Saving your child from SIDs

When my daughter Porsche was two and a half months old, we had an incident that is every parents worst nightmare. I picked her up out of bed, cradled her in my arms and discovered she wasn’t breathing. I started hyperventilating, then realized I was going to lose both of us if I didn’t apply reason to the situation. In what I refer to as an out of body experience, I went through the options.

1-call Roger. No help. He’d tell me to call 911 and freak out.
2-call the neighbor. See above.
3-call 911. We are 20 min from the closed emergency, fire or police station. She’d be dead.

At that very moment, I had a visual to turn her on her left side and start pounding her back. I laid the little thing on my kitchen counter, cradling her chest with my left hand and used the flat of my right hand to jump start her little heart. As I did, I was crying, telling her to ‘breath again, just breath again.’ It did no good. She remained limp. Another visual appeared, this time, with her on the other side. I immediately flipped her over, and began the thumping with my left hand. A few moments later, she emitted a small cry. I had my baby back.

I held her, wept, then called the doctor.

“That was SIDs,” he said calmly. The emergency over, he took me through one of the most mysterious occurrences science has failed to properly explain or prevent. It’s sleeping on the back…no, it’s sleeping on the stomach….no, it’s only one kind of child….and so on.

Then I called Rog, who started crying on the phone, came home right away and held Porsche for hours.

To quote Bella–of two things I was sure. One, that had I not picked up Porsche at that exact moment in time, she’d be dead. Two, that I was never going to get another moment of rest until she was much older.

After sharing this experience with a few close friends, we decided to keep our mouths shut. As with many things in our lives (that I’m now exposing in this blog), the reactions were generally irritating due to lack of knowledge.

“Try feeding her red peppers before she goes to bed,” was one of the more memorable lines. It was like telling friends the name of your child just to be told the name chosen was that of an 18th century heretic. Of course, people were providing advice out of kindness, not to be annoying. Yet we realized the only way to be sure was to sleep next to her or beside her. And that’s just what we did for several years.

The incident never happened again, and though we replayed the environment of that day over and over, couldn’t come up with an actual reason. We have been on-guard with Sophia for nine months, and have been fortunate thus far.

I can only tell new parents my experience, and thank the Lord above that the visual I received. It saved my daughter’s life. Perhaps it can save someone else’s.

Emergency Preparedness-The First 24 hours

I must have a death wish. Or a desire to be near a catastrophe. Nothing else explains why I live in a veritable Bermuda triangle of potential natural disasters.

Day 1-fun times, great pics

“We have potentials for an earthquake (the fault lines), volcanic eruptions (Mt. Rainier), mudslides and flooding (everywhere) and tsunamis (the coastline),” said the Fire chief of the City of Issaquah. Twelve of us women sat with pencils and notebooks, as if we were going to save our communities and selves if any of these were to occur. “Worse, we aren’t allowed to get to you if you happen to live in a small neighborhood.”

At that point, I should have got my sweatpant-wearing self off the chair and left the room. For what was the point? I thought. My tiny 16-home community wasn’t even officially incorporated. We are on a community well that barely has enough power to satisfy daily requirements.

When me and my siblings earned our driver’s license, my mom put a 72-hour backpack in our car. It was for “emergencies,” she said. It had food, one of those shiny blankets that could withstand arctic temperatures. Wipes. Toilet paper and scissors. Aspirin and gauze. You name, that backpack had it. I kept in my car for twenty years, periodically changing the battery on the flashlight and rotating out the food.

Mom also had a two year supply of food in the basement, ready to go at a moments notice should the next seven-year drought occur (next following the first, as noted in the Bible a’la Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors fame). That too, was good advice. I keep a three-month supply of food in the downstairs laundry room and have three fridges. Rog is a supporter because he grew up with little food, and as a result is a bit of a food horder, thus the recent addition of a squat freezer in the garage.

I had my 72 hour kit, I told the chief, a generator and some food. I felt pretty good, I said.

The first chief looked at me with a bit of pity. “We won’t get to your home for at least two to four weeks if we have a real emergency.” In that time, he said, I’d likely have no heat, no water, no gas, run out of food, the gas stations would be dry, the grocery stores locked due to no lighting, and we’d be in a world of hurt.

“Get yourself a first response program,” he advised all in the room. “Do it now.”

Day 9-irritating, have to move
to the trailer-out of wood for the stove
and gas for the generator

That lecture was given six years ago, and in that time, the area has indeed had flooding and multiple power outages, some lasting nearly three weeks. We were lucky, as in, prepared. We had a lot of gas, two generators (a primary and a backup) but we learned a few things. The first is that our home cranks through a LOT of gas on a generator. We cut down heat everywhere, lit our handy-dandy camping lights and used the ovens sparingly. However, two weeks in to a power outage two years ago (where we had 3 feet of snow btw), we’d have been toast had it not been for a travel trailer we’d purchased on a whim. That thing ran for weeks on two small tanks of propane. We ditched our home to live in our driveway, cozy and cramped, until the state of emergency had ended.

The fire chief had been right on everything else. We had no gas (it eventually ran out), and we heard that no gas stations were open due to lack of electricity. The grocery stores were closed, the motels full up (those that had electricity that is) and entire swaths of high-rise apartments requiring propane were ice cold. Our small community had one more challenge, and that was we couldn’t make it down our steep hill, paved though it was. As an unincorporated road, the city was under no obligation to maintain it. It was over a week until the first cars made it down. (Side note: we have tractors up here, almost all homes have at least 1 4wheel drive, but it didn’t matter. The road was simply dangerous).

