No-Fail Pie Crust

With nearly 70 cookbooks, you’d think I’d reuse the same pie recipe over and over. Until recently, the problem was I was making pies so infrequently that I’d forget the one I liked most. Then I’d buy a new cookbook, feel compelled to try a new recipe and start all over again.

Starting with the dry ingredients

Fortunately, Southern Living is a mainstay in my cookbook library, and it was what I reached for over the holidays. I made five pie crusts, each one turning out perfectly. The sixth one–not so much– I didn’t put in the exact amount of shortening. The entire batch had to be discarded. The lesson learned? Do not mess with a perfect pie crust recipe.

Perfect, no fail pie crust recipe

Ingredients
For a 9 inch pie crust
1 1/4 cup flour (unsifted)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (this is my add. I like sweeter crusts)

Mix by hand

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening (also my add. 2 tbs vs 1 makes the dough just perfect to hold together and roll)
3-4 tablespoons chilled water (put water in a glass of ice)

Process
1. Place flour, sugar, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl
2. Cut in the shortening
3. Hand-mix (I prefer this. It’s much better than a Cuisinart mixer as the dough is softer/flakier)
4. Add in the water. The dough will slightly moist and should hold together well.
5. Roll in to a flat ball, wrap with Saran wrap and chill for 1-3 hours or overnight. It will hold for several days.
6. Roll out when ready to use (follow directions for the pie you are making)

The dough should resemble peas in size

I doubled the batch, enough for a pie and a few mini-pies

Roll and fold in preparation for placing in the pie
Place crust in the pie dish

This is the mini-pies

Mold the edges of the crust
Add the filling–pecan


Pie filling-pumpkin

Spiritual Fitness

Today, whilst I was running on the treadmill, contemplating what topic to write about for ‘workout Wednesdays’ it struck me that I have thus far focused only on the physical aspect of health. That’s only half the equation, for what is the body without the spirit? (so said the Mrs. Steve Jobs in the bio I read over vaca). What indeed?

I’m no swami, but have a strong faith that serves to carry me forward through dark times, enlightens my mind and keeps me focused on family. I was taught at an early age that the spirit, and all aspects therein, must be exercised or else it grows weak, just like the flesh. Over the holiday, I read the Jobs bio on my Kindle (it was darn depressing, I tell you), yet it had a few redeeming qualities. One being the eternal search Jobs had on the Zen part of his existence, searching, striving, and seeking more. Of course, searching is not enough. One must apply what one learns. Through the school of hard knocks (e.g. choice and consequence), I’ve developed a few daily exercises or I grow weak spiritually–my energy ebbs, my outlook on life is grey rather than blue, I’m not listening (or receiving) promptings to help others etc.

1. daily prayer. Obvious, I know, but when I say daily, what I’m really saying is ‘meaningful’ in a way that requires me to verbalize my thoughts outloud. As a writer, I find it interesting that concocting words in my head is one thing. To say them outloud is another. Any good writer (and all books on becoming a better writer) council to speak the written word outloud. It’s requires thought. It carries meaning. The clarity quotient skyrockets.

Daily also means ‘whenever I want’, not just in the morning at night or at mealtimes. It means before a big meeting or presentation. I was seriously praying (silently however) backstage before I was to go on live TV with a movie producer from LA during the launch of my book last year. (I ramble, I get confused. I just asked for calm, peace and the ability the articulate my thoughts). My prayers were answered. My responses were short and concise (a miracle in itself). I smiled. I was calm.

2. Study-not just read-the scriptures. It’s strange. Sometimes I get nothing from reading the scriptures and other times I get a lot. Know the difference? Reading is just that–a straight through reading while on the treadmill or couch that I do. This is good (how can this activity ever be bad?), but not the best. About 2 years ago, I found my ability to truly learn and grow in the experience was found by following a 5-step process.
1) pray before hand that your mind will be enlightened while reading.
2) plan a specific time every day. Dedicate this time and have a routine.
3)have a pad of paper and pen to take notes, write down questions (therein is the studying part)
4) search/answer above questions. It doens’t have to be more than a verse (I used to set goals for reading–five chapters or 15 minutes type of a thing). Searching and answering can be much more or less.
5) pray upon completion that the words read (messages, meaning, understanding) can be remembered and applied.

Once I employed the above guidelines, I found the effort of scripture study much more enjoyable (and yes, it is still an effort), but interestingly enough, I began to look forward to it instead of dreading it like an obligation (like the treadmill).

3. Open your heart to being a help to another. This element of spiritual health brings benefits to others as well as yourself. Have you ever been inspired to call someone and done so, finding that the call was ‘just what was needed,’ to the person on the other end? What about writing a note of thanks for a job well done, then later learning your hand-written card (or email) was much appreciated? These little promptings are called ‘tender mercies,’ but also fall in the category of running God’s errands. Opening your heart to the prompting is the first step, but acting on the prompting is the fulfillment for both you and the recipient. I’ve found that the more I act on these promptings, the more I hear.

As with my own physical health, my spiritual workouts are stronger some days than other. The key is to keep moving forward, even if a bit at a time, to be as strong spiritually as one is physically. Ironically, the body will get weaker over time. The same cannot be said for the spirit.

Perfect Skin Secrets – Products & steps

Over the holiday, yet another layer of my rose-colored classes were scratched. I recently learned that many of the women in my circle have been using products for years, and I had no clue.

Sorry to do this-but you had to see the
skin results–no injections etc etc. a’course,
I’ve since gone back to blond, but the skin
remains the same…43 yrs old

 “No one reveals beauty secrets,” I was told by a female relative as she listened to my story, her voice including a bit of humor for my denseness. When I left San Fran for the netherlands of civilization, I didn’t have a need to apply facial products. Now that I’m older and have gotten a clue, that has all changed. A good moisturizer no longer suffices. From the articles on what men do for their faces, they’ve figured it out as well. Products help, especially those that get rid of the top layers of dead skin. Like every other non-sacred topic in my life, figure I might as well share what I’ve learned about facial products. Heck, I share everything else, so why hold back on the most important–or rather–most visible line of learning I’ve had??

Like other women, I paid a Dr a visit, got a slew of products, handed over my credit card, closed my eyes and followed this regimine precisely.

1.       Neova Herbal Wash, 8 oz. $24 w/out tax
2.       Neova Smooth Gel, (Glycolic 10%), 2 oz, $26.00
3.       Neova Complex HXplus, (Hydroquinone, 4%) Rx only, 2 oz $65.70 (includes tax)- this is the skin lightener for spots (the prescription version above can’t be had except from the Dr. This lower version is available on line).
4.       Neocutis Bio Crème, Bio restorative with PSP, Anti-aging. $109.00
5.       Neova TI-SILC GT SPF 60, 4 oz, $43.00
6.       Neova Retinol ME .30%, 1 fl oz, $49.00 (this is prescription only and I couldn’t find it on line)
7.       Vivite Replenishing Cream, 2 oz $79.00

For the 6 week regime, the routine was different than the one I am now on. During the 6 wk period, where I had dramatic results, I didn’t use the night cream (#7) nor did I use the Bio Crème at night (#4). The whole point of the intensive regime is to dramatically tighten and lift the skin, which it did. I noticed a huge difference after just 2 days. That’s because of the twice a day application of the smooth gel, and then retinol every 2nd evening. For my face now, I am on a maintenance program, and it’s a bit more laid back, and includes the moisturizer.

