9 cooking rules to live by

In preparation for the cooking class I’m giving nxt wknd, I’ve been jotting notes down for a little give-away cookbook. In occurred to me that if I have cooked for nearly thirty-five years and had no clue on the very basics, I’d be doing a favor by sharing my lessons learned.


Sarah’s General Cooking Basics

1.         Eggs at room temperature (better for fluff), better for integration. Also whip faster when room temperature. If you have only cold eggs, heat by cracking the eggs into a metal-bottom bowl. Place bowl in warm water for a few minutes. This will warm the eggs, but not ruin the properties. Saves hours of room-temp time.
2.     Sugar-super fine when required and called for…BUT, not good for most recipes. In fact, one time I made the mistake of using superfine for Macaroons and completely ruined the recipe. The macaroons didn’t hold shape, so instead of being like little mountains, they were flat, white oil stains on my cookie sheet.
3.    High quality chocolate. Ghiradelli. Moderate cost and highest output for cost. Through experimentation, I’ve found the Baker’s chocolate is OK, but it’s a more corse. The texture isn’t as nice, nor is the flavor as rich. I also have to add a titch more sugar when I use Baker’s, than when I use brand such as Ghiradelli. (yes, titch is my technical cook’s phrase).
4.    Convection vs not. Convection bake-great for baking w/crust. Pure convection, great for meats. Regular bake, best for dairy-based, such as cheesecake. Unfortunately, the timing is all over the map, depending on the brand. While some of my cookbooks identify or recommend times, I tend to go on-line to get the timing for my particular brand of oven, Dacor. I learned the lesson the hard way, using the recommended time from the cookbook for a Thanksgiving roast, and ended up blowing $70.00 worth of meat because it was overdone. Never again!
5.    Always, always grill onions and garlic in butter. Flavor is much better. When I’m feeling frisky, I skip the oil altogether. For example, in scalloped potatoes. I modified an already to-die-for cardiac arrest recipe by using butter, and it was much better. Granted, I had to do a bit of skimming from the top, but then I cut this by using extra thick whipping cream (organic), and it was awesome.
6.   Organic whipping cream. Now, I’m not a nut about the whole organic thing. I try as much as I can. Yet non-organic buttermilke has no difference in the texture of the recipe (and I can’t tell in the taste). On the other hand, I promise you, organic whipping cream is the only way to go. For whatever reason, the texture and outcome of the recipe is SOO much better with organic. I’d recommend my local provider, but understand they are only, well, local. Sorry.
7.    Always add the herbs in the butter vs the raw in the item. Flavor spreads better. I’m not a trained cook mind you, just a hack with forty-years experience. I don’t care what the cookbooks and chefs on TV say—I prefer to add certain seasonings during the sautéing part because the flavor—expands—is the best choice of word. This is particular true when the sauté is being added to breads or other item that will suck up the seasoning.
8.    Underbake ‘baked’ items (brownies, cookies) for better texture, by at least 1-2 minutes. Here again, practice makes perfect. I’ve spent more than hundreds of dollars baking cookies, brownies etc that are perfect when warm, and perhaps the first hour afterward. Beyond that, Rog might as well use them for a hockey puck. Unless the recipe identifies how it will turn out, I underbake. Then it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days no problem.
9.    Sweat the lentils. Ensures no soggy, mushy soups (works with peas as well). For years, my soups fell victim to globs of mushy goo, instead of nice, split pea soups with identifiable peas. The same was true for lentils. Then I was told by a nice old woman, the trick was sweating the lentils.

This means to take the lentils (or peas/whatever) put in the pot with oil (which I replace with butter) and ‘brown’ them, for about 3-7 minutes, depending on the quantity. This ensures the lentils hold their nice shell while cooking the inside (of course, after you add everything else and follow the rest of the recipe).
I have a 10th, but thought 9 sounded less daunting!

The halloween frenzy begins

It’s Friday night, Rog is due to return around 10, so at seven I frantically start cleaning the house, top to bottom. My protocol is to wait until thirty minutes before he walks through the door to get all cleaned up, so as not to look like I’ve been prepping the house for three hours. In the middle of all this, my mother and she-who-will-not-be-named call to give me a whole bunch of blog topics.
“Weight loss is the number 1 searched phrase” says one.
“Talk about surviving in hard times,” says the other.
Neither resonate with me. Friday night pizza night doesn’t give rise to thoughts of losing weight, only the hope of not gaining extra pounds from sodium-loaded crust and pop. The surviving-hard-times theme makes sense, and I’ve certainly lots of things to share on that front. But it’s Friday. Too depressing.
I’m a bit more for a happy thought, such as my favorite man-made-holiday, Halloween!!!!!
Mom and 2 cubs
They’ve gone baptist

This inspires a whole lot of frenzy in the Gerdes household, from decorating to buying costumes.  The decorating part starts with the single planter I own, a large cowboy boot, very appropriate with my whole western-thing I’ve got going since moving to the hinterland. Hinterland being defined as seeing a momma bear and her two cubs eating berries three days in a row by the local Baptist church, and today, seeing a coyote chasing a deer through my yard. My environ qualifies as the hinterland.

