thus causing hair thinning and loss)
  2. the solution is Zeolite capsules by Omica. This brand in particular-no other. its basically ash that attracts and absorbs the metals. the body excretes it through bowel movements (pooping). Note: you must drink a lot of water
  3. keep the follicles open through topical steroids (and injections as necessary…more on the next topic

The last element of this is that we’d already been planning on drilling our own well, which we had started, and it was completed in several months. We immediately switched over (me as the guinea pig) and lo, my hair started to come in even thicker than it already is (and those who know me can attest to the thickness of my hair). I was on our own well for a solid month before Porsche started using it, and it’s now been two years+ of normalcy.

Shamans, gambling and throwing energy: Chambers: the spirit warrior

Last winter, I’m on the massage therapists’ table, and the big, bespectacled man says, “I’m feeling something like grief…right here,” as he touches a part of my foot. He traces “a line of grief” he says, and asks me if something has happeShaman picned but quickly says I don’t have to tell him anything, only noting “that it’s rising to the surface, so that indicates it’s been in the last few months and you have been suppressing it.” Shocker. Not me.

At that point in my life, I’d only had one item of grief to note, and it was my dog dying (cue sad country song as you dig deep and try to empathize). For those without dogs or children, think about it as the closest living being that you have spent more time with than anyone save yourself, and if you like yourself even a little, you might get the picture. In any case, I feel rather stupid, but I tell him my dog. This begat silence as he worked my body “Through the pain,” as he called it, which meant that I was emitting physical and emotional pain for the rest of the session. It hurt. It was exhausting, but I felt like a million bucks when I left.

As a part of this experience, I asked how he knew, because this wasn’t the normal massage-therapist “I felt something in the muscles,” experience. “I’m an energy worker,” he answered. My response was more than an understanding. I immediately guessed he’d been working with Shamans, or those that in the US, are typically of Native American descent, but can be from anywhere in the world or any race etc. Over the course of his life, he’d trained himself to be more receptive to the energy forces around him. He revealed he could tell something was up the moment I entered the room (by something is up, he meant that he knew I ‘was bottling negative energy and a lot of pain).

Fast forward a few months, I have a conversation with Susan, a woman of Native American descent who is in fact, a Shaman. From her early years, she could see and speak to spirits on the other side (they don’t call them spirits, they are called ‘ancestors,’ for they came before her, not those who are yet to come). We got to talking about my latest book and I was asking her if some individuals who are gifted in the area of energy use their talents for evil.

“All the time, unfortunately,” she answered, catching me by surprise. She then told me of a man who, like she, was born with natural gifts. Apparently it is rare that a male can retain these gifts as they age, because ego and passion get in the way- and when it does, the energy talents are used for self-benefit. Me being me, I ask- “Like what can/did he do?” She told me that as a youth, he would throw bad energy on his classmates to ensure they failed a test and he got better scores (by this time, apparently the elders were onto him and had to watch his every move). He would take a bet and then throw energy on two guys who were friends but suddenly get into a fight and he could win a bet. This graduated into full on stealing (a passerby would grab a woman’s handbag out of the blue and then drop it a block later), and this guy would pick it up. She kept detailing a life of progressive crime that eventually landed him in jail, and I was fascinated and appalled.

“How can anyone protect themselves?” I wondered. She basically said that a person has to have a strong internal core: immovable values and a pure mind, not one that is easily swayed by outside influences, and generally good.

“If a person has a persuasion to live life on the line, or can be moved to tell a white lie now and then, or realize that an item at the store wasn’t paid for and they don’t go back, that alone is the crack in the exterior. It makes then vulnerable.”

I’ve since used this general theme in my latest book (the time/travel action adventure series), but I think about it often. “Just a crack” is all it takes, but doesn’t that apply to so many things. Give me a bite of chocolate and I want the whole candy bar. Give me a kiss and I’ll take the whole body. So many temptations, so much discipline required.

Get the Metal Out

Last March, my plants started dying, resembling my life in certain (morbid) ways, first turning brown (akin to my breaking toes), then limping over (breaks on left foot) then ultimately, hanging over dead like my deceased brother.

It was not good. The universal dark cloud of destruction was like this all-encompassing thing, causing even my plants to suffer.

New growth on a 10 yr old plant-wow. who knew?

“How could this be?” I wondered aloud, my plaintive question coming out as a half-wheeze, half-whine.

“Easy,” replied one of my older, and much wiser friends (Shari 65 to be exact). “You moved to a well in March, didn’t you?” I nodded, wondering what that had to do with anything. Our other friend, Holly, happened to be sitting there, nodding her head.

“Metals,” Holly intoned, saying it like she was revealing the ‘mother-of-all plant’ ailments. Of course I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I was schooled in the connection between wells and plants.

Wells, you see, have high metals, mainly iron. Long term solutions are available but I’m impatient and besides, for plants, it’s easy. The way to get rid of all metals, and the iron, is to “let it sit” for 24 hours in a container. Then it’s drinkable. Both these women have been on wells for the last 35 years, I was comforted by the fact that they both had gone through a period of mourning the plants they had inadvertently sent to the great plant farm in they sky.

This conversation was in September, and sure enough, I started using water that I’d left out for 24 hours, but most of the time, I cheat. I take bottled water each Saturday morning, look to my left and right to make sure Rog isn’t watching, pour it into the pitcher and then lovingly drench my plants, that are no longer stooping over or brown. In fact, each one has started sprouting new braches, a phenomena that is as close to the second-coming in this household.

“It’s a miracle,” I said one time within earshot of Rog.

“No,” he said drolly, “it’s the water.”

At least on that point, we can agree.