Here’s the starter program.

1.       Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face
2.       Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes
3.       Rinse off w/herbal wash. Apply the #3, skin lightener (if you have dark spots). Leave on.
4.       Apply #4 (restorative crème) then #5 (SPF 60).
5.       Put on make-up as desired.

For the evening:
1.       Herbal wash (w/luke warm water), pat dry face
2.       Apply glycolic smoothing gel and leave on for 3 minutes
3.       Rinse off with herbal wash.
4.       Apply retinol (avoiding the corner of the eyes and the corner of the mouth. It will burn and make wrinkles worse. Also, not on eyelids). Leave on overnight. Remember to rinse off first thing in the morning, as the skin will be ruined if the sun hits the skin and you have it on (burned red permanently).

When you are done w/the 6 wk routine, you modify by:
1.       Cutting back on the retinol to once a week (Saturday is best, since it leaves the skin a bit reddish). And replace with:
2.       #4 restorative lotion followed by
3.       Vivite night cream.

A few tips:

1.       when you use the smoothing gel, you also can put on the eyelids and around the eyes. It’s makes a huge difference.

2.       Go all the way down to mid-neck. If you limit it to just the jawline, it looks freaky. A smoother transition to the neckline is natural.

Traditional Swedish Sausage

Traditional Swedish potato sausage

My last note on potato sausage was a bit cryptic and apparently seriously irritating to my readers in Poland and Russia, who in a fit of internationalism, were going to try and replicate this recipe. Keep in mind that I’ve already written a post on this once-but I guess I had great pics on that but not-so-good direcions. This is round two. I’d recommend you read this first, then go to the other blog on 20 min sausages for the pics.

Warning to readers–it’s a nice, bland (non-spicy) recipe that is a perfect addition to any meal. It’s also incredibly easy. To show this, I’ve gone back and dug up a few older photos that show the process (I only took some of the ‘after’ during this last go around in November).

Ingredients
1.5 pounds nice meat (I used filet mignon this last time, only because it was in my freezer)
1.5 pounds port (use a thick cut of pork chop)
7-8 pounds pealed potatoes (about 10)
3 medium size onions
Casings (also called skeins) from the local butcher

For those non-Americans who can’t take the time to figure out the switch to metrics etc., just use equal parts of both meats and use double the amount of potatoes. Easy!

Process

  1. Using a grinder (I use a Kitchenaid attachment with the large holes), slice the meats in strips then run through the grinder. Alternatively, you can chop the meet extremely fine in little bits, though this will take an eternity. Better to use a blender or something, but it can’t be mush. You need to see the bits.
  2. Peel and slice the potatoes and onions using the same process.
  3. Put all the chopped ingredients in a big bowl and set aside (near the mixer).
  4. Place a clean bowl beneath the mixture. This is where the stuffed sausage will rest.
  5. Place a clean, water-filled pot with a bit of salt nearby. This is where the finished sausage will be placed  and then cooked when ready.
  6. Change the attachment on the Kitchenaid. For this, you must remove the blade/round hole (that chops the meat/vegies) and return the internal driver that rotates the food. You will then attach the nozzle.
  7. Place the casing end on the nozzle.
  8. Stuff the top of the Kitchenaide with food, turn on the speed to medium and the sausage will start spouting out.

Tip–you need to ‘squeeze the air’ out of the sausage about every four inches (about one finger length). Not all the way through-but mid-way through the stuff sausage. This also helps push the sausage down the length of the casing. If you stuff the sausage too full, it will break and tear, causing a mess and ruining the sausage. It’s better to have a bit of air than none at all.

Tip #2. Use strips of sausage about 18 inches. Anything shorter is hard to manage and any longer gets cumbersome. Think of the old gangster movies where sausages are dangling in a cold freezer next to the dead guy. That’s about the length you want. (I’m so ghetto).

West on West: a must read for type As

I don’t watch basketball. I don’t care about basketball. Yet, I found myself purchasing a book with basketball as its main theme last Saturday, and had completed the thing by Sunday before church. It is West by West, by Jerry West, a man I’d never heard of in my life (when I ask Rog what he thinks of Jerry West he says “one of the greatest hoop players of all time. The NBA logo is modeled after him.”) Indeed.

Reality is that I was getting my weekly dose of the publishing world by reading Publishers Weekly as I was sweating out the after effects of attending a new restuarant opening in Seattle the night before. Like all aspiring authors (aspiring denoted by the lack of a book that has reached any bestseller list), I read PW for hope and inspiration that one day, in my lifetime, I’ll see my name within it’s pages. In the front of the weekly, two sections capture my attention. The first is the deal section (who is getting paid how much for what), and the second is the review section.

I’m about to turn the page because I see what I instantly categorize as ‘yet another boring biography by a former athlete I’ve never heard of,’ when I read the snippet from PW. It’s beyond glowing. I think the reviewer nearly had a personal moment when writing the review. Since I rarely read reviews from PW infused with this type of love, I go to the amazon kindle store, see the hard cover price is nearly $30, and the kindle price is about half. Sold.

The book didn’t disappoint. The writing style is raw, like the man himself apparently is in real life. The subtitle includes the word tormented for a reason, for West was a product of an unemotional, abusive home full of children his parents could barely afford or properly love. Already sensitive and withdrawn, West becomes moreso when his older brother is killed in Vietnam. Turning inward, West devotes his attention to an object: in this case, a round ball, and it becomes his life and his means out of a home he wants to leave but then can’t stand to stay away (for long). His cracked psyche manifests itself in perfectionism, a man who can’t appreciate the good because it is foreever overshadowed by the bad. This hurts himself, his wife, even the women who he slept with outside his marriage, but as he himself writes, was unable to be okay with who he was.

This alone is not what makes the book interesting, (nor was it the basketball stories, though the ones he includes had a nice balance of factoids mixed with interesting human sidenotes. Even the men I didn’t know about came alive in the scenes described). I recommend this book because it gives light to the fragility of elite players at any level–high school, college, and the pros. Elite players– lets call them life competitors, share unique traits. To understand and nurture an individual blessed with the talent, drive and ego (or lack thereof) is hard a hard task to accomplish. As West graduated from player to basketball executive, his understanding of the personalities in this arena served him (and the LA Lakers well).

I recommend West by West as a cannon for anyone person who works with, for, is married to, or is in fact, in the category of a competitive, Type A personality. The ego, drive, insecurities and challenges don’t end with the clock. That’s just the beginning. West knows that now, five kids, two marriages, umpteen decades after he started his journey. Reading about it is worth the $15.

Healthy Party Appetizer-Scallops & Prosciutto skewers

Halloween in Cartegena, sans alligator

In my world, fall means I get to have fun for three solid months, commencing with the first leaf that hits to the ground to the moment the New Year’s Eve celebration ends. Halloween is the first milestone, and I’ve been off-line in pre-spooky, spooky and now post-spooky take down efforts. I did notice a spike in traffic from, of all places, Columbia, and I wondered…do our Columbian friends celebrate Halloween? Indeed. The first pic that came up was one from Cartegena, a city that will forever be embedded in my mind from Romancing the Stone…where the bad guys purrss….Carte..heeeeeennnnnaaaahhhh, before feeding a piece of meat to a pet alligator. (According to my  mother, this is going to be stuck in my brain long after I can’t remember my own name).

