The Perfect Stranger

Readers have observed I post more pictures of strangers I meet on trips than my family. It’s true. I love my perfect strangers, because that’s what they are: perfect. When one is on the shores of Scarborough asking for local insights from the owner of the pub, or sitting on the boardwalk of Bellagio, chatting with a Russian transplant about the best gelato for the cheapest price I get the happy, helpful, always-answer-with-a-smile person. Beyond the effervescent personality, it’s the attitude of: I’m living where I want, doing what I want, and here you are, interested in everything I have to say, hanging on every comment I have to share.

In other words, we are having a short, mutual and very strong love-fest. It’s fleeting, as by definition, all love-fests should be, ending before we delve into topics sure to end our affair: politics, race, religion, the standard three, but oh, so many more exist. (How many tourists are too many? Do certain demographics spend more or less? Should (and can) the world support any more children? Messy topics sure to destroy the honeymoon stage of a new acquaintance).

During this last trip, I met so many more people that I neglected to snap photos, mostly because I was so wrapped up in the conversation we kissed cheeks and parted…and like the forlorn lover, I was left waving, my lips agape….. “Wait! I need a phot—” then Rog would stop me and mutter. “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, let it go, already.”

The world represented

I have Svetlana from St. Petersburg, Russia, who was spending three months with her art gallery manager boyfriend. She will be remembered for her amazing skin, bright smile, and our mutual agreement on the all the purveyors of gelato, as in: who sold the most, and the best for the least. Hence, why we were both in line at one particular shop.

Then we have Neal, owner of the Candy Confectionary store on the corner (it’s such an establishment it doesn’t need a name other than Candy Confectionary) at what must be the best, prime real estate on the entire Boardwalk. While we chatted him up, his wife (she with the longest nails ever) and his daughter were in and around, stocking the shelves, deciding what to order on the next go-around at the marketplace, he gave us the history of York, (founded by the Romans in 71 AD), also known as the Chocolate City (true story, look it up) conveying we absolutely, positively, must visit.

In between, he must have discerned we were homeowners, because the conversation digressed into what he’d paid for his place, what he could sell if for and how much he’d lose moving to York due to the inflated prices. “But oh,” he groaned, “I would so love to move there!” He was, and is, a big, bear of a man I just wanted to hug—which I did!

At the base of Schloss Hohenswangau and Neuschwanstein sits a little town, and in it, we met, a Tony, a software engineer from China, employed by Dell, and based in New York. Talk about a roundabout way to end up in the Bavaria region of Germany.

He was joined by his wife and son, spoke better English than many of my friends, and we got to chatting because he didn’t know German (perhaps the one thing he didn’t know). We helped him out and over plates of schnitzel we discussed his love of all things American.

In Hungary, we walked around th block from our apartment and found Robert Maar (the store) and had no idea we were actually talking to THE Robert Maar. We felt so uncomfortable and were going to leave but then he told us what a “custom” garment in Hungary means (versus New York or Paris). What started with a simple, wonderful conversation about food ended up in a new wardrobe for Roger and two pieces for me. Only after we’d been in Budapest a week did we learn Robert is famous around Europe for his designer clothes that dress the celebrities in most of the countries. Blind luck on our part, and completely fantastic, more so because Robert was kind, gracious and ever so patient with us, the completely ignorant Americans. Love him.

Outside Verona, we happened by a three-story bed and breakfast of Locanda di Capitelli located at the base of Castle Suave, overlooking a valley of vineyards (can you already picture a scene in a book? I know I can). Once Rog was assured we were welcome no matter how casually we were dressed, the gracious hostess Julia sat us by the fireplace, and over the next two hours, go to know her, her mother and grandmother, all owners of the venue, a local winery and foodstuffs.

By the end of it, she was trying to convince Roger to invest in a new US-based restaurant that she could conveniently run. Her mother squished us with hugs and smothered us with kisses as grandma retired upstairs to bed (thus dodging the photo opp).

Outside Prague, at Czesky Krumlov (the town and castle) we dined with Tai, the chef of our favorite waterside restaurant, ordering not one, but two crepe deserts because we didn’t want to have a mortal stabbing fight with forks. What better compliment can be bestowed on food than that?

Perhaps the favorite meeting of strangers were a gaggle of girls preparing for wedding festivities on the shores of Lake Cuomo. We’d arrived early at the ferry line, and as Rog was flying his drone above and to the island of Bellagio 2 miles away, I watched as a dozen gals took turns taking pictures—invariably leaving one of them out. Porsche nudged me. “Mom, go take pictures. Help them out.” Me, she of the shameless and helpful, promptly stood and offered to snap group photos. Thirty minutes later, they have become the adopted, older, Indian sisters my girls have never had. They insisted on taking pictures of with my girls and me—thereby requiring Rog to come over and become lead photographer.