My boot…before we get into great fall planters, let’s establish the fact that I know how to kill two things: people and plants. The first skill was learned in martial arts class. After two years, I was finally considered responsible and adept at defense to learn how to permanently stop an attacker by twisting and break the neck his/her neck. The second skill was something I learned when I came to the northwest. This climate, the soil, the actual plants, are collaborating to commit random acts of suicide on my property, yet I get the blame.
My friend and long-suffering plant advisor, has tried to cut down the plant murders on my property. She’s coached me on what to transplant and where, when to water, when to prune. It’s all for naught. After three years of subliminal messaging about planters, I gave in, went out and bought a container. It was on the condition that she pick out plants with a will to live greater than my uncanny ability to make it die.
She picked three cute things, a grass, a mum and something else which I can’t name. I’m impressed by people who can remember the names of plants, and awestruck by those who have the command over a second language known as the botanical name (is that the right phraseology?).
Janel just laughs.
“Why remember this stuff?” I ask. I can barely remember “como esta?” and I was born in Central America, lived in Honduras and then took four years of the language.
She puts it in, tells me to water it once a week and is gone. It looks great. I want to invite people over to the house just to admire “Das Boot” as Janel has named the pot.
“Do pots normally have names?” I wonder, thinking about ranches and casa’s de jour.


Das Boot
w/suicidal yellow things



A week later, the rain is coming down like a monsoon in India. I peer out the window, expecting a vibrant pot, and see unhappy, wilting yellow flowers. They are depressed I think, like any living creature stuck in an overcast environment. I tell Janel.
“Are you watering them?”
“It’s raining. Why water them?”
She shakes her head with the same look of undiluted pity my eighth-grade chemistry teacher awarded me when I failed the mud distillation exercise.
“It’s under the beam,” she reminded me. “Only a part of it is getting wet.”
Oh. I tell her the state of yellow-headed flowers. The necks are drooping over the side of the pot like a frat boy after a particularly vigorous party.
“They may be done for,” she says, holding back a smirk.
Upside-down
pumpkin things
At that point, she tells me I can leave it as is, or pick something else out that fits the colors.
Das Boot “after”
I do neither. I like the upside-down pumpkin colored things I saw at the grocery store for ten bucks. It doesn’t fit right, so I have to move the mums to the back. The little scarecrow is tacky, but thought it was so anti-me I’d run with it.
I’m almost as excited for Janel to see my lame attempt as I am proud that I actually tried to pot a plant. All my fingers are still in tact. The plant didn’t give up its life on the spot. Of course, with my luck, it will die in a week, and I can start over again with an “authorized” plant and step-by-step directions on where to put the thing. Good thing I have a day job.
.

Taquito bite appetizers

Last night was Apple Celebration, a wonderful adoration of children, fall colors and all things that fall from trees. My task was to prepare an appetizer and I willfully rebelled against the inclusion of apples. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that my husband, and men in general, want meat in addition to, or instead of, one sweet dessert and app after another. I made three dozen, the first plate was emptied in between the I put it down and turned around to get the other serving dish and put it on the table. 

Layered Taquio Appetizer



This is always sell-out recipe of my own concoction. It’s fast, easy and inexpensive.

Sarah’s double-layer Taquito bites

Time to prep: 20 min

Kitchen needs:

  • Sautee pan

Ingredients to purchase

  1. sweet onions (1)
  2. small chicken (pre-roasted) is fastest
  3. 1/2 red bell pepper
  4. 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper (see note below)
  5. Good olive oit
  6. Salted butter
  7. Corn tortillas
  8. Sour cream
  9. Salsa
  10. Seasonings:
    1. chile seasoning
    2. tobasco (optional)
    3. hungarian sweet paprika
    4. kosher salt
    5. cilantro (but can use parsely if you don’t care for cilantro)

Note: (I have a thing against green bells. I’ve found guests don’t like the stronger taste of greens, so I opt for the other colors. The flavor is a bit sweeter. You can substitute at will).