With that preamble, let me get to the gist of this blog, and the second major theme during the fall to NYE celebratory experience. Parties. Yes, all things that are good and delish are from, or at, parties. Not all food must be bad for the bod. This is one.

What I love….about this app is that it’s very fast, very easy, & has limited ingredients. (Furthermore, I think a certain mysticism surrounds crab and scallops when served at home–as in, people rave. I suspect it’s because both are generally overpriced at restaurants, so guests feel as though they are getting something very special when served at a dinner party).

Ingredients
Coconut oil*
1 pound scallops (or 2 pounds at Costco for $20-frozen/large).
1 box prosciutto
1 lemon
Toothpicks (or fun app stick)
Salt, Mrs. Dash seasoning or Hungarian paprika (or all of the above)

Preparation
Unthaw scallops, pat dry
Spread a bit of oil on the cookie sheet, sprinkle your favorite seasoning on top of the oil & lemon
Wrap a thin bit of prosciutto around the scallop
Slide on the metal skewer
Roll the finished skewers in the oil and seasoning mix (you can also shake on to the skewer–personal preference)
Place in convection oven for 2-5 minutes depending on the size of the scallop (you may want to turn once if you can)
Remove from the oven, cool slightly
Slide to serving tray, add toothpicks and serve

*Great served warm or even cold. I serve with a dash of wasabi sauce which is awesome.

*By now, you should have this as a part of your pantry. Pick up the stuff in a spray can and also the unrefined coconut oil at your local health food supermarket. It truly adds to the flavor of most dishes.

Preparing the cookie sheet
Thin slices of prosciutto
Wrapping the scallop


placing the scallop on the skewer–flat edge is easiest to prevent tearing

After I’ve rolled the scallops in the sauce on the sheet

On a standard dishware–my guests were already here-so I skipped the toothpick part since
they started grabbing them straight from this plate!! (Sheesh–the nerve!)

My favorite sauce for cooked seafood apps- Wasabi Finishing Sauce from Waterfront

NW Salmon Dinner

You may not live in the Northwest or even ever travel here but no matter. You can get a salmon, fix it up in 5 minutes (are you noticing a trend in my life w/this 5 min thing), and serve an impressive feast. The side dishes take @40 min to prepare, but the result is an authentic Northwest meal.

Side note: do you ever have dinner parties? Even when times are good and pockets flush, dining in has the benefit of no interuptions, getting to know another couple or two and being in a relaxed atmosphere. This presumes no kids of course, if it’s an adult thing, but now, more than ever, consider staying rather than going out. There is something really personal about opening our home to another couple–our way of saying…’we like you enough and are trusting you to come in to our home.’ Just consider it.

I took this in a hurry so sorry it’s not perfect.
The salmon is on top of the cilantro-rice (left) and asparagus/muschroom
risotto on right. Not that it’s not evenly placed. This is on purpose. Some women
were vegan, and don’t want the salmon part. By doing this, you can feed both
meat eaters but others can just take the risotto or the rice.

Last mo (on a Friday), I made 1 quarter of this for a veteran TV personality and her executive husband (a salmon afficionado) and the next day, made another quarter salmon for 12 women who came to the home for a spa day. This is the step by step….

  

The meal
King Salmon (a quarter will do)
Mushroom and asparagus risotto (both optional)
Fresh corn and cilantro rice
Asparagus
*I’ll post these other items separately so it will show on blog subject listings

This family recipe has passed down from forefathers long dead. It works on any salmon.

Ingredients
2 lemons (more to garnish)
Dash (or mixed herbs)
1 large sweet onion
Dash seasoning
Raw coconut oil (not liquid. It’s solid, usually found in the speciality aisle. I use this alot so get it)

Process

  • Debone first then set aside.
  • Line a lipped cookie sheet with tinfoil (lipped= it has sides, not flat, in case the juices seep out)
  • Take 1 lemon, cut in half. Squeeze the juice from a half on the tinfoil
  • Thinly slice the onion, arrange half on the tinfoil as well
  • Take your Dash seasoning (a fast version of salt, lemon peel and other spices) and sprinkle on on the tinfoil
  • Scoop about 3 tablespoons of the coconut oil and spread on the backside of the salmon. Add a scattering of Dash on it.
  • Flip over (this is the side without the skin!) repeat (spread @3 tbls of coconut oil on the fish. Note-the oil is rather hard since its pressed. you may have to use the flat side of a knife. that’s ok. won’t hurt the fish). Add the Mrs. Dash
  • Thinly slice the remaining onion and spread on the salmon.
  • Slice the lemon and place on top of the onions (randomly. the goal is to have the natural juices from both onion and lemon seap in to the fish).
  • Give the entire thing a smattering of kosher salt. While you won’t eat the lemons once done, the onions have a lovely flavor.
  • Take a sheet of tinfoil and match to the edge of the existing tinfoil.
  • Wrap and fold all four sides allowing no air
  • Place in convection bake for @10-15 minutes. This totally depends on the size of the salmon. Don’t overcook. If that means you have to take it out after 10 min, do so, gently unwrapping the tinfoil (I can usually do this with my fingers. Tinfoil is nice that way).
    • A helpful hint…when the salmon “cracks” then it’s overdone. You want it to ‘lift’ or slightly spread but when it cracks, it’s like an overbaked brownie and is dry and hard.
Straight from the boat and Rog’s wet fishing outfit to home

This is a half of the 22.5 lb salmon. I cut in in quarters. For this recipe, I used a quarter salmon and it fed 12 women (with some leftover)

Preparing the sheet for the salmon

The white is a coconut oil. Looks gross but makes all the difference in the world. In fact, I repeated this meal a second
night for friends from out of town–the husband is a salmon freak. He said it was the best salmon he’d had in years–and wanted to know “the secret.” It’s the coconut oil. Trust me. It makes for a juicy, flavorful fish.
Adding the onions, lemons and seasoning

Fold down the tinfoil edges

All folded up and ready to go.
Again–I use 400 convection bake. You can use whatever you want–I just like the speed and even
cooking capabilities of my convection bake

For the finished product….

Let the salmon cool a bit–about 5 minutes


Forgot to note–I made the rice (on left) and mushroom asparagus risotton (right)
I placed it in front to transfer the salmon

Admittedly, my presentation was lame– (people were already eating when i snapped this)….

Last call for Halloween

It’s a Saturday night and I ain’t go nobody…oh wait. I’m definitely not a man stuck in a 1970’s doo-loop with Cat Stevens, but it sure feels like it. As ‘the man’ plays Gears of War, P-dog sleeps and I enter on my fourth hour of writing the sequel in my time-travel adventure, I’m burned out. So what do I do? I get spooky of course. And nothing says spooky like a….spooky halloween tree. Ever one to give advice for an party (kids or adults), here’s the 15 minute, $sub-$50 dollar decoration sure to get you compliments.

The raw material. Cowboy tree is
temporarily hitting the range.

Start with a tree. Any tree will do, real or fake. If you have a fake one in the garage (or 18, like my cousin who decorates all of them in different themes for Christmas–yes, she has a sickness), or modify a overgrown fica plant, don’t matter. Just get it. (I started w/the tree I’ve left up all year long in our dining room out of sheer laziness. I did however, try to remove most of the cowboy ornaments, since this is my designated ‘cowboy tree.’ yeah. go on. say it. I’ve lost my way).