Different and Divine

Indian, Russian, English, Czech, Italian, German and Chinese…and so many more. I sorry I didn’t immortalize the helpful German man who saw we were stranded on the platform in Stuttgart, about to miss a train—may he get his angel wings for that alone, otherwise we would have been stuck for an entire day in the record-breaking heat with nowhere to go.

I regret not capturing the Philippino woman at the car rental location, who knew of one of my books (the Sue Kim authorized biography) and treated me like a Rockstar (a rare moment, and it took me going to Germany to get this—but then, now I can say me and David Hasselhoff have something in common. We are nobodies in the US, but HUGE in a foreign country).

And David (another, different David: this young man in his mid-twenties gave our family the best our of a castle during our 6-week trip. An engineering student, he doubled as a historian because of his vast knowledge of wars, rulers and cultures. So much so, that while I neglected to take a picture of him, we invited David to come over when he decides to visit the US. And guess what? Instead of going to New York, which had been his priority destination, David is coming to visit and stay with us in April.

We are thrilled, and this gets back to my Perfect Stranger theory. We have many family members who have not once come to visit, for one reason or another, and yet we have a perfect stranger flying in from Germany to stay with us. Our continued correspondence and the deepening of a relationship has been bereft of drama, issues or altercations—just fun, interest and a true appreciation. Doesn’t that say it all?

Yet even with all that, while the perfect stranger remains so, these unique, wonderful strangers aren’t present to dry the tears, listen and help resolve the issue, or show up when the car breaks down. For those life events, it does tend to be family, or good friends, those who show up when it’s inconvenient and give until they have nothing left. In that regard, I don’t need the perfect stranger, I need the perfect friend. And perhaps at some point, the intersection of stranger, friend and loved one may meet, becoming one in the same. Now that would be both strange and perfect.

Feature image

The town of Czesky Krumlov taken from the castle above

The Ugly Sweater

When what you’ve asked for doesn’t arrive as expected

It used to be that the morning after Thanksgiving, families across the country would get dressed up and go downtown to look at the store decorations. In the windows along the streets, works of art, mechanical and sometimes with real people or animals, the displays would draw thousands inside the store. There, the consumer would be wowed with an even bigger surprise. The purpose was for the store owners to express their gratitude for the support for the previous eleven months. Feeling appreciate, the consumers made even more purchases, the act an expression and receipt of gratitude.

This reciprocity between retailer and consumer was so successful, that the Friday after Thanksgiving became known as black Friday, because retail stores operated for eleven months of the year at a loss, or being “in the red,” then on one day, the store finally made a profit, or went into the black.

Sadly, this tradition of showing thanks has lessened, gratitude replaced with expectation, the expression and receipt of gratitude gone.

Theologian Thomas S. Monson said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

Ugly sweaters and gratitude

At times, it’s hard to feel gratitude if what we have sought through sincere prayer doesn’t match what the Lord has delivered. It’s like asking for a sweater you expect to be soft, beautiful and well-made. When the big day comes, the wrapping is wrinkled, the bow not tied properly, and within, is a sweater, yes, but it’s doesn’t fit, the material is coarse and doesn’t fit quiet right. It’s an ugly sweater.

Looking back on my life, I’ve had plenty of gifts I’ve hated, real or figurative, but it wasn’t until the last ten years or so that I started to look beyond the delivery method and my disappointment to focus on the positive aspects of what I’d received. Roger, my husband of nearly 21 years, has often coached me (scolded? demanded?) to be grateful for the gift, regardless of whether or not we like it. Easy in principle, harder in application.

In a recent example of this, I’ll refer to my family. Over the years, our strong personalities and life decisions were like a lake gone dry. Without the replenishment of understand, the land grew cracked, then scorched, many spots barren. My parents prayed for reconciliation, certainly without asking or expecting additional heartache for each child, but that’s what occurred. Within six months, challenging issues with a teenage or adult children arose of a severe nature. The package of the sweater was awful and the garment inside horrid.

But then the miracles occurred. Previously unresolvable issues with siblings and in-laws were set aside, pride and ego associate submerged as the parents came together and held a fast for these precious children. We were united in heartache and strengthened in faith, ultimately incredibly grateful for the hard circumstances that finally brought us together in the spirit of Christ. The Lord, in His wisdom, knew that these challenges brought us together when nothing else could.

We all learned that an ugly sweater can still keep you warm.

