The traveling author


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

From reading to reality

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

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

Travel with Me

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

Refreshed site

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

Feedback

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


Last call for Halloween

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

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

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

Orange lights

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

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

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

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

spooky ghouls

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

Trunk or Treats: the free, fun family activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 for Heaven….

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

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

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

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

5 min to Perfect Eye makeup

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

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

Step 1-undereye prep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2 Painterly pot from Mac

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

Step 2a Painterly using tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5- Another Mac Pot– Brown

Step 5a Use a flat, diagonal edge
brush.

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

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

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

Step 6 Mascara application. See the difference?

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

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

Step 7a after under eye concealer

Step 8-Foundation.

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

Step 8a-Foundation mixed

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

Step 8b Foundation on the wrist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prep:wash and apply sunblock

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

The lipliner etc will be in another blog.

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

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

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

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

Behind the smile

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

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

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

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

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

Stories from the waiting line…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combatting Stinky hair, dry scalp & no wash-shampoos

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

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

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

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

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

Stealing Rembrandt-Fast, interesting read

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

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

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

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

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

A stranger’s smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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