Day 15-no snow melt and we
are stir crazy but warm in the trailer
watching Disney movies

As uncomfortable as we were, some neighbors had it worse. At least we retained the wood burning fireplace in our home, and it while we remained inside, the house was very toasty. (but we were dumb. We hadn’t stocked up enough wood and went through what we had within days). Neighbors with neither wood-burning nor another alternative were literally freezing, and huddled up with us and one another. It was quite an eye-opener.

Since that time, State of Washington created a program called Map Your Neighborhood. Statistically speaking, most deaths occur in the first 24 hours after a disaster–the very time when response crews and personnel are completely overwhelmed.

MYN created a video to talk about the ways a “neighborhood” defined as 15-25 homes, can prepared. Although not all states have such a program, this one is easy to implement anywhere in the world. Actual materials can be purchased–and by materials, I’m talking the booklet that is a step-by-step checklist of the neighborhood requirements (e.g. chainsaw, generator etc).

Imagine if the folks in Chile had been able to band together after the recent disaster. This inevitably happened when the looting and rioting took over as the disaster overwhelmed the police and fireman. Much of the world lives in areas prone to the devastating forces of nature. Being prepared now can save lives.

A few highlights of the program and how-to:
1-hold a mtg w/the neighborhood homeowners/renters etc. (this works just as well w/apartments/condos/etc)

2-go through the checklist and identity the available tools and skills (who is handy with a welder, who has chainsaws to cut down trees etc)

3-assign “leaders” for critical check items. For instance, one person double-checks all the natural gas in the homes have been turned off. This is a huge risk factor that can wipe out homes and families in one explosion. Another key assignment is a ‘safe home’ suitable for the elderly or children, if relevant. Back-up power, heat, food storage etc are other critical components.

4-review when and where to place the Need Help sign found in the MYN booklet. This page can be torn out and pasted on a window in front. It immediately identifies to other neighbors and/or emergency personnel if you are in need.

5-hold annual meetings to update the information, ensure tools are working and in good condition (generators in particular).

It’s not very time consuming, and I’m a major advocate of this program. I’m currently working to deploy this through community associations and church organizations as a means to getting neighborhoods on board. It’s a small effort for a major, life-saving result. The key is to do it before the disaster strikes.

Preventing break-ins with 9 solid home security tips

This morning Porsche ran upstairs, screaming about the deer in our yard, alerting the house to the intruder at exacty 6:34 in the AM.

“Is that all?” I yawned. Thankfully so. I needed to get up anyhow, so down I went, in to her room that once held a cougar (the previous owner had a pet cougar, and the room as a 20×20 cage. we’ve turned it in to a bedroom, and it offers great views of the surrounding wilderness). In remembrance, we lovingly call it ‘the cage.’ (though admittedly, this is in-family only. Otherwise we’d come across all S&M)

Sure enough, a wonderful buck with four points (as Rog verified) stood right outside her window, eating what was left of my 2010 garden. I took a few pictures, then put on my slippers and helped it get out of our enclosed acreage. It now has only one path of entry, up three acres of six foot high blackberry bushes. Anything that can make it through that terrain deserves to eat my food. Nonetheless, I supposed this to be the same buck that previously came on with his dearess and fawn, got confused and we had to help off before my dog got in on the act. This was done by slowly walking behind the animal, encouraging it to find the only exit.

our breakfast companion
Mission accomplished, I remembered that I’d recieved a text yesterday suggesting I blog on home security.
Sadly, we’ve been violated several times since moving in to this area. It’s not prestine mind you; more Beverly Hillbillies than Hills. Yet it’s not trailer trash central either. Without giving rise to would- be stalkers, we are within five miles of mass civilization, but the proximity to land preserves means we have bears, deers, wolves, foxes, and an occasional burglar on the property.
When we purchased this home, it was a dump. Five acres of horse poop surrounding a home with an indoor outhouse (I’ll dig up some pictures in case you don’t believe that). It was all we could afford, and figured we had to start somewhere. In any case, we had no need for a fence or gate. The house was worth less than the land, and we couldn’t give our natural compost away. It wasn’t until four years later that we had to erect a gate. I’m all for freedom of speech, and the Jehovah’s Witness marauders are really decent people (plus quite creative: they pair a man with a young girl to remove the threat). They weren’t as bad as the weird breed of Sunday drivers (aka looki-loos) who mistake Private Property signs for Come-on-In, that put us over the edge. Instead of a much-needed trip to Hawaii, I got iron bars with spokes.

That kept out visitors well enough, but not the neighbors. We were cursed with a pond dug by the previous owner. It fills on its own, thanks to being at the bottom of our property. Nonetheless, the old codgers in the neighborhood are vigilant about water usage. A few have feuds dating back decades, a modern day version of the Hatfields and McCoys. These are the same folk that stew about our pond having more water than it ought, (thereby leaving their man-made horse pond dry), then redirect run-off gulleys directly in to a down-road neighbors driveway, just to flood it water. (For no other purpose that being an evil). But I digress.