Prepare the chicken. I was in a rush yesterday, so I cheated a purchased an organic, pre-roasted chicken for $6.75 at the local market.
    Sauteed ingredients
  • Sautee in a few tbls oil the onion for @3 min, just until it starts to turn transulcent. Add the bell peppers (remember, it’s only half of the large ones. Anything more overwhelms the amount of chicken).
  • Sautee it all for another 5 min, enough to soften the peppers but retain some stiffness.
  • 

    Cookie cutter rounds
    a must for every cook

    

  • Add a tbls or more of butter. I almost always add some butter to the sautee. It gives the onions a lot more flavor and richness that oil doesn’t.
  • A minute or so before you pull it off the range, add the chopped chicken, chile, tobaso and salt.Mix it all together so the flavors blend.
  • Take it off the stove to let cool.
In a skillet (preferably the kind that’s metal, not non-stick), drop enough oil for the corn tortillas. Since the smallest tortillas are taco size, I use metal cookie cutters to reduce the size. It’s witnessed that larger apps don’t get eaten because it’s too big for a guest to hold and manage. Smaller apps are called finger foods fo a reason. This doesn’t mean a guest will eat less–in fact, a guest will eat more of a smaller thing. 
Cutting the tortilla rounds

  • Take the round and cut into the tortilla. The larger round you choose will be the bottom for the taquito. Place the rounds in the skillet until lightly browned on each side.
  • Place the rounds on your serving dish, and place a spoon full of filling in the center.
  • Add a drop of salsa and sour cream (I don’t add sour cream all the time, just in case someone has a dairy allergy).
  • Cut smaller rounds, place in skillet, brown and layer on the top of the taquito.
  • Layer the taquito
  • Finish with either sour cream, cilantro or other garnish like sprinkle (grated) cheese, if you don’t have to transport somewhere. Last night, I had to transport the dishes, so skipped everything but the grated cheese.

Horse-trading means saving money

The art of saving money is an acquired skill. One’s ability to do so can be best characterized as a sliding scale of attitude that ranges from thrifty to penny-pinching, tight and cheap, the ultimate insult.
The first description is polite, responsible and implies sound financial management. Frugal isn’t so bad. Saving here and there, going without extravagant expenditures. Penny-pinching describes the person who wants to go dutch, but you roll with it, although it’s irritating. Cheap describes the individual who pulls out the calculator at the burger joint to tally the split for the tip. It’s also the person who figures out the cost of a square on the toilet paper.
Cheap describes my husband.
And by the way, he says “I proudly admit it!” (Prime minister/The Saint). He grew up eating what he and his father could catch from the stream or shoot in the woods, in a postage-size home, the child of two artists. When the family needed work done on the home, his father put a saw in his six-year old hands and told him to watch his fingers.  It didn’t help he went on to acquire a degree in economics and finance, further cementing his philosophy abt getting the most for the least, even when money is available. In his mind, money is never available. Ever.
After I got over the ‘I’m-going-to-kill-him’ for continuous complaints about the cost of Charmin over Kirkland brand toilet paper, and me cataloging in an excel spreadsheet how many squares I use to wipe my arse, we compromised that I wouldn’t “throw away money” as long as I always, always, asked for a trade. 


Be the ball,
I mean, horse Danny (Caddyshack)

“See what you can do to lower the cost,” he’s say to me before I called up for a bid. “It’s just horse-trading.”