Orange lights

Stream it with orange lights that can be had at Target for $3 bucks. I purchased 8 streams last year, this year, 3 were dead on arrival. 5 worked just fine. (side note: I thought I lost my mind in buying so many until I realized I streamed quite a few around the perimeter of my living room on the uplit section).

Gauze in grey and black–
wrapped another line on the bottom
after I took this shot

Get gauze from your party store, or, if you’re going to be totally cheap about it, get some netting, dye it grey or black, rip it up and then start placing it back and forth in random patterns.

I spent $8 bucks on the a scary stream of ornaments. This skeleton string was from the local party store. It featured all kinds of ghouls, but also less frightening things like pumpkins.

spooky ghouls

The time it took eased my mind, released the tension in my fingers and gave me a renewed sense of vigor to go write about the taking and giving of souls through divine intervention (sorry. I have to be vague or the movie studio will freak). In any case, ghoul on. All the while, sing…It’s a Saturday night, and I aint got nobody…and channel your inner Cat.

Trunk or Treats: the free, fun family activity

For the last few years, I’ve avoided bringing up the Trunk or Treat phenomena to Rog, he of the “I-won’t be-caught-dead-in-the-church-parking-lot,” until we drove by one last year. It happened to be on the right, in the lot of a new Baptist church that resembles a modern red barn, with big beams, metal siding and really cool downlight that shines on the empty space formerly occupied by berries. (I have no problem with Baptists btw. I just wish they could have left the blackberries, since a local family of bears–mamma and 2 cubs– feast roadside year after year).

In any case, the Trunk or Treat was packed. For those uninformed, it’s a kid-version of a tailgating party, where everyone gets dressed up, and the car, or “trunks” are decked out like a Macy’s Day Halloween party gone spooky. Seriously. Men in particular, go nuts putting in coffins with sounds, grey cloud-like mists billowing from half-cracked doors and twirling lights. The lighter versions feature graveyards or ghouls, all with candy in every direction.

“What’s that?” Rog asks. I reluctantly tell him, waiting for him to spew some evil on the notion of trick or treating at a church. “That looks great!” he says, wondering aloud why we weren’t going. Before I have a chance to kick myself, he then says, “too bad your church doesn’t do cool stuff like that. I’d actually go.”

Wha….??? I don’t know who I want to kill first. Him for saying such blasphemy, or me for being too chicken to ask him.

At that point, I take off my gloves and give him the low-down on Trunk-or-Treating parties, finishing with “all the churches have them. Even schools and non-profits!” Around here, nearly every high school, junior high school, church and sometimes even community centers have the things. It’s particularly popular when Halloween night falls on a school night, and the parents don’t want to be out late. Furthermore, the haul of candy one recieves is HUGE. Some of these fallafal-selling-big-box-churches have lots the size of the Seattle Seahawks stadium, and are probably more full to boot! Making a trip around the safe confines of a TorT, especially when you know the folks, is awesome.

This year, Halloween is once again on a school night, and I just got the invite for our TorT on Saturday, 10/29, 5:30-7:30 (family friendly times indeed, thereby leaving the rest of the evenings to be enjoyed by adults). I for one, am very excited. I’ve started mapping out the neighborhood TorT’s, determined to hit every station with the zeal and enthusiasm of hitting the high-density suburbs for the highest candy yield. No, wait….this is for the kids……the kids…

2 for Heaven….

“I’m in the Boise airport, my flight delayed because both Grandparents passed away…” Yipes! This is how the email from my flame-haired voice teacher began. I note the time: it was very late, this last Sunday night. “They’d been married 70 years,” the note continued, “and passed away within 10 minutes of one another.”

Whoa. I believe in Karma and all things universal, but I ask you this (those of you that are non-karma-believing-non-universal-type folks who still read my blog), don’t you think this is more than fate? Something beyond coincidence? For the cynics (who shall not be named) no, they weren’t in a car wreck nor did they suffer side-by-side streaker-induced heart attacks.

For a moment, I’m going to pretend I’m important enough to pen an essay for This I Believe (hey, if my writing can’t get in to the Smithsoanian, I can at least pretend).

I believe in an Afterlife.
I believe we have spirits inside us that live beyond our physical bodies.
I believe the Great Beyond rewards good people by allowing them to die in their sleep.
I believe a couple who has lived and loved for 70 years is loved even more by God above.
I believe that couple didn’t want to be apart more than 10 minutes.
I believe they gave each other a hug on the other side, and did a happy-dance in their youthful, spirit bods.
Furthermore…
I believe I’ve got my work cut out for me if I want to be married 57 more yrs.
I believe if I do, I’ll be 100 years old.
I believe I don’t want to live to be 100.
And finally…
I believe I’m thankful to know people who come from such good souls. Good stock breeds good stock.

5 min to Perfect Eye makeup

Pre-make-up. Red and a little uneve. (ignore my hair eyebrows
in need of a plucking. And yes, the eyelashes r real. thx mom)

“I’ve had enough,” said Melanie, my go-to makeup person for all things beauty. “I can’t take your bad make-up any more.” (To refresh, I hired Melanie from the Internet, finding her from Model Mayhem originally for a halloween party 2 yrs ago. She was so great, I then hired her for various charity events-doing the make-up of others– when she finally spoke her mind). Was I affronted? Nope. I didn’t even care. Ever since departing the great state of California for the netherworld of Washington, which is as far from fashion as one can get and still retain credibility, make-up has not been a priority. Covered under the hat, which is protected from a hood and then kept dry by and umbrella, what make-up is left after a rainstorm is completely irrelevant.

Step 1-undereye prep

“You should care,” she continued, affirming that everyone (including some men) desparately need some makeup. She offers to prove it to me, since I am not inclined to take the time or pay for someone to tell me how to apply make-up that I no longer want to spend money on. 

Step 1a-tap undereye. Don’t stroke side to side. Stretches the
skin. Yes, that old wives tale is true.

“You’ll see,” she says prophetically. Finally, after several months of dithering, I relent.

Necessary tool–keeps your products
clean, steril & your face free from
grubbies that bite

“You look beauuutiful,” coos my daughter. My husband is speechless. The dog growls. I’ve succeeded in transforming what has become my fleece-ensconced dowdy self into a person that is still in fleece, but I look slightly better, at least from the neck up. Here it is, in all it’s glory.

Guideposts that I told Melanie before commencing:
1. don’t apply anything I can’t buy from a store close by (e.g. a Nordstrom or Mac counter)
2. don’t apply it in anyway I can’t replicate
3. don’t do anything on me that takes more than 5 minutes.

Step 2 Painterly pot from Mac

She was giddy like a schoolgirl. “Of course! Of course!,” said she of the fantastical movie-studio make-up application. “If I can do it in a windstorm in Alaska in less than 5 and make a high-maintenance actress look great, I can do it on you!”

Step 2a Painterly using tool

Melanie asked me to bring what I had in order to show me what could and could not be done, and the difference. To Melanie’s great surprise, I had nearly all the brushes, and even a few of the items from Mac (and other vendors). The good news? The make-up can all be had at Mac (now, I’m talking women like me–caucasion– since that’s all I can speak to of course), same for the brushes. But others should do.

Step 3a swipe paint on wrist. again,
keeps pot sanitary

Tip? Get someone with an aesthetician’s license or something so you can get 40% off.