I grew tired of having my garden hose ‘mysteriously’ turned off in the middle of the day. My solution was to head to Home Depot, purchase green stakes and some fenching material, a hammer, and erect a flimsy barrier. It wouldn’t keep out a determined person, I knew, but figured it would deter a seventy-something busy body.
In truth, it deterred neither.
One winter night, I left Rog in the bedroom and descended to the bottom floor where I could turn the heat up to temperature of the sun without nary a complaint from Rog. Our home is odd, constructed by a Boeing engineer and a few logs, the thing has two internal doors, lots of open space and at its base, is surrounded by concrete. I can’t hear Rog snoring from the depths below, another reason for my choice of leaving him that particular night.
At one in the morning, I noticed the light was on, and I woke up, bleary eyed, telling Rog to turn off the light, then promptly went back to sleep. A while later, three am by my clock, the light was off, but I saw Rog standing right in front of my bed.  I asked him why he was still awake, and if I anything was wrong. He said not a word, left to go upstairs, or so I thought. That pissed me off. I yelled at him to get back and talk to me (and I’m big enough to admit this) sitting up just in time to flick on the lights and see a man dressed head to toe in black running out of our home.
My immediate reaction was a) that’s not Rog b) he’d been in our home at least two hours, c) he’d been standing over me for who knows how long.
I could barely breath I was so terrified. I tried to scream and nothing came out. It was like those horror movies and bad dreams come true. I literally had no voice eventhough I was ‘giving it all she got’ (captain) (Sulu/Star Trek). Rog finally heard me, rushed downstairs but the figured was long gone.

When the detective arrived, we asked lots of questions and we learned a few things.

1-pay attention. Sounds obvious, but it wasn’t. The light on the garage had been unscrewed, as had the lights on all the backdoors. Rog, in his infinite, money-saving wisdom, had been known to unscrew the light(s) himself during the day, (not using the switch so I wouldn’t notice). For the last few days, I’d been screwing them back in, irritated, but thought nothing of it. Turns out, the night we got hit was one where I’d not bothered.

2-check the footprints. Also, the nights prior to this event, the ground had been hard with frost. I’d noticed footsteps around the backdoor, but once again, thought it was Rog. No one was ever that close to our doors. The detective walked us around the house, showing how the intruder had clearly cased the joint.

3-check wiring. At the time, we had one string of low watt flourscent path lights. That night, they’d been cut. The detective showed us where the intruder had hidden his handywork, placing a bunch of pine needles on the cut itself.

His conclusion? “Anyone who got this close to the property was watching you for a while.”

That wasn’t the worse part. Remember I wrote I’d been lying in bed and saw the person at the baseboard? He’d taken our cookie jar, a squat, red-faced porter figure, removed the head and positioned it right in front of me.

“He’s telling you he’s watching you” said the detective with that “straight-from-CSI Miami-look.”

our beast, Penelope the pitbull,
aka, lapdog on a friends lap
Not good.

4- get a dog. That was it. Rog and I stopped fighting about whether or not to “commit” to one another and went to the dog pound. (this was pre-kids. commitment btw, didn’t mean home ownership. anyone could do that. true love meant buying a dog together).

“Even a ‘yap-dog’ is a deterent,” said the detective. I don’t recall the statistical numbers he threw ou at us, but the likelyhood of an burgler (or worse) entering a home with a dog drops over 80% when a dog is present. Here that all. GET A DOG!

We went to the animal shelter, looked at every four legged dog present, then asked for the one with the best ‘ratings.’ In King County, dog shelters are required to test a dog on 8 traits–such as obedience, interaction with cats, other animals/dogs, kids, etc. This was where we found our pitbull. She was a mush (that’s pronunced mah btw), and she went home with us that day. I’ll save my love of this dog for another time. Turns out this pure bred dog was dropped off by a warring couple w/three kids going through a divorce, and couldn’t decide who kept the dog. Thus, they opted out of Salomin’s choice to cut the beast in half and instead, donated it to the local shelter. Suffice it to say she barks at anything around our perimeter, otherwise, she considers herself an 80 lb lapdog. We didn’t set out to get any kind of dog: we just lucked out with her. 7 years later, she’s proven a defender against other attack dogs (I was attacked by 3, with a newborn/another blog), identified a would-be intruder (another blog). Sorry-can’t help myself. love this animal.

5-use your security system. Dumb us. We had one. one of the best in fact. Didn’t have it on. In fact, we’d never turned it on at night. The area hadn’t had a breakin for twenty years. Little did any of us know the largest meth lab west of the rockies had been discovered a mere five miles from our home the month earlier. Nice. Think of the property value increase if we publicized that one.

6-get a real fence and more light. The detective also informed us two second and third detractors to an intruder are lighting and fencing. The lights because they have no where to hide. He pointed out the number of trees close to our house providng plenty of room to hide. Gone. Had those removed. The fencing had to wait, but now we have six foot high fencing. It keeps the dogs in and the deer out-mostly. Of course, if someone really wants to enter and get past my dog then I’m a dead person anyway.

7-hide your passport. Once again, dumb me. I had my laptop and passport in my briefcase. I’d recently traveled and not separated one from the other. It was gone. Fortunately, the passport was found in a ditch, but my briefcase was gone (I’d rather have lost the passport frankly. I loved that hand-stitched work of art. I’m still pining…)

8-post warning signs. I’d never thought this was a deterent, but statistics once again proved me wrong. We now have signs around the property.