Couldn’t I just pay the bill and be done with it? No. Rog would ask for a ‘report’ to which I’d have to respond honestly (I can’t lie for beans, though I gave it my best shot early on).
Over the years, my acumen for wheedling down a price has gotten pretty good. But then, I’m always scouting something to give away as an enticement, even if it’s food. Certain circumstances call for what’s in my head (business advice), other times, it’s a old sink in my garage. All depends. What entices one individual doesn’t work for another.
For instance, two weekends ago my author site required an upgrade and new code work. The bill was to be a few hundred bucks, and I’d set aside my sheckles to pay for this (it took months, since Rog insisted I pay for it with the nickels and dimes from on-line book sales—another topic. Suffice it to say it’s in increments of .10cents).  Even though I saved the money, I wanted it for free. Fortune smiled upon me, and the web development firm asked for my assistance on helping their proposal process (so they could win more business). Creating proposals is second nature for me, and I took the opportunity to offer a trade= their work for mine, assuming the numbers were approximately the same. No cash out. It was awesome.
This shouldn’t be suprising. When Methusala roamed the Earth in loin clothes and sandals, coinage wasn’t used. A farmer traded wheat for a goat in order to have milk. Now in my baby food stained sweats, I traded a week of vacation stay to the kid (25yr old man actually) getting married so he could tape, pressure wash and stain our home before the cedar shakes disintegrated.
Here are a few more examples of cheapness-delivers-good-outcomes:
1- Offered to host a wedding shower for a quasi neighbor/acquaintance in return for her husband helping us clear some trees. It may sound lame, but it saved both of us hundreds of dollars in cash. We (the collective 4 of us) did hard labor, and had no hard costs per se.
2-Two years ago, part of our roof was leaking. The material cost was minimal, but the labor expensive ($50+ an hour). Me, being my shameless self, made chit-chat with the two burley guys that showed up for the bid.  (Well, 2 sets of burley guys showed up actually). My personal mission was to cut out $1200 dollars from the price, for no reason other than I wanted to impress Rog. We had two, barely used 2-stroke motorcycles sitting in our garage. I offered to provide the bikes and the trailer for a reduction in the labor cost. The first guys said no, the second set yes. Turns out one had a teenage son and this was a perfect gift. It was great!
Other examples of trading….
3- I provided PR services in the Seattle area for a CNN producer (who contacted me over the Internet–totally blind cold call on his part) and he in turn, gave me his contact database for a marketing program. He came out a little ahead, by a few hundred bucks, but I wasn’t going to quibble. His database was worth far more than an hour or two of my time.
4-Graphic design for my book, website and other projects. Good designers are expensive and hard to come by. I traded a part of revenue from each source in return for a low or, in some cases, no cost up front fee for my projects. By the end of the program, the designers received much more money than they would have in taking an upfront fee.
In this economic environment, I’m even more creative on what I’ll offer up, ask for and consider. Believe you me, people are always asking me off-the-wall questions, coming up with crazy propositions. The worst someone can say is no.
Final thoughts…
1-what do you have to offer?
2-what’s in your garage, home etc you can live without?
3-is labor interesting? Are you, or your husband w/work? Labor is expensive, and folks will eagerly pay or trade for honest, hard-working hands.

Slimmer thighs fast!

When it comes to fitting in jeans, I live by a simple mantra: saddlebags are for horses, not women.

Christy Brinkley, she of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers, has ridden horses for years. She credits riding for giving her thin “inner” thighs. For the outer thighs, she has to work it off, the same as us mere mortals, the hard way. Lots of repetitive exercises, all of which can be done without bands, weights or other convenient excuses. In three days, you’ll feel a difference in your jeans (assuming you don’t gorge in the process). In five days, you’re pants will be looser, and in a week, your butt and thighs will be noticeably smaller.
Ready, set, GO!
Exercise
Side
Reps
Note
Inner thigh
Left
25 reps/3 times
Alternate sides between each rep
Inner thigh
Right
25 reps/3 sets
Outer thigh
Left
25 reps/3 times
Alternate sides between each rep
Outer thigh
Right
25 reps/3 sets
Donkey kick-side
Left
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee to shoulder height
Donkey kick-side
Right
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee to shoulder height
Donkey kick-back
Left
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee straight up (leg parallel back)
Donkey kick-back
Right
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee straight up (leg parallel back)
Donkey cross
Left
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee straight up 1x, then cross to leg on floor (works inner thigh)
Donkey cross
Right
25 reps/3 sets
On knees and hands, lift knee straight up 1x, then cross to leg on floor (works inner thigh)
Butt-ups
50 reps/2 sets
Lying on back, lift butt so its angled with the knees. Tilt pelvis up and down in sets of 10-15. Switch up pressings knees together, then apart for extra benefit.

Going to the mat w/Contractors

As much as I’ve been on tv, the radio, and even written books about successful contract negotiations, I’ve had years of failure negotiating simple, contracting jobs for my own home. I’d like to attribute this to a lot of things: not talking the contractor-babble-language, feeling overwhelming, being blond. But it comes right down to not being equipped with the tips that helped me be so confident and successful in the workplace.  I was determined not to get screwed at the drive-thru again (Joe Pesci/Lethal Weapon).

With this vision in mind, I knew I had to approach home contracting like a mixed martial arts fighter about to enter the Octogan ring. I had to practice my skills by writing out a pitch and preparing a strategy to win. This meant outlining the business terms (budget) and how to set myself for victory by guiding the discussion. Finally, I had to be ready to go for the throat when I closed the deal. This meant the contractor had to earn the business by throwing in something extra. I was determined to be my man Machida, the last person standing, the celebrated victor, gold belt waving above my head.