Women, you are once again the beneficiary of the pitty that my make-up artist friend had on me when she couldn’t take it anymore. In 5 minutes, you can go from looking like a she-devil (me in the am) to having perfect looking skin that is rather natural. Before you read on and look at the pics, cut me some slack. I haven’t had my eyebrows done in forever. That’s the next step in this eternal process of beautification.

Step 3b putting on Painterly (I use my finger)

Step 3b after Painterly-note the difference!
Step 4- ‘Mushroom’– use a brush, apply to “set” the creme.
Applying this powder ensures it stays 12+ hrs

Note–Mushroom by Mac is an eye powder. Didn’t bother with a pic. The color is not supposed to be dramatically different–and it’s not. It’s natural complexion color in my case.

Step 5- Another Mac Pot– Brown

Step 5a Use a flat, diagonal edge
brush.

Tap the top and get a clean
line. Hold the edge of the eye.
Start from inner eye and draw across and
over. Lift the corner up 45 degrees.

Step 5-post liner. You are almost done w/the eyes

I’m going to pause here and point out something else. Note the eye with the liner. The eyelashes are now darker, and this is because I darkened the top, naturally blond with the tip of the eyeliner lash. Many artists use the mascara, but I don’t like this method. It’s goopy, no matter how nice the mascara (even the ever preferred Mabelline). Instead, use the top and brush it lightly across.

Step 6 Mascara application. See the difference?

Now that the upper eye is done, I’m going to work on the lower/under eye area. Start with the concealer. The primer is now set and ready to hold the cream concealer.

Step 7 Under eye concealer. Put on the wrist again.

Step 7a after under eye concealer

Step 8-Foundation.

A note here. Foundation from Mac is good (I’ve used all types-Dior, Chanel, etc). Bottom line-they are all a bit too heavy for my light complexion. It ends up looking a bit thick, but Melanie introduced me to what the pro’s use. 2 different pro foundations that she mixed for me.

Step 8a-Foundation mixed

This is ths mixed foundation. I did the mixing prior, 80/20 light over dark.

Step 8b Foundation on the wrist

Step 8c-Foundation on one-half of my face, like Dr Jekyl &
Mr. Hyde (oh, and I fixed my right eye to even it out)
Step 9- Powder-using powder brush

Step 9a-Flat stroke (remember to tap the brush on a surface
like your wrist to dislodge clumps (yes, powder can get
on clumps on the brush)
Full face after powder.

Pausing here….did you pick up on the face I didn’t bother put on any eye-crease darkener (between upper and main lids?), nor did I use bottom liner or put mascara on my eyelashes? Given the length of my eyelashes, and how dramatic such a simple application could be, Melanie told me to stop looking like Chuckee (as in, Stephen King’s Chuckee) and forgo any bottom color. I agree.

Tip: When I want to go natural (yet clean and fresh) all I do is skip the liner. The benefit of an upper lip liner, according to Mel, is that it “brightens” the eyes, In other words, I look more awake. Not having the upper liner means I look a bit more natural.

The last thing to add then is bronzer. I have been skipping bronzer for years. Let’s see if you can tell the difference.

Step 10. Bronzer by Mac. Note the brush. It’s much thicker
than the powder brush.
Step 10a- Added the bronzer and Lips (we’ll do the lips in another blog)
Can you tell the difference?

The last step now is the blush. Like bronzer, I’ve not been bothering with blush forever. I mean seriously, what’s the point. Thankfully, Melanie told me I was an idiot, and showed me the way.

Mac Pallet–it’s flat and magnetic on the bottom

This pallet has a bit of everything–Mel loaded me up with
a few blushes, some brown, white and blue eyeshadow.

A side note on this, pallets can be found on Amazon and alot of other places. You can then stock them full of a lot of little colors. Check it out. It’s sooo much cheaper than buying the colors of the season–well, I recant. You should have both. The basics and then the fun, in season colors.

And…the final product. All these steps go really fast, believe it or not. I timed myself and it wasn’t even 5 minutes.

Final effort– can you believe the difference
5 minutes can make?

Summary Steps-15 steps to a perfectly non-made-up looking made up face!

Prep:wash and apply sunblock

  1. apply lower lid prep
  2. apply upper lid-Mushroom
  3. apply upper lid liner (if desired)
  4. apply eyelash darkener (or mascara) to top of eyelash
  5. apply eyelash mascara
  6. apply under eye concealer
  7. apply foundation around face
  8. apply transluscent powder
  9. apply bronzer
  10. apply blush

The lipliner etc will be in another blog.

Men, don’t despair. In fact, you should read this blog for the very reason you like to look a woman with nice eye-makeup. Be a good man. Go buy your woman the list of products on this list and surprise her with the printout. She’d be so thrilled you are such an aware, sensitive male. (If you want to make it really easy, use a gift card. That’s even better).

Product list for all light-skinned women (dark skinned and other–same basic steps but different products).

Mac Primer
Mac Painterly Pot
Mac brown (I also have a black as a side note for evenings)
Mascara
Visiora foundation(s)
Visiora powder
Mac bronzers….I couldnt find the orange container on line. Perhaps this is something only sold at the Mac Pro store…I’ll ask Mel and get back.

Men–go get this for your best girl. Girls–have fun!!

Behind the smile

Scrapbooking is not my thing. Art class wasn’t my academic highlight. To curb the pain that accompanies my act of divine love for my daughter (e.g. putting basic photos with doilies on a colored piece of paper) I balance the torture by watching things like Live Free and Die Hard. Somehow, the thumping sound of an automatic, high-powered rifle with a silencer going spit-spit-spit as the car flies through the air, hitting the helicopter and downing the bad guys makes the time go faster. Before I know it, I’ve used up the photos on the table and go sorting throught the next batch to select the chosen few that will be immortalized by my permanent, invisible tape and uneven cutting.

My hands linger on a 4×6 photo of a trim, blond-haired woman in khaki pants and black, v-neck sweater standing at the far end of my dining room. Behind her are hanging spiders and a witch in the corner, a black and purple cat purched in the windows, and cobwebs covering much of the walls. The table is full of food, and I can even make out the appetizers carefully laid out, pumping platters next to red casserole dishes.

Tears well in my eyes, the hurting in my chest nothing to do with me or my life, but hers. She is smiling, her head tilted slighty to the left, serenely allowing me to take her picture. The event was a holiday shower, the guest, a young woman who had desired the holiday theme. She wasn’t in the picture. Only this woman, who was putting on a front for the camera, for behind the smile, her husband of 22 years had announced he was leaving her and their four children.

At the time, I had no idea. The photo was taken a year ago October. My understanding didn’t occur until this past July, when a group of mom’s and daughters went for a hike. My daughter was overly young, but this woman had ok’d us coming. I had to leave early, and she did too, so we walked down the mountain together. As is the case with me, she opened up and learned the story. Now, a year later from the time of the photo, (nearly to the day), I look back with the grace, the fortitude, and the front this woman put up to the world. That was how long it took for the couple to work out the living arrangements, the money, sharing the kids. One thing that wasn’t worked out was their marriage.

It’s really not important to share the details. What struck me about the photo tonight is that a person (she) can look lovely and smile, creating an impression her world was perfect. Perhaps it was at one time. Even when it ended, she kept up the front, as she did at my home, surrounded by two dozen women. I’ll continue to look at photos of friends, neighbors, acquaintances. For most, I’ll never know what’s behind the smile.