Sadly, I’m in the majority of the population that does nothing ‘active’ about protecting the home until after the first breakin. That said, since that time, we’ve had zero break-ins, but homes in neighboring areas haven’t been so lucky. In each case, they shared some of the above items–no dog, no security system, no lights. OH–they were also hit during the day.

IMPORTANT: The #1 time for a home to be hit is between 3-4 in the morning, when the family is dead to the world (sleeping). The trait for this type of intruder is the person that likes a thrill, but isn’t “aggressive,” or in other words, they aren’t looking to kill anyone. They tend to hit homes with two stories (or more) and only go in and out on the bottom floor. In our case, the intruder didn’t make it upstairs for whatever reason.

The second most common time for a break-in is in the morning, when the dad is gone to work and the mom is off taking the kids to school. The detective told of a recent event where the mom came home early, as she forgot an item, and surprised the burglers. They tied her up, ransacked the joint, took her car, and she wasn’t found until her husband got a call from the school her children hadn’t been picked up.

9-mix up your daily routine. Even stay at home moms get routines. If you are in the middle of suburbia, change up the times for the gym, coffee at Starbucks and visiting the neighbor. Get a dog, use the security system, and watch the lights.

In my case, the detective was worried because someone who took the time to get the cookie jar, hover over me and place the figurine by my feet has a sick agenda. We (I) consider myself extremely fortunate. I also feel the Good Lord was watching over me, woke me at that particular moment, for had I not awoken, I know for a fact I’d have been bound, gagged and Roger wouldn’t have heard my screams. The concrete walls assured that, and this intruder probably knew it.
Knock on wood, we’ll be good for a while. Investing in the small stuff is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with good security.

Bursting bubbles, and other things friends do

As Husbands Go: A NovelYesterday afternoon, I had thirty minutes to lounge in my claw foot bathtub, throw in lavender bath salts and crack open the first book I’d purchased since the summer. As Husband’s Go, by bestselling author, Susan Isaacs. The reason for this acquisition was specific–I was told to read a first person tale, told by a forty-something woman. That’s how I blog and what I am. Why? I asked the provider of this advice.

“Because you suck at writing fiction,” said she who shall NEVER be named. “Stop writing anything but first person. If you could bottle your voice, and put it in a book, it’ll sell millions.” Note how she put a nice bit of flattery and motivation after the ‘constructive’ criticism?

(now a note on friends an honesty. This is a slide scale. Acquintances will lie (you look great when you know you have a black eye from accidentally hitting yourself. I’ve done this, and I knew instantly who was my friend and who was lying), social friends will at least try to be diplomatic (uh, you have green piece of lettuce stuck in your tooth) and true friends (those pants really do make your butt look fat).

With this harsh but honest phrase, I went to the bookstore, spent two hours shopping around for a book that ‘fit my style’ and picked up Isaac’s latest.

A page in to the novel, I stopped, reached behind me to the magazine stack and selected the Fine Cooking magazine with the three-layer chocolate cake on the cover. Ten minutes later, I’m back to the novel, finished the first chapter, then set it down again. On and on it went, each agonizing page an experience in studying for a term paper on a Saturday night, when only misfits and C-students are still in the library. Except in my case, I was naked, in the tub, the water turning from hot to murky warm.

Isaacs’ writing is fun to read in short spurts, like this blog, I suppose. When injected with a bit of sass, conventional wisdom and local inside-jokes, the piece isn’t overbearing. Yet in her latest, I missed out on most of the references. I’m not from Long Island. Never been there. I’m not in the crowd to even understand a reference to fur from the inside of a goat’s gut, and therefore can’t appreciate the fact it’s the most expensive, illegal material on the market today. I’m not Jewish or from New York, and while nearly every person in my entertainment/literary circle happen to be both, none resemble the neurotic, socially wicked individuals portrayed. Last but not least, I’m past the point of reading books that titillated me when I was a hormonally-crazed teen. A great benefit of being married is I can actually go to the bedroom, shut the door and have my way with my husband. It provides me enjoyment that reading about on a squished page of pulp simply can’t. Thus, it came as no surprise I was literally skimming the book by chapter three, and now, I’m nearing chapter seven, waiting for the punchline.

The more I thought about Her advice, the more depressed I became. By eight, Rog told me to go to bed.

“I can’t take it anymore,” he said. “This happens to you twice a year, and it’s too much for me to handle.” Like how he made it about himself? The only thing I could do was send off 17 chpts of my YA time/travel romance novel  to the producer for review and sleep away my disappointment.

This morning, life was better. I realized the angst of writing a blog in the first person is like a chapter-with highs and lows, laughter and maybe tears. To replicate that in each chapter of a book doesn’t work because the story arch has to be much higher and stretched out. Were I to write chapter by chapter novellas, the reader would be on a continual roller coaster, exhausted and throwing up at the end.

The reflection gave me an epiphany for a new subject of a new book. It was instantaneous. No sooner had I put the last period on chapter 2, I’d sent it off to She and another early reader.  After this experience, I had a moment of appreciation for the value of honest feedback.