Tip one–Qualify the contractor…ask the five questions you’d use to hire a full-time employee

  1. What type of project to they prefer?
  2. What are their differentiating skills/capabilities?
  3. How would they rank/rate themselves against their competitors, and why?
  4. What would their last client say about them?
  5. What is their guarantee policy?
Talk to at least 2 or 3 contractors. Mention the others by name if they ask. Forgive the pun, but always enlightening to hear if a contractor will build or, or tear down their peer.
Tip two–Get an estimate, or an approximate in writing before the contractor shows up
This might require you to provide details on line or over the phone, which is fine. 
The reason for this tip is to prevent a bait and switch. Three of the last four times I talked to a contractor over the phone, the phone cost for a project was estimated at one range–high to low. When the contractor showed up, the price increased by a third to a half. In the fourth case, the contractor gave me the same price in person as he had on the phone, but when I received the written proposal, the bid was just shy of double what he’d quoted.
In every case, I thought at least I’d get the courtesy of understanding why I was being screwed, but a logical reason wasn’t even provided. This is when I came to the conclusion the contractor(s), who were all male, determined I wasn’t paying attention, didn’t care, or was rubber-stamping a bid. This leads to tip three.
Tip three–Dispel notions of grandeur. 
Do this by stating that you are ‘cheap’ and ‘like to do a lot of work yourself.’ 
In our case, it’s true. But even if it wasn’t, I’d say it for effect.  When a potential contractor comes on the property, I make small talk, tell the person about Rog’s youth fishing for food in Colorado, building a room on the house ourselves, and how we watch pennies in order to save for our children’s college fund. They start to get the picture that a) I’m not going to be a person that signs the order and disappears back in to the home and b) I’m sensitive to every penny. The risk on this tip is that a contractor won’t bid the project at all because it’s not easy money. 
I’m willing to take that risk. More often than not, I’ve found a contractor will artificially raise the price as a way to compensate with a pain-in-the-butt client like me. It’s a polite way of telling me I’m not worth the effort. I’m completely OK with that, and it leads to a vital aspect of negotiating for a fair deal.
Tip four-be upfront about the price!
Just like negotiations for buying or selling a business, set expectations right up front about the project budget. Forget the whole ‘you-tell-me-first-then-I’ll-tell-you-second’ thing. That’s bunk and doesn’t work. On the phone, do your best to describe the project and your budget. This allows the contractor to pre-qualify him or herself, saving either of you a lot of wasted time and effort.
When the person comes to your house, you restate the budget, go through the project, then re-ask the contractor if the project fits within the budget. Tell the contractor you are weighing the benefits of one project over another.
Top-notch contractors are going to be honest, and say yes it’s possible, or no, it’s not. The best contractors will give you options–do this, save here, don’t do that, save there. Bottom line, let the contractor tell you if he/she will take the project at your budget price, even if it’s below market. 
This happened two times this summer, when we had critical home repairs that came out of nowhere. We had some wood-damaged, rotting poles that had to be fixed. We had a budget, we called in potential contractors, and where one wouldn’t budge on a bid, the other gave us alternatives: remove the damaged wood piece entirely or cut and replace the damaged section. Further, the second contractor said he could save us additional money if we were patient, and he coupled the trip with an existing project in the area, thereby saving travel fees.
We went with the second contractor, who did such a great job (and came under budget by a few hundred bucks) that we asked him to bid on another project. This leads to tip five–
Tip five–ask about other services.
We had no idea that a wood contractor could handle metal sheeting. A ten-foot section of our roof was weather damaged, the shingles black from rot. Once again, we’d put it off to the point the inside of our home was going to be irreversibly damaged. 
“Call the Creasey guys,” he suggested. The thought never occurred to me. 
Sure enough, the company had years of experience, since they actually built log homes (we’d only had repairs done). Their bid was nearly half what others had quoted me the year prior due to their volume. And once again, we saved hundreds of dollars by being patient, as the crew coupled our project with another.