Stories from the waiting line…

Once upon a time, my public outtings were free of clutter and pollution, a well of mental purity, unsullied by the unsolicited comments from strangers. Not so anymore. Nowadays, stepping outdoors means being on the receiving end of a one-way flow of information, the kind that a stranger on a plane will give because he (or she) knows you will never again run in to one another, so you are perfectly safe place to dump all sorts of burdensome information. Let me give you an example.

Last Thursday, I’m sitting in a public place, waiting for my name to be called after I have dutifully taken a number. To my left is a large man studiously reading the local paper. To my right is an empty chair that remains vacant for about thirty seconds until a well-dressed woman takes a seat. She’s thin, early sixties, short, blond hair in a v-cut, fashionably touching her brown and gold leopard print shirt. Her left hand is void of a wedding ring, but adorned with the nice, thick metal watch. Her leather shoes are polished and appropriately narrow for the 2011-2012 fashion season. I’m tapping away on my iphone, virtually conversing with my friends who are equally happy to spend their time getting thumb callouses when she begins to speak to me.

“I’ve never been in here,” she half-whispers, embracing me as a temporary confidant. My first time as well, I say, looking up long enough to notice her face is tan, smooth save for a few age-given lines. Divorced mother of two or three grown children, maybe a first time grandma I hypothesize. I continue typing. “My oldest son is getting married soon,” she continues (I inwardly preen), “and I gave him my wedding ring for his second wife.” I have two thoughts. The first is that the woman is determined to tell me her life story. The second is that I might as well listen. People’s lives are far more interesting than my own, and what the heck. I’m a writer. I like to listen.

“It’s worth $25,000,” she tells me. “It has six diamonds scattered in gold metal chunks…” yadee yedee yadaa She’s not worried I’m going to stalk and rob her. . I visualized a ring fit for Liberace. I’m far more interested in whether or not her soon-to-be daughter in law thought it was as ugly as it sounded.

“Did he like it or get offended?” I boldly ask. She enthusiastically tells me she floated the idea to her son, referencing the ring in her vault.

“She told me ‘that’s pure love.'” Sounded more like Mom got pragmatic. I calculated the odds. Second marriage. 30+ yr old fiance. 50-50. “She had it resized and loves it.”

I turn back to my phone, slightly disappointed the story ended at that point. I shouldn’t have worried. She started in again on the next thing. Her recent job offer (to another division of a local company), a promotion from one executive position to another. This woman wasn’t hurting, at least not financially.

“In the middle of it all, I feel this lump in my belly—this big,” holding up her clenched fist in the air. I put down my iphone. Her OB tells her its nothing. “I had a hysterectomy, and everything falls you know.” No, I tell her, trying to hold back the revolting feeling that graduates up my inerds, I didn’t. “Yeah, it all sort of drops since nothing is there to hold it in. Your kidneys, sometimes your liver.” I ask her if it hurt, and if they figured it out. With her hand still raised in the air, she triumphantly annouces that she got to the bottom of it.

“It was my rectum!” she says, “this big!” pointing to her closed fist with her other hand. “It was at the bottom of my vagina.” Did—wait–did she just say that, in the middle of a public place?

At that point, my name was called, which was a good thing. I had no words. I had no air. I had to leave, without hearing the rest of the story. I have no fear the next story I receive from another random stranger will be just as interesting.

Book review: The enduring attraction of Zane Grey

About 2 weeks ago, I found myself in a dark room, sitting in a massively plush chair, a director to my left, a producer to my right, watching a big screen of a soon-to-be released movie as the two of them and a third digital technician color corrected the film. This time-consuming process is fasincating, clicking back and forth between stills to correct bad lighting. It’s set in the 1920’s and the props were old, authentic and specific to the time. In a corner of the screen, I noticed a familiar red and tan cover, and asked the director if it were a Zane Grey novel. She was impressed. She thought I was too young and frankly, her tone indicated her opinion of my level of literary sophistication. But yes, she acknowledged, it was a Zane Grey. Her attitude jolted me to the wonderful memories of the books. That night, I pulled one of my favorite’s off the shelf and began reading.

Before the era of the undead, non-fornicating human-mystical creature trend took hold, author Zane Grey pioneered the art of the build up between regular men and women. Grey wrote an anthology of westerns and 110 of his books have been adapted to films. Grey’s life was as interesting as his books, as he was a minor league baseball player, dentist and unrepentant ladies man before (and after) he decided to devote his attention to writing.

When his wife’s inheritence provided a cushion for Grey to write full time, he did, turning out dozens of western’s, starting a craze in the early 20th century. His most famous novel is Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), but I have my own favorites. I’ll share 2, and the reasons why they are timeless classics.

As a youth, my summers were spent on a relatively remote California lake. In between fishing, waterskiing and generally making noise w/my siblings, I’d sunbath, reading one of the forty Zane Grey books on my mother’s bookshelf. The books were were already faded and worn from her many read-throughs, and my Grandmother’s before her. The unique, red linen covers with their tan spines frayed, in some instances, the spine had separated.

I was not immediately captivated by the slow start–few have plotlines that jump from the first page–more like page 50, but the writing hooked me enough to keep me going. In West of the Pecos, one of my favorites, a young girl from the South goes West with her father after he loses his fortune (and his wife) in the war. Needing the help of a boy on his journey, and fearful for his daughter’s safety in the wild west, the father dresses the girl like a boy. This charade works for for a few years after her father’s death, about until the time she hits late teens, hires (and reforms) a handsome cowboy and gets herself kidnapped. (Robert Mitchum starred in the movie).

When I was thirteen, the story was all the adventure, excitement, pent-up romantic tension and fulfilling ending I could have wanted. When I finally succumbed to peer pressure and read a few of the recently popular series (Twilight, Hunger Games etc) along with my standard James Patterson and Ludlum reprises, I realized an odd thing: the Zane Grey was equally exciting, free of bad language (I may use bad language but honestly, I don’t want to read it. Swearing in general, brings me down, and on the page it somehow shouts at me which I find distracting) and as cool in its own way as anything modern.

Another simliarity is the absence of sex. The romantic build up is as much a part of the story as some of the aforementioned popular books, and let’s face it. Romantic plotlines are always more rewarding when the lead-up is long, interesting and fraught with the push and pull of ‘will they or won’t they get together.’ Zane acquired the technique of flowing dialogue and rich, well-written antagonists (bad guys and gals). Apparentlly much of the credit goes to his long-suffering wife Dolly, who traded a monogamous relationship for a huge mansion and lots of cash. But whatever. We all make choices in this life, and hers had a hugely positive effect on Grey’s writing.

Light of the Western Stars.

“She was tired of fashionable society. She was tired of polished, imperturbable men who sought only to please her. She was tired of being feted, admired, loved, followed, and importuned; tired of people; tired of houses, noise, ostentation, luxury. She was so tired of herself! &quote;

A rich girl goes west, gets a clue, falls in love, never goes back to the East. It’s awesome. The book is so old it’s also in the public domain, so it can be had for cheap on the Kindle. I could only spirit a couple of the books from the cabin, leaving the other 38 on the shelf for the next generation to read. In fact, my mother may flip when she realizes I have 2, but I couldn’t help it. Grey is a classic. If you have Austen, Tolkien or even dare I add contemporary authors to that list, you must have a few Zane Grey’s.