Critical commentary is brutal to take, but harder, I think, to give. The giver cares enough to say something, at times, risking the very friendship in the process. The receiver has to consider the input with a layer of trust and love and acceptance or the entire communication comes across as nothing more than shallow criticism.
I can count the people who give it to me straight on one hand. My husband, my mother (though she’s a LOT more subtle about it, and doesn’t go there unless I ask her straight out), a cousin, a friend who lives locally, and She who shall not be named. In fact, “She’d” be a great character in a book, but I can’t do that either. It would ‘out’ her, I’d lose the friendship, and then where would I be? When I called to tell her thank her for both the damage and creativity she’d inspired, I also thanked her for her honesty.

I told She about the impact her words had on my thinking process, and we both laughed.

“That’s what friends do,” she said. Honest feedback and advice is also how friends are lost, I replied. Though I’m big enough to listen and discern an agenda versus what’s the best for me. In this case, She had both an agenda (she likes my blog and would like to read more war stories), but she also wants me to finally get something out that gets read by the masses (I think she’s hussling for a chauffeur job myself).

“The only difference between you and Rog is that his commentary has lot more F-words than you.” She didn’t think that was a compliment.

“I give you so many more good ideas about writing than he does!” she retorted indignantly.

There it is. The honesty continues, because she was right. As always.

Perfect Chocolate Mousse

It’s only 11 am (PST), more than enough time to have the best tasting chocolate mousse for dessert tonight.
This recipe is the easiest, fastest and best mousse recipe I’ve concocted. While the original version is in The New Best Recipe cookbook, (page 973), I’ve made significant changes.
For mousse connisouers, if you prefer a dark-dark version, that’s heavy on the liquor and coffee, go with the original version (you have to buy the book!). I prefer something a bit less dark, since the ultra-dark chocolate gives me a headache. Also, call me kooky, but I’m also particular about the texture. Some mousse recipes make it super airy and fluffy-hence mousse. I, on the other hand, like a creamier texture, less air. Almost between a pudding and mousse.
The New Best Recipe: All-New EditionBy now you’re thinking I have more time than necessary on my hands, and have made far too many mousse recipes. Reality is that this takes less than 20 minutes, and impresses the heck out of guests, so I it’s my default dessert. Really.
As a side note: I’m a cookbook addict. I love to cook. Love cookbooks. Once I buy a cookbook (and it’s sub 200 pgs) I’ll go through each and every recipe, making most (save things I’m allergic to or despise). One of my pet peeves is that I close the book finding only a half-dozen I truly like. The New Best Recipe defies all odds. Not only have I found ways to improve my already-decent meatloaf through cooking techniques, but the smothered pork chop recipe is as divine as the chocolate mousse I based my recipe upon. The flan is outstanding, the roast–i could go on and on. This isn’t to say I don’t make a lot of changes in each one, because I do. But dollar for dollar, this is by far, the most superior, general cookbook I own. (if you have a friend/wife/sister who likes to cook, see if she/he has this book. If not, it’s an awesome gift. I bought for my sister, mom and cousin one year).
Cooks note:
For an extra creamy chocolate mousse, fold in 1 cup of heavy cream that’s been whipped (instead of the ½ cup called for below). Make this mousse at least 2 hours before you wish to serve it to let the flavors develop, but serve within 24 hours, or the flavor and texture will deteriorate.
Ingredients
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) (found a coupon here)
3 oz semisweet chocolate (Ghiradelli or better) chopped
4 tbs (1/2 stick) salted butter
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbs orange flavored liquor or light rum (this is optional. I use it only when I know the guests like liquor, but 99% of the time, I don’t put it in. It doesn’t affect the texture)
4 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
2 tbs sugar
½ cup chilled organic heavy cream (see my previous recipe blogs on the diff between organic heavy cream and reg under 9 cooking rules to live by)
Note: the original recipe calls for coffee, but I leave this out. I’ve found many guests either don’t like coffee or don’t like mocha/coffee flavor in the dessert. If you want to add it, substitute the 2 tbs alcohol for the pre-made coffee.
1.     Melt the butter first, and then the chocolate in a double boiler (I use a round, metal dish above a small pan. This allows for better control)
2.     Lower the heat, and add the salt and vanilla.
3.     Whisk the yolks in one at a time. This is very important. You need to make sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Set aside.
VERY QUICKLY
4.     Stir the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl on high, 1-2 minutes.
5.     Beat until soft peaks form (if the eggs or cold, you need to put the whites in a bowl over warm water to warm first).
6.     Which a quart of the whites into the cooled chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
VERY QUICKLY
7.     Clean and dry the mixing bowl, making sure not a drop of water is in the bowl.
8.     Beat the whipping cream on high until soft peaks form. DO NOT OVERBEAT, since hard whipping cream (almost like butter) won’t fold into the mousse, and it will be ruined.
9.     Try not to eat the entire thing as you spoon into your serving glasses.
10. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
11. Before serving, add a dollop of whipping cream to top.

More points on small talk

Ran out of space and time on the last blog re: small talk, so am picking it up again on this one. Pretend I got interrupted to take a call from a relative that went awry. Actually, that did sort of happen. Rog took the call and it was from his mother, talking about his 90+ year old grandmother. She has men living upstairs in her attack (ok, they are hallucinations), won’t wear her diapers and refuses to let people in to clean the house. After a month of failed interventions, Rog’s dad and mom flew out to fix the situation, stepped in three inches of goo and called to give us the update.

Now you can appreciate how long the phone all took, and why I needed a break thereafter….