Improve your complexion-increase metabolism

Facial issues don’t begin and end with puberty. The course of life means changing hormones. With that reality a face and skin with different needs and problems.
My particular issue has been a dry face, dry skin, dry hair. Not cracking, mind you. But dry. Lo and behold, in my twenties, I clue into the fact I’m not eating the right kinds of foods. I need(ed) those high in good oils, like olives, not bad oils, like the kind found on pizza. Even so, sometimes my skin was blotchy, like a patchwork quilt of browns and tans. Worst off, the skin started to show natural signs of aging. No mystery here. Men and women both suffer from collagen loss after forty.
So to the books I went, searching for answers. The moment I found a solution, I tried it out, refined and refined for the best answer, and walla. Women started complimenting my skin and I happily gave away my secrets. Soon enough, I learned my little concoctions were being used in other parts of the country.
Dry Skin Elixer (homemade, inexpensive and won’t clog the poors).
In a glass bottle (small, $2.99 at Michaels) prick the ends of Borage, Primrose capsules, Vitamin E and Vitamin A and squeeze into the bottle. My mixture varies, since I like less Borage in the winter, for a thicker concoction, and more in the summer, for a thinner concoction. The biggest expense will be the capsules. Get the organic kind from PCC or Whole Foods. Each will run @$8.00 or so.  A and E strengthen the skin, Borage helps heal the skin and Primrose gets rid of dark circles. I use this morning and night, before I put on my make-up and after I remove make-up and tone my skin.
My cousin who lives in Vegas has oily skin, but it gets dry in the dessert. Even she uses the above recipe and it doesn’t clog her pores or make her skin oily. She increases the amount of Borage so the mixture is light enough to wear day and night.
Toner
Most women don’t use toner, and that’s a tragedy. Toner is ESSENTIAL to tightening and toning the skin—hence, the use of the word Toner. However, most off the shelf toners are full of crap that do nothing (if I had time I’d digress on this subject, but am skipping the details). Suffice it to say that the best toner, hands-down, can be found in your supermarket in the dressing aisle.
Organic, apple cider vinegar.
Yep. You read that right. It stinks. It’s quasi-orange. It has the meat at the bottom of the bottle (you need to shake the bottle). But here’s what you do.
Application:
Take the bottle, shake it, put a teaspoon in a half cup of water, or thereabouts. This waters it down. With a Kleenex or preferably something softer, dip the tissue in the mixture and wipe it around your face. Yes, it will reek. But you will immediately notice the oils disappear and the skin tighten. This is a freaking miracle worker.
After years of purchasing the most expensive toners on the market, this has been one of the greatest finds ever. My friends with perpetual acne problems swear by this as well. In fact, I haven’t found a single skin type that doesn’t benefit from this little miracle in a bottle.
Increasing Metabolism—a side benefit.
While you’re at, slurp 2 tablespoons full of the stuff. It increases circulation and speeds metabolism. Takes like H—L, but ok if you chase it with some orange juice.
One last point on improving circulation and increasing metabolism.
My Grandmother Olson swore by her chamomile tea with cayenne pepper. In my thirties, when the wheels of metabolism started slowing, I remembered what my tall, lean Grandma used. Like most women back in the day, she had a home-grown remedy for every ailment. This one happened to be vanity, but she swore it made her arms and feet warmer. Us Swedes have cold feet. To my husband’s delight, it worked. No more cold feet. Nothing kills the bedroom deal than cold feet.