Combatting Stinky hair, dry scalp & no wash-shampoos

It’s Wednesday–a day for beauty and working out, but I’ve got stinky hair on my mind. Isn’t it awful when you are standing in a line and are assaulted by a foul smell, one reminiscent of stale cigarettes or that musty, funky odor that occurs when one hasn’t bathed? Women are particularly guilty of not washing the hair for days, overlaying one stink with another, believing that a nice hairspray or perfume will mask the fact that the hair is simply dirty.

Let’s be clear. Oils on the hair attract odor like flies on paper, and is just about as attractive. Nothing cuts through a possible amorous interlude than stinky hair, even with one’s spouse. Eeeewwwww. The good news is hair I know what the campers and hikers are thinking–‘you can’t help it in the wild.’ Not true. Even in the wild, stinky hair can be helped.

JASON Natural Cosmetics Dandruff Relief Shampoo, Rosemary, Neem & Tea Tree, 12 OuncesStinky hair culprits: smoking, overuse of hair oils (for shine and smoothing), men’s hair gels, hairspray, camping, living by a compost, exhaust fumes….

Common excuses for washing hair daily (or more than several times a week)…

  1. styling (women pay good money to have a blow-out once a week, why throw the money away)…
  2. camping (no water)
  3. dry scalp. A subject in and of itself. 
  4. drying the ends of the hair
I spoke with my fabulous hair and make-up guru who has worked on thousands of heads of hair. I also consulted another professional stylist and this is what they had to say:
Styling. If you are going to sacrifice looks for smell, you aren’t left with a lot of choices. Anti-hair smell products like the Neutrogena Anti-resiDue Shampoo only works when you use it. The stylists I spoke with like this to give the hair a “good cleaning” once or twice a month. A fair amount of enlightened men get pedicures once a month to deep clean their scruff paws. They need to do the same with their hair.
Camping. This area of hair advancement has undergone revolutionary changes in the last few years. All sorts of waterless hair shampoo, from TRESemme Waterless Foam ($7 bucks), No Rinse Shampoo ($9 bucks) and my fav for the folicly challenged, the Sexy Hair Big Sexy Hair Volumizing Dry Shampoo ($10).
Dry scalp. the Jason Natural Cosmetics Dandruff Relief shampoo w/rosemary, Neem and Tea Tree oil works great. I won’t reveal who used this and had great success, so you’ll have to trust me. However, the downside is it has a rather pungent smell itself, like mentholatum, tho the rosemary is intended to mask this. A different solution? Years ago, when I was in my teens, a hairdresser noticed I had lots of dandruff and he said this:
“You need to dry the scalp better when you are blowing out your hair. It’s the moisture that’s left on the scalp that causes the oils to create and increase the dandruff.” Because my hair is extraordinarily thick, my problem was multiplied. He also recommended I use less shampoo on my scalp and more on the ends. Sure enough, when I started drying my hair at the scalp, the dandruff was dramatically reduced. I went further and cut back on the volume of shampoo I used as well, and this pretty much cleared up the problem.
Dry Ends. This common excuse is done away with by eating more Omega 3 oils or eating fish. The hair and skin show what you put in your body, not just what you put on your hair. 
And one final tip. If you are stuck on the plane, in the middle seat, and have a neighbor with stinky hair, you could always open your computer and do a search on the subject. Or would that be rude?

Stealing Rembrandt-Fast, interesting read

Since I’ve been asking others to review my books, I should return a universal favor and post a review or two myself. But let’s be clear. No one (author, agent or other self) has actually asked for my opinion. I’m giving it up for free, so that establishes the weight of my opinion in the world of literati. My only qualification is I read several books a week.

Great book-4.5 stars. Fast, interesting
read of art heists, solutions and lots of
factoids. Read this and sound interesting at
your next cocktail party.

For my 4 day vaca this summer (3 days of rain + 1 afternoon of sun) I chose Stealing Rembrandt. On the surface, a truly boring subject–art heists. Yet I like ‘heisty-type’ movies (that was a Sarah-don-king-ism), like The Italian Job, and for three days in a row, I was pelted with new reports, an interview on the radio and then a replay of same. The author gave great soundbites (the thieves weren’t brilliant, they were ballsy) and I liked the factoids (Rembrandt is the most stolen art) and a person in Sammamish Washington (a stones throw away on the ‘plateau’ for locals) actually owned one that got swiped. More fascinating to me were the stories of reclaiming the pieces, how the wealthy don’t report thefts, and how many museums actually pay the blood money to get the art back. What a racket! I had to read it.

I got the Kindle, download the book moments before we went a-trailering, and read by flashlight when the lights from the campfire dwindled. It took two days of soaking up most every word (I admit to skipping some of the boring details of art) but overall, I enjoyed learning about the art in a reporter-style writing. It was informative without being cumbersome. The best aspect of Stealing Rembrandt was the MI6-James Bond-meets Robert Ludlum approach in the narrative. This is due to the co-authors. The informative part was from the head of security for the Gardner Museum of Art and his co-author, an investigative reporter. The editor(s) did a nice job balancing the two. Only once or twice did I have to resort to skipping over art-professor sections. Now I can speak intelligently about wood carvings, originals, metal plates and plate making, the period pieces for portraits, how the Dutch led the world for a while in all things monetary and artistic and ultimately, how Rembrandt died pretty much broke. (And FTY, I had no idea his true love died quite young. Why is it so many artists have such tragic personal lives? What a curse. But then, I must not be a true artist. I have a pretty good life, my health, no deaths, but no fame or riches either).

The only complaint I had wasn’t something the authors or editors could do a darn thing about: the lack of more art resolutions. For instance, many of the museums (or private collectors) that had art returned wouldn’t acknowledge how or why. Those that did chose to announce the recovery months or years later (if at all). This is due to the desire to keep thefts (and return money) out of the press. I’m a girl that likes closure, but I understand the issues. The book includes enough resolutions to make it  worthwhile, the most interesting experiences coming from 2 thieves directly, after months of interviews from within (and outside) of jail. Kudos to the authors for the years of work on this thing. I’d definitely recommend it anyone who likes a fast, interesting read (the art is a bonus).

A stranger’s smile

Ever wonder about a stranger smiling your way? Do I have mustard on my cheek? Is my hair all wrong? Does he want to take me to bed? What’s the motivation behind the look.

“None of the above” Rog said, during the most recent instance of being on the receiving end of a stranger’s smile. Besides, he continued, “who cares ‘why’ he did it. It just happened. Smile back and move on.”

By that time, I felt bad I’d not smiled back. For most of my life, I’ve not smiled back. It’s part of my Swedish, shy-and-look-down heritage, compounded by 18 years of ‘don’t talk, look or address’ strangers, followed by the early twenties bra-burning mantra of  “‘if you smile at them, you are ‘asking for it'” that every girl gets when she leaves college and goes out on her own. With that background, of course I’m going to be all screwed up when it comes to the do’s and don’ts of smiling at strangers. Suffice it to say that graceful and me is an oxymoron.

I’ll give you the other side of this sharp-edged sword of facial expressions. The spouse. Ever been with your boy/girlfriend, spouse etc when someone of the opposite sex gives a full-on smile. What does that mean…exactly…and how do you handle it with grace and security? I’ve known many a person of both genders to flip out when a stranger bestows a complimentary smile (or really, any type of smile) in their presence.