Back to small talk, I had more to say regarding a trait I refer to as “subject-dropping.” I don’t know if this saying is a Sarah-original, but it’s when a person wants to talk about something and won’t come out and say it. For instance, you are talking about the weather, and they say,

“The weather is like that at our condo in Maine.”

Hmm. Well, they brought the subject up, giving you the freedom to ignore the subject-dropping fact or follow the conversation down the rabbit hole (Matrix). You then have enough fodder for an evening….

  • “What part of Main?”
  • “How’s the weather in the spring?”
  • “What time of year is best for Moose hunting and Maple syrup?”

or add a bit of flattery…

  • “You’re so busy. When do you find the time?”
  • “You have a large family. Does everyone fit?” (this of course, helps you suss out the size, scope and potential value of the condo, if you are a nosey person by nature)

Then we have the juicy conversations that come up at social events, when someone has thrown back one too many Cokes.

“Look at George. He’s like that all the time,” someone nearby will say.

You look at George then make a moral judgment to proceed or pass on such an inviting comment.

  • “He’s always running around without his shirt on?” or
  • “I’ve never seen someone drool in his soup quiet like that. Where’d he learn that skill?” and so on.

Now, for real-worldcircumstances, such as holiday parties, an emminent threat in the next two months, I’ve found a few golden questions that work well, without being overly aggressive.

For the hostess you’ve never met….

  • “You have a great home. Did decorate it yourself?” (flattery goes a long way, and gets her talking)
  • “This is a unique floor. How did you ever find the materials?” (this implies you are half-way intelligent about floors)

For the host you’ve never met…..

  • “Those trophies take up the entire wall. How did you win so many?”
  • Messages: The Communication Skills Book“The lawn is perfect. How long did it take to mow it?”
As a side note, I enjoyed Messages: The Communication Skills Book. It’s a fun study in body language. I’d long known to “mirror” the other person’s body language (in an unobvious way of course). But the section on body language is fantastic. You can size up what’s going on with another quickly, leading to a whole new level of conversation.

Back to small talk, let us not forget the ever-terrifying work social, where you run in to a former co-worker you can’t stand, or a one-time boss you can’t evade on your way to the bathroom.

Co-worker (assuming he/she doesn’t know your true feelings)

  • “Carol, how have you been? The place just hasn’t been the same without you.” (you get in question and provide an honest comment all in one)

Former boss

  • “Long time no see, Damon. How was the launch of the product line?” (completely benign conversation. Polite and short.)

Small talk on the plane is something I just can’t resist. Not the irritating kind, that annoys the heck out of those in front and behind and never ends. But the short, polite, “I’m interested in you, so you’ll move your big, black, bag, kind of a way.”

On the last trip to SoCal, I sat next to a man that looked like the twin brother of the person I was going to meet. I kept my mouth shut the entire time, until just before landing and couldn’t take it anymore. I asked him if he flew the route often, (yes), and then the follow up question ‘do you have family in the area?’ I then told him he looked like the twin brother of my associate.

He laughed at first, then told me his life story. …”well, I sort-of, kind-of, almost had family down here,” for he was a surgeon that followed his girlfriend westward twenty five years before. They broke up (she dumped him), he kept his job at the Santa Monica hospital, and commuted to and from Seattle on his off weeks (he likes the pace of life and cost of living better). It was fascinating, and all that within the space of five minutes. It was great. He’s a perfect character in a book.

On that note, small talk is fantastic for writers, musician’s, or shrinks. It opens a world of possibilities for characters, songs and cooky, humanistic stories that make you go huh. Try it. You’ll see.

The art and impact of small talk

For years, I dreaded group functions of any type. High school parties, work outtings, holiday celebrations. Though I was, at various times in my life, a cheerleader, an athlete, career woman and public speaker, then school mom and volunteer, the one skill that eluded me throughout was that of small talk.
Throughout, I’d resist going anyplace with my father because he’d chat up anyone. A person lying on the ground was as interesting to him as the teller at the bank. On one hand, he always had a smile and a sassy comment. And I adored the fact he treated everyone equally. That upside was neutralized by the fact that once he got the other person talking, the conversation could last hours. Me and my siblings share story after story about being left for dead in the car, while Dad got to know the gasoline attendant at the station, or the life story of a moose trapper.
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills -- and Leave a Positive Impression!A few years after being thrust in to the workforce, I was promoted to the position within corporate communications. The very title of the group meant all things communication. I had to talk on the phone, go to press events, talk to everyone all the time, usually about business. But as with all subjects, business gets boring and after a while, people want to talk about life. Uh-oh.
I rushed out during a break on a press tour and purchased a bunch of books on the subject. Most aren’t in print right now, but a few years ago, I purchased another set and gave them to a friend who had just taken a new position at a PR agency. The first one was The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression!