Swedes don’t cry

Grandpa Olson passed away this morning. He was just shy of a hundred.
He was my mother’s father, the formality of the title enduring until the day he died. Last month, I stopped by the nursing home to see him with my mom and one of my daughters. The scene was classic. Passing through a corridor of old men in barco-loungers, he was in his room, sitting straight up, asleep, a pack of Marlboro’s in his right pocket. A half-empty mug of coffee by his hand. His white hair, still thick and lush, needed a trim. Grandpa’s arms were nearly black, belying the myth that us Swedes don’t tan.
Summer 2 yrs ago
“It takes a lot of time to smoke four packs a day,” my mom said in an undertone, noting the chair outside, facing the mid-day sun. Tanning alone didn’t get that purple-tint. When one gets to three-digits, the walls of the veins thin, and seepage occurs, darkening the skin.
“Too much information,” I said to my mom, feeling a wave of nausea. Better not to know what awaits me sixty years hence. I’m still coming to grips with the notion of menopause and hot flashes that will be hitting me this decade (us Swedes have schedules to keep).
When I asked Grandpa about getting out and about, going to his favorite breakfast joint, or why his room lacked a bed, he said he didn’t need one.
“This is just fine,” he said. That was when I noticed a ‘smell.’ When I put Sophia on the floor to crawl around, mom looked at me like I was crazy, waited a few more seconds then bent down and picked her up. Not wanting to bother her, I walked to get Sophia, and on the return, saw a bunch of stains on my chair. In horror, I shot my mom a look, raising an eyebrow.
Grandpa, Sophia and mom, 8/27/10
She nodded.
Another wave of nausea. My pants were new. The seat, as evidenced by the various color and shapes of stains, was not. Mom had told me about ‘accidents’ happening, despite my Grandfather’s diapers.
Still, Grandpa was sharp. He caught the silence, the looks, sweeping the child from the floor, my resistance to sitting down on the padded chair.
He burst out laughing. “Getting old is hell!” he barked, and we all laughed as only family in on the same joke can.
It was tough seeing him age, but he was a Swede through and through. He held it well. No complaints, and no tears.
“Swedes don’t cry,” was a phrase my mom often used growing up.  Just ask Elin Nordgren. Last month, I couldn’t help myself, and read the People Magazine where she was on the cover. She wrote that through the anihalation of her marriage, she didn’t cry once. Not during. Not after. Still hadn’t.
“We’re Swedish,” she said, as if we lacked tear ducts.
The phrase served us well. On vacations with Grandpa, he’d put us to work, believing free time was wasted time. Once my brother and I made the mistake of complaining to Grandpa we were bored. He said he had a fun project. He led us to the dirt road and told us to pick out the big rocks.
“What will you give us?” my enterprising brother asked shamelessly.
“A glass of milk.” Three hours later, when we finished, we got it.
“How can you be done?” he asked.
My brother had the insight to define what “big” meant. When he explained his definition, Grandpa let us off the hook. Otherwise, we’d still be there, thirty years later. It served it’s purpose. We never complained again.
Mom took the don’t cry philosophy a bit further. The true English translation can be summed up thus: If a bone isnt’ jutting out, stop complaining.
This lesson was exemplified when I fell of Grandpa’s front porch, falling on the top of my left wrist. The angled bricks broke my hand in three places. But no bones were poking out.
“If it’s still hurting in a couple of hours, we’ll go to the doctor.”
I don’t remember the next few hours. It was a haze of pain as I clamped my mouth to prevent tears. I was a Swede, and we didn’t do that. Suffice it to say I finally got a cast and the luxury of Asprin.
A few years later, I woke up with a buzzing in my left ear. I’d never felt anything like it and told her it hurt really bad.
“If it was an earache, you’d be screaming in pain,” mom said, telling me to have a good day.
That night, I’m playing basketball and I can’t hear a darn thing the coach is yelling at me. It was like I’d gone deaf.
“Hey!” he yells at me. “You have blood coming out your ear!”
I felt like Sulu in the Wrath of Kahn, my brain having been hijacked by a giant worm that was now lurking out my ear drum.
Turns out my eardrum had burst, a preventable condition had I made it to the doctor in the morning hours of the day.
Yet did I cry? Nope. Not a tear. I’m thankful for my Grandfather and mother emphasizing the Swedish way. It’s helped me overcome defeat on the track field, crushing disappointment in my career and devastating personal issues. Who cared if the guys at Microsoft announced “the ice queen cometh,” when I entered the meeting room? The whole non-emotional thing has served me well in most facets of my life.
Today, at church, I learned one other man passed from this mortal life. He was briefly eulogized by a son-in-law, who figured the man was already asking to be put to work upstairs. I wanted to raise my hand and ask if he was Swedish, but I figured that would be bad form.
The last photo of Grandpa
taken before his death

 

At home, Rog and I scrapped about the funeral arrangements. He is preparing to leave for a trip, perhaps the most important one of the year. He reminded me the journey to Grandpa’s house is long. He voiced concern about me traveling with kids. I just couldn’t take him telling me he didn’t want me to go. I was on the verge of napalistic (Don-kingisom for napalming+ballistic=napalistic).
I prepared to retreat to my corner before I let off on him.
“But I know he meant the world to you,” he said, catching me by the arm before I can leave. “If it’s really that important, I’ll cancel my trip and drive you.”
“You’d do that?” I asked, knowing it would mean he’d lose the money spent on the trip, the business opportunity during the trip and maybe a client in the process.
“Of course. I love you,” he says, with that aren’t-you’-silly-voice.  “You’re everything to me.”
For all the diatribe of protecting the heart, the practice of mind over pain, forty years of wasn’t enough to hold back the tears. The Swedish heritage finally had a weak link in the DNA thread, and it was mine. Yet just this once, I figured my Grandfather would be ok with it.

Baby food for dummies & ROI

When I recently went to LA for a 3 day trip, the lives of my daughters relied upon Rog’s father skills. He was covered during the day, when the kids were with our local Grandma. It was the twelve hours from 6-6 that had me a bit worried.

Sure enough, as I dined on Sushi in Beverly Hills, I get this text : ‘Baby food out. What now??’

The stores weren’t closed you see. He’d gone, revolted at the price of baby food, and determined our daughter was going to be the Ghandi of Maple Valley by staging a hunger strike. When her limit reached two hours, he calls me.

“Make it,” I texted. Someone who is so cheap as to decline buying sustanance doesn’t warrant the cost of a phone call.

Back he goes to the store, diving her preferred foods of sweet potatoes and carrots were enough. He splurged, and went organic. The following day, he said I needed to blog this for all the fathers who don’t know how to make baby food, and their mother’s who are “spending outrageous amounts of money on baby food!” (my long-suffering family knows this little factoid abt Rog. He doesn’t care about the big things in life. It’s the little nickle-and-diming that drives his soul deep into the woods).