“It’s not like every smile is a come-on,” Rog told me years ago, not long after we were married. In addition to worrying about what kind of pasta I was going to make for dinner, I was wasting my time fretting over every Sally (and Joe) casting a sideways glance at my man. It took years (and mostly bigger relationship problems) to get me over the hump of another smiling at my legal and lawful partner. One day, I woke and realized this: if someone else thinks Rog is cute enough to throw a smile his way, good for him. He works out. He eats much better than me, and it golly-gee, if it made him a little happier on his way home, I thank that anonymous stranger from the bottom of my heart, for it’s me and my girls that are ultimate beneficiary.

Let me say this. I’ve spent many years dwelling on the downside of a smile instead of focusing on the upside. That would include a person seeing I look down/having a bad day, and smiling to cheer me up. It may also be that I did in fact, look decent and a smile was an acknowledgement of properly put on make-up. When with children, a smile is often a compliment to my children, or my parenting skills (usually outside Target when the real fun has subsided). Just last Friday, I was emerging from the local public library (the most beautiful library I’ve ever been in btw) and a nineteen-ish young woman with piercings in all the wrong places made a comment on my skirt (she approved) and smiled wide. It was the last thing I expected (As a 40+ woman, I figure I’m invisible to people 2 decades younger than I, so I generally  have no expectations). The smile was out of the blue and wonderful, and the compliment didn’t hurt my ego. I at least have a remnant of style left!

The flipside of receiving a smile is giving one. An interesting topic all on it’s own. When I ceased being ‘small’ (as in, emotionally), I was able to give of myself without insecurity or paranoia about an act that uses more muscles than any other in the body. (As an aside, did you know, smiling also increases the release of endorphins and reduces stress and is reputed to help one live a longer life of better quality than non-smilers?)

For several years, I’ve been practicing the fine art of smiling at strangers, and let me tell you, it works wonders. Today for instance, I accosted two perfectly nice people (a young, married couple) who’d I’d seen before, but always have scowls on their faces so I tend to avoid them. I figured they may be Swedish and frown naturally, as so many of my relatives do. I started with a smile at both of them, and to be honest, she looked like she swallowed her tongue and he jolted, putting his arm around her shoulders. It was rather funny in a sick kind of a way. But then again, I’ve noticed something else. Those smile-affronted are either newly married (as I was, and as they were), and well as young (see previous). An hour later, I had the opportunity to actually talk to the couple. I walked right up, ignored the startled, stalker-looks they had and started chatting. I soon found out they were a) married <1 year, b) expecting a child and c) living in her grandmother’s home. No wonder they were a little shy to outsiders and wierded out about my smile. By the end of the conversation, they were as lively as my own relatives, chatting up about the personal aspects of their life normally reserved for family reunions.

Another group that seriously benefits from a smile are women and old people. Women adore smiles from other women. Why? Because so few women actually smile at other women! It’s a latent insecure, threatened type of attitude. A smile to another woman means you are looking beyond yourself to that individual. I’ve found a beautifual woman with a scowl on her face will completely defy my expectations when I smile and follow it up with a compliment (great shoes), to which the woman will show complete shock then be profusely grateful, as though I’ve made her day. It takes such little effort to lift the spirits of another person. And lets face it. You never know what another is going through–death, divorce, home foreclosure, unruly child, unemployment. It’s the littlest thing that takes no effort and can make all the difference in the world.

So tomorrow is Monday. Greet the day, and complete strangers, with a smile.

Johnny Rockets goes down

What happened to my favorite hamburger joint? Once upon a time, Johnny Rockets was the purist form of culinary fornication. The food at the “international hamburger chain” doesn’t even rate a heartbeat on a human. Yes. It’s that bad.
Check out these pictures. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and I had about an inch and half of bacon, a half of a slice of tomato. All of this, for eight dollars US. The only glimmer of hope was going to be the chocolate shake, extra thick. Does the picture of this chocolate shake look either chocolate or thick? The toast was so toased, this is post-scraping to get the black off.
Date: August 12th, 2010
Location: Kent Station, Kent, Washington
Time: 2:45 PM, PST
Server: great
Food: beyond bad
Now, in the history of this blog, I’ve never trashed a food joint, music venue or rarely anything at all. I think bashing, trashing or otherwise dogging on someone or someplace is evil karma that goes back out to the universe and eventually, will come back to bite me. But I have never, to this day in my 43 yr old life, have I actually gotten so mad after being delivered a meal that I whipped out my phone, took pictures, and am now blogging about it.
For the record, I have been, and used to patron, Johnny Rockets all over the place. Wherever I can find them, and for years, the quality of the food has been declining. The staff are as great as ever, but what’s going on behind the counter? No wonder many connosoiuers of the big beef patty are going straight by, rolling on up to the In and Out Burger for a REAL hamburger, amazingly fresh (everything) and a real shake.
An epilogue to this blog: did I ask for my money back or a re-do. With 2 children under the age of 5 with me? No. Of course not. If they’d been gone, would I have done so? Not even then. When food is as absolutely bad as what I received, I didn’t have the patience or moral fortitude to wait for round 2, and go through the massive disappointment of getting more schlock.
As my friends in San Fran say when they are done, over and out with an item, Buh-Bye.
I’m now going to take a hot shower and stand on my head to cleanse the badness of this experience. Wash-off, wash-off

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
Isn’t that a great title for a book? I took a flyer on the purchase, glancing through the imagery and immediately liking whimsical pictures. Well, that and the sub-title “and other stores you’re sure to like, because they’re all about monsters and some of them are also about food.” What foodie can’t appreciate that?

Now readers of this blog know I never write reviews of other books but this defies my logic. Why bother, think I? So many already exist that my humble opinion isn’t going to sway a person’s purchasing choices. Furthermore, aside from the errant reporter who recently provided me his own book after an interview was over, I’m not solicited for a review or opinion. Frankenstien Makes a Sandwich is so good, I’m taking the time to tell all my readers– buy it. Buy it now. It’s awesomely funny.

Age group begone. This isn’t just for my six year old. As I’m reading about  my 41 yr old husband is piping up in the background “what’s that?” and “that’s crazy!” he continues, before busting up. Some stories mirror a contemporary story mixed with a rhyme, like Phantom of the Opera. Another makes fun of Dracula’s son that has a lame tooth. One of my favorites is “an open letter from Wolfman’s best friend,” about the saga of wolfman’s roommate who is sick and tired of cleaning up after him
“Please just konw, and I’ll happily open the door.
 And if I’m not home please don’t howl anymore.
‘Cause each time you do it, the neighbors complain.
And since we’re complaining, perhaps you’d explain
how you manage to leave
SO MUCH hair in the tub.
I constantly clean it. I scour, I scrub,
and I think I should mention it’s REALLY a pain.
Today I removed a big clog from the drain,
and I tell you, this hair-clog was of SUCH A SIZE,
it could go to a CAT SHOW
AND TAKE HOME FIRST PRIZE.
So…anyway, that’s all I wanted to write.
Please take out the garbage. It’s your turn tonight.

Another favorite is Godzilla Pooped on My Honda, The Phantom of the Opera Can’t Get “It’s a Small World” out of his Head and The Middlewich With-Watchers Club. In between each of the poems are the most amazing drawings of fun types of witches like the Frazzled Warthog and the Speckled Crone or the Long Beaked Harpy.

Every now and then, I come across a book that is so fun, so well written and engaging, I get depressed. “I wish I’d written that,” I say, a whistful sigh that instills in me an overpowering desire to get back to writing something a bit more meaningful. This is one of those books. Adam Rex, you are my idol.