Small Talk: The Art of Socialising
A few tips on small talk include Practice. This means get out and start talking to folks. The supermarket, the checkout stand. Anywhere, for instance, a human being exists is fair game. I also purchased Small Talk: The Art of Socialising, by Kathy Schmidt. While Fine’s book was attuned to the corporate world, Schmidt’s book was better for the non-work environment. Since I have both, as do we all, it was a nice compliment.
Perhaps more than any other bit of advice has been following my father’s example. I would sum it up by saying “ask a few questions and then shut up and listen.” This seems to be the number one way to make “small talk.”
As I’m want to do, I’ll give you a few examples.My ability to listen ramped up when I became a writer. Perhaps it was because my brain was jelly after a day of writing, but I was too tired to talk. I found myself asking more questions and not saying much about myself. (Also, this was a great way to avoid talking about being a frustrated writer. Nothing is worse than being really successful in one career, then starting over at the bottom of the heap in another. Note-the usual question “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?” Um, well, nothing, but I’m working on it.” This was invariably followed by the same look a person receives when unemployed, and says “I’m a consultant,” which, loosely translated, means “unemployed.” But I digress.)
Tired, but wanting conversation, I’d ask a few questions. In one instance, the septic man came to our house and was busy pumping S–t out of my back yard. Nice visual. In any case, it wasn’t smelly at all, and I’m a weird breed that is actually fascinated by all things mechanical. So I ask him to explain it to me, and when he realizes I’m truly interested, I get the full, Ph.d in poop dumping. In truth, it was fascinating.
I find myself wondering “what got him into the business,” although I left out the s–t pumping part. He said it found him when his wife and daughter passed away.
Ahh…now this is the #1 tip not included in any book. When someone drops a biggy like that, it means they are ready to talk. And in fact, they want to talk about a subject. I took him up on the hint, and said something like “that sounds tough.” He shook his head, and then told me the entire story of the two being killed in a car wreck. It was just after he’d retired and purchased a plot of land by the ocean. His daughter was his only child. I’ll spare you the rest, but this job, pumping sewage,”keeps his mind off his loneliness.” 
I’ll tell you what. I handled it fine when he was standing in front of me and I had my baby in my arms. But after he left, I told Rog about the incident and lost it. I couldn’t imagine losing spouse and child in one fell swoop. The experience also colored my thoughts about other service workers–and in truth–sometimes everyone I see, from guy at Home Depot to the checkout girl at Costco or the garbage worker. I have no idea what they are about. A simple five minute exercise in small talk profoundly impacted my life.
Rog now teases me that I can be anywhere, and if he goes to get a hamburger, someone will be telling me their life story. It’s true. You know what? It’s a wonderfully edifying experience. I’ve grown to love people in an immediate and genuine way. 
Oh, one other note on small talk. I used to have a real phobia about old people. As in, being around an elderly person gave me hives. I’ve always loved children and adults, but when I saw grey hair, I’d run for the hills. Torture wasn’t cleaning my room or scooping Mastiff-size dog bombs. It was visiting the old-folks home with my mom, and staying or hours on end as she chatted up lonely folks.
Then one day, as I was struggling to find something to say to an elderly woman, I found that all I had to do was pretend I was her granddaughter. It altered the entire complexion of our conversation. I started inquiring after her family, and answered her questions about my own.
“I feel as though I’ve known you before,” she said, leaning closer to me, putting my hand in hers. Her fingers were cold and bony, the veins protruding at all angles. She then proceeded to tell me how precious life is, and the relationship between a mother and daughter is sacred and special.
“My first husband murdered my three daughters,” she said without flair or drama. She stroked the top of my hand, softly, as though I was one of her own. She was twenty-six at the time. Her children were “just babies,” in her eyes. She’d lived long enough to see outlive her husband who had died in jail. At sixty-five, she found the love of her life. They were married fifteen years before he passed away. She told me of the years of heartache, of forgiveness, of life, love and loss. All within a twenty-minute chat that started with small talk.
The beauty of this incredible talent is the joy of getting a glimpse of another person. Feeling comfortable enough to do it is a worthwhile beginning.

How computers ruined me

Surely, by now readers of this blog know two things: One, I’m writing at an eigth grade reading level and Two, I don’t bother spell or grammar check before I hit the Post button.

One reader sure to remind me of both is my dear beloved madre (mom). This post is an ode to her, having successfully raised six children, five that graduated from college with one degree, one with two degrees and a third was not to be outdone, and added a third. The sixth child is a different story. She attended roughly three years of college, got married, got pregnant, got divorced, got a job, and went on to a life of fortune and fame in Maple Valley, Washington.

That one would be me.

Thus, it is ironic, that the least-degreed child is the one that ended up speaking at Harvard bschool on how to create partnerships, and MIT on creating business plans. It is the same one that has written books and spoken all over the planet, but as my mother wails, “my child that can’t spell or write in a grammatically correct way!” (I shamelessly name drop to justify the strong points in my life to compensate for the weak.)

I know she’s mortified everytime I put up a post. The way I know this is because in the time it takes me to go to the bathroom after I post a blog, she’s sent me at least one, and sometimes two or three texts correcting my mistake(s).

The other day, I told her she was like David Letterman’s mom, who, after twenty years, has become such a fixture in Letterman’s monologues, the show might as well shut down when she passes on.

“It’s not that I can’t (spell)” I tell her emphatically. “I just don’t have time or the patience.”

In my defense, I grew up with the benefit of a spell-checker on my computer, and my prowess in this area transferred from actual knowledge to complete dependance. If Microsoft Office doesn’t catch it, the word is fine in my book. Furthermore, since Grisham, and the vast majority of successful authors are writing at a middle-school level, I’m running with the right crowd.

“And to think you went to private school,” she says to me, clucking her teeth.