3 Steps to the best, organic baby food

1. Purchase the stuff.

2. Boil until you can insert and remove a knife.

3. Blanche. This means–pour out the hot liquid and immediately fill with cold water. This ensures the peel comes off from the root.

4. Let cool in a bowl.
5. Place in cuisinart w/a bit of liquid. Get the consistency nice and mushy, especially if your baby has no, or some teeth. **carrots and other things, such as peas, are better in the Osterizer, and then strained-particularly the peas.
A batch will last a few days. Refigeration is required, as the vegies will spoil quickly if left out.
Total Return on Investment: Man-speak for savings 
Cost of 7 days worth of food: 3 feedings, 4 bottles/day (organice baby food): $18.00 / day or $126/wk
Making it yourself: $12 for 2 lbs of food.
Total savings? $114

The only downside of this adventure was then I was forced to acknowledge the convenience had far outweighed the cost factor in my personal hierarchy of needs. We played Rock Paper Scissors to determine how much our child should be fed what, end on our own 99%, but having the back-up for emergencies. I’m down with that, particularly since I manage the grocery budget. Thanks to Rog, I now have more pin-money for other things.

4-Step Garage FaceLift

There I was, enjoying my special ‘day after time’ with him, head on his shoulder—which is somewhat rare for me—and Rog literally jumps up.
“Grab your camera!” he says and goes outside. “Take this picture”, and he starts expounding on the benefits of giving the garage a do-it-yourself facelift. “Everybody needs to know this,” he passionately explains, evangelically spouting how he loves Home Depot, the Internet, and ability to save thousands of dollars. He walks around the garage like an art director pointing at the angles I need to take and tells me what he did. 
Completing the garage took three days and ten years. It was so vile, I needed a hasmat suit to enter the thing when we purchased the house. Over the years, Rog did his best to stuff up holes in the walls with duck tape reminiscent of McGyver and his all-purpose bubblegum fix. He attempted to prevent the rain from rotting the solid log poles that held the shack together, and it worked to a degree. Our cars survived, as did the parts cemetery that bore testament to his never-ending quest to give his car “just ten more horsepower.” 
Yet nothing solved “the stink” of the floor, besotten with mice droppings, the errant bird nest and untold critter corpses. Finally, at the beginning of this summer, I had it. I entered the pit of despair, on a quest for an item I’d put in a box by the far wall, and ran into a blackened muffler that nearly sheered of a toe. Screaming in pain, I reeled back, narrowly missing a mousetrap with Rog’s special brand of cheeto-peanut-butter-cyanide mix.
That was it. I didn’t care what had to be done. I was going to do it. I knew the only way to inspire was to do the hard labor of sorting, moving, organizing and dumping out these precious boxes of junk. Rog is great at directing, but bad at cleaning. He’s a closet horder. 


There. I’ve outted him. Anyone who keeps textbooks from college and a sweat-stained jersey from high school needs professional help. 
I waited until he left for work, put the baby in the Bjorn, and with P-dog looking on, tackled the garage. Four dump runs and three Goodwill drop-offs later, the pit was an empty space, ready to be cleaned and prepped.
This was where Rog took over. All in, the project was $260 over the last thirty days.  
Before and after Walls
Step 1-Walls…
Priming the walls. 


Check out the before and after shots. 7 cans were $54 bucks, and are perfectly fine for our needs. Rog sanded and did the painting with some help from little P.
Step 2-Floor


Left-after shot of speckles, Middle – before- Right- the pavement



This was the most time consuming, as it had 3 mini-sub steps. He had to wash 25 years of slop from the floor, which was a rusty brown-black. He purchased two kits for about $100 each and with tax was $207 total. (see photo). It entailed acid washing the floor, which meant we kept the cats inside until it dried, then washed it again. Finally, he used the floor paint and spent the extra $20 on these speckles from Home Depot.

Rog’s Fav product


Step 3-Shelving
This is where we are taking our time. While we ogled a the nice pieces from California Closet, we couldn’t’ stomach spending $3,500 on a section when we get enough storage for the entire garage at Home Depot for less than a grand. Here and there, we’ve picked up a long shelf or metal shelving to store the dozens of boxes that hold our holiday stuff, important business items or car necessities. Going with the HD solution also gives us lots of flexibility for the weird angles in our garage.

Home Depot Shelves and  Hockey stink be gone!

Shelving is also fantastic because after five years and three gallons of detoxifying liquid used to remove the God-awful stench of sweaty hockey gear from our downstairs, it’s banished to its rightful place in the garage.

Step 4-decoration
See those colored “happy-time” lights? That was my add In the din of Northwest winter, I turn on the lights and immediately feel better about life.
Oh, and the lights were $11.95 at Target, 2 sets total. (the pic got cropped! will add in soon)

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