Over the years, I’ve found three principles are consistently associated with gratitude. The are trusting in the Lord, keeping perspective and practicing remembrance of our blessings.

Trust in the Lord

Dieter H Uchtorff said that: “True gratitude comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life, but trusting that one day we will.”

Trust was required when not long after I was married, my husband decided he didn’t want children. He enjoyed the financial freedom we had, and didn’t want to be tethered to the home for any reason, including a pet. Years passed, and when I was thirty-two, I’d passed through periods of anger, hopeless, apathy, and then resignation. I loved him, and not having children wasn’t going to change that. One night, while I was praying, I recall turning it over to the Lord, asking him to fill the void I was feeling. I distinctly thought the words: “Thy will be done,” hoping to find contentment in my situation.

The nights were warm, and our home was without air conditioning. Rog was awake and working but I was tired and went to the basement where it was cooler, falling asleep quickly. I woke up to a figure at the end of my bed. Assuming it was Rog, I mumbled something, turned over and went back to sleep. Sometime later, I woke again, and this time, the person was very close, leaning over me, wearing all black. I sat straight up, tried to scream but was voiceless with fear. By the time I could yell, he was out the door. When the police sat with us, they said intruders hate lights and dogs. The very next day, we got a dog, my husband’s prior proclamation about no pets in the house long forgotten.

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things,” is a phrase often repeated.

All things means just that: good things, difficult things—not just some things.

While I was unspeakably grateful for my safety (and to finally get a dog), it took me a while to see that this event was the first step in many the Lord had to orchestrate in our lives. The second step was more gradual in nature, but far more devastating. At the time, I owned a business with a dozen employees that had been thriving for a decade. For some inexplicable reason, our projects were drying up, some naturally concluding while new ones were stalled or cancelled. Having never been through an economic down cycle, I didn’t realize we were on the leading edge of the 07/08 recession. My stress level rose as one employee after another was recruited by clients who could offer more long-term stability. One day, Rog looked at me with a bit of pity.

“You are trying to put out the deck chairs on the Titanic,” he began. Seeing I wasn’t getting the reference, he continued. “You’re the religious one, not me,” he pointed out. “But I don’t think God wants you to be in business anymore.” Rog then joked something to the effect of: “We haven’t killed the dog, and have to be home with her anyway, so maybe you should go to the doctor to get checked out.”

Could it possibly be that through the ugly sweater of first, the intruder and then the business winding down were to result in what I’d been wanting for…praying for seven years would happen? No, the sweater wasn’t pretty, but it certainly was warm.

Keep perspective

A Christian philosopher said: “The Lord’s hand in our lives is often clearest in hindsight.”

Within the year of Rog telling me to “get checked out,” I was in high risk pregnancy. Yet I still tried to conduct business with a few remaining clients I could handle myself. One day, the doctor told me I was “A zebra in the Serengeti, being chased by lions.” He said I was pushing my body to the limits, even by working from home. He warned that if I did not stop all activity, save going to the restroom, I would lose the baby.

Now, for those of you who know me, I’m not really the type to sit still, let alone lay bone straight, in bed, for months. Yet, in hindsight, the Lord knew I needed to have a long period of time alone and without distraction as a transitionary period to prepare me for the life-altering situation of motherhood, and to be grateful for the gift of staying at home.

Dieter Uchtdorf  said that: “Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.”

The rule of Threes

This was highlighted when I was nine months pregnant, and was finally allowed to drive. It was a clear, blue and happy day in Seattle, which is a rare and wonderful occasion. Although the recession was in full-swing, I felt all the gratitude that eight years of praying to have a child and receiving an answer could bring. In other words, I was now wearing the warm sweater, but was I wearing it with pride? No, not yet. In fact, I was going to get another ugly top.

Cruising along that sunny day, I received a call on my cell phone, and the first words my husband said to me was that he was out of a job.

At that moment, I purposefully lifted my foot from the gas pedal. It was not possible. The company he founded was profitable, employed many employees and growing. The board however, decided they wanted an older, more experienced person to take it to the next phase in its life. Rog was devastated and I was worried sick.

In an April 2014 talk on gratitude, Uchtorff counseled us “To be thankful in our circumstances…not to keep score by counting the number of things to be grateful FOR.” He was talking about the overall spirit of gratitude.

Practice remembrance

In an October 2007 talk, Henry B. Eyring said the key to gratitude is remembrance and specifically, the hand of God in our lives. He related a time in his life when he was discouraged. An associate counseled him to write a recall and write few lines for those things he was grateful for—every day. Eyring said he  specifically asked himself: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?”

If we do this, “Gratitude will grow in your heart as it did in mine,” Erying promised.

In that moment of driving on the freeway, knowing neither of us had a source of income, telling myself to breath, I remembered the hard experiences that had brought us to that point, for what I counted must have been the fiftieth time.

The break-in of my home had led to a dog. My company had effectively shut down, but I became pregnant. Bad had been followed by good; what had occurred was orchestrated in the Lords way and in his timing. I had to purposefully set aside temporary fear, the journey, have gratitude for all we had and importantly, continue the faith. As Eyring has promised, remembrance of the blessings truly grew the gratitude grew in my heart.

Within a few months, Rog started a new business, allowing our family to grow and prosper. He also had a newfound empathy and compassion for others; that very hard trial evolved him from a good man to a great one.

Still waiting for the pretty sweater, and I got what…another ugly one that doesn’t fit!

If you’ve been following my summer journeys, you know I landed in the ER in Verona, Italy, tumors were discovered, an infection controlled and lots of pain was to be endured. Upon my return, I’ve spent the days seeing different specialists; the tumors have grown, I have a different (and yuckier) issue, the hysterectomy and tumors removed but the “yuckier” issue will be with me perhaps permanently for-the-rest-of-my-life. Really?? At times like this, denial is a good thing, but it’s temporary. As my 13-year-old daughter pointed out: “We were praying for change. Don’t you think this is the Lord’s way of answering our prayers?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do.”

That’s where the faith and trust comes in to play. These two items create the cement of faith that dries, and I rely upon it every day as I put one foot in front of the other, trusting in the Lords plan . It’s what I lie upon when the tears come because I must decline being active with my family due to pain. Downtimes come, I acknowledge the emotions, take a break, then get right back up and get going. Time, health and money are not entitlements; they are a privilege. That too, is another mantra.

I am grateful for my challenges and wouldn’t take them back, because each one has led me and my family to a better place. And in truth, if the only way I can better understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and become more like Him is to get knocked around mentally, physically or financially, then this will likely continue.

My newsletter comes out once a month (when life is normal) and you can sign up at the main page on my website, and comment on my Facebook page at sarahgerdes_author on Instagram.

Feature image: the Italian Alps, which seems appropriate when talkin about the cliffs of life; you are either staring up, scaling them or falling off.

Listening to the Spirit

Preparing and receiving spiritual guidance

Some people go to the mountains or lakes to receive heavenly help. Others kneel in prayer, go on long-term juice fasts, while others do nothing at all, believing nothing exists but our own world, and even if God lives, us humans are too insignificant to warrant a thought.

In his talk on The Windows of Light and Truth, Joseph B. Wirthlin said that: “We must become skilled in using the spiritual windows to receive personal revelation for ourselves and our families.” Sometimes, family members and caring leaders provide guidance, yet this can be colored with personal motivations, self-interest or misunderstanding of the situation details.

Personal revelation is not an entitlement, and it is not passive. It is an active state of mind and demands faith. Each phase of the process requires something of us: 1) a desire to ask, 2) a willingness and open heart to listen, and 3) the obedience and courage to obey.

The scriptures of many faiths indicate that manifestations of the Spirit come to the mind in a variety of ways. They come in impressions and promptings, dreams, visions, visitations, by way of counsel from leaders and as what has been described as enlightenment and pure intelligence.

Consider the concept of enlightenment

Steve Jobs is a great example of this: he considered a problem, and credited bursts of enlightenment as the source of his ideas. That led to great innovations which have impacted the world over. Contrast that temporal example with that of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who often talked about pure intelligence flowing within, giving him sudden strokes of ideas.

When I was fourteen, my father asked me to accompany him on a ward visit. I wrote and rewrote my talk, the tension and worry increasing for the two weeks prior. The night before, I was crying with frustration that all my preparation had yielded only fractured thoughts. I said a fervent prayer, asking the Lord for help. Within moments of closing the prayer, my mind cleared, and I wrote an entirely new and different talk in a single session. The next day, following the talk, my father remarked he knew he’d been inspired to ask me. I honestly don’t recall what I said, because those weren’t my words. That experience cemented my testimony of personal revelation, the role of the Lord and the concept of enlightenment of the spirit.

Bruce R. McConkie said that we have the responsibility to seek solutions first for our own problems. It will always involve effort on our part. Elder McConkie expressed it this way: “We are to solve our own problems and then to counsel with the Lord in prayer and receive a spiritual confirmation that our decisions are correct.”

Receiving an answer from the Lord requires a few key elements:

  1. Obedience. President John Taylor said it is the first rule in heaven, and Elder Wirthlin said “nothing closes the door of personal revelation faster than disobedience.”
  2. Receptiveness of mind and submissiveness to