It’s true. Private. Public. Private again. Money and time spent in the pursuit of constructing a perfectly correct sentence. I thought about driving her nuts by writing an entire blog full of misspelled words and written all wrong (see?) Then I realized if I just write normally, that will happen all by itself. Instead, I’ll just write how I’ve become stupider within time, and wait for the dolphin-penetrating shriek in the background.

Without a computer, I couldn’t type, which might be a blessing. I’d actually have to look up a word old-school. Then it stands a chance of becoming embedded in my brain like a tick in my skin in during a hot, Kentucky summer. This way, I open the lid, type out my missive, shut the lid and call it a day.

I reviewed the most recent texts from my mom, and it seems my latest blogs included me substituting desert for dessert when referring to brownies. Fau Pax when it should have been faux pas, and the mother of all crimes, getting the spelling of her maiden name wrong. Olsen when it should have been Olson. On that one, she threw down the towel.

“No daughter of mine will spell my family name wrong!” Of course, the irony is that I wrote it in the blog about my Grandfather passing away. The error nearly gave my mom a heart attack. Despite assurances that no other family member is reading this thing (how would they know? I asked), I changed it within minutes.

Not to be denied, she encourages me to ‘slow down’ but not change the tenor or content.

That’s an oxymoron in my book. Half the fun is I can type almost as fast as I can think. The value of this stream-of-consciousness style writing is it doesn’t allow time for regret or distillation of the truth. For as my my red topped, curley-haired German voice teacher said last night, “the honesty is shocking.”

I chose to take that as a compliment.

Finally, I pull the big gun of excuses.

“I’m not even getting paid for this,” I blurt out. Oh, the shame. Furthermore, “I’m defying all blog rules by attempting to write in complete sentences, not single-thought fragments.” The fact I even use quotation marks should be considered a bonus. Doesn’t matter. I’m her 42-year old daughter, endowed with a modicum of intelligence and a certain level of worldiness. I should no better.

True ’nuff. I figure that’s what I missed by not attending the last year of college. Darn.

Follow-up Note: 9:28 AM, Thursday morning, 10/14
True to form, I get a text at 8:17 am from mom and it reads:
“Just to prove the point, it is six of whom, not six if which. Oh the shame!”

And no, I’m not going to go back and change my bad writing. As Obama says, what we put ‘out there on the Internet will live forever…”

Award winning Brownies

With halloween festivities fast approaching, my award winning brownies are a great, easy to make dessert. It can feed an army but is equally perfect for a nice party. This basic brownie recipe is from the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten, (pg 172/173), though it took only two times for my guests to reject the brownie as overly-sweet.

I had hope however, and started playing around with the ingredients. I’ve cut back on the overall amount of chocolate, substituted sweetened, salted butter (Tillamook) for unsalted, changed the type and the amount of salt slightly (small chunk Kosher), removed the coffee altogether, and am particular about the recipe size and pan. If this ISN’T chocolate enough for you, a) you have a bigger problem and b) you need to purchase her book!

I’ve made this recipe dozens and dozens of times. It was frustrating to me that it required a lot of trial and error to understand the “why’s” behind a few of the originally recommended techniques. At the same time, it’s been fun to change the recipe, and improve the outcome based upon my modifications. (sorry Ina!) The result is a brownie recipe you can serve at a nice dinner or fancy party. See the end of the recipe for serving tips.
Tip and techniques:
Metal bottom sheet cake pans are really the only ones that work with this recipe. Ceramic and glass don’t work. The center will be raw and the sides burnt. Trust me. Not good.
The quality of vanilla is important as well. Most folks probably can’t taste the difference, but cooks and discriminating eaters can. 
A last tip on this recipe. A single batch is too much for a regular size pan. Again, it has cooking issues. I happen to have 2 professional size sheet cake pans. These can be purchased at most cooking supply stores. Increase the batch to a double, and you will have enough for a party, your family, the neighbors…..
Ingredients
1 lb salted butter
1 lb, plus 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs, room temperature
2 tbs pure vanilla
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Note: I leave the walnuts out, or add it to half the pan, since a lot of people are allergic or don’t like nuts.
Preparation
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter, 1 lb of chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water.
  3. Remove the bowl from the water, and allow to cool slightly. “Slightly” means that the mixture is warm to the touch, but not burning. (the reason? the mixture must be warm enough to melt down the sugar. If it becomes cold, the mixture won’t blend and the recipe becomes more like molten lava).
  4. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat, very important) together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. (the reason behind not beating? This is because over beating puts air in the eggs. The result is a brownie that is fluffy, more like cake, instead of a dense. 
  5. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
  6. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt.
  7. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.
  8. Toss the walnuts and 6 oz of chocolate chips with ¼ cup of flour, then add to the chocolate batter. (very important—if the batter is too hot, the chips will melt and the entire recipe ruined. Make sure the batter is very cool but not hard)
  9. Pour into a baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove, and rap the sheet against the shelf or counter. You can’t skip this step!! It forces the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough.
  11. Bake for 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  12. DO NOT OVERBAKE!! You will have hockey pucks instead of brownies.
  13. Allow to cool thoroughly. In fact, I like these warm, or better after they’ve been in the fridge.

Serving tips:

For parties, allow to cool, then put on a Saran Wrap, very very tightly, and refrigerate overnight. This hardens the brownies without drying, ensuring the brownies settle, are very dense, and easy to cut in to all types of shapes. Remove from the pan and use fun cookie cutter shapes.
Your guests will love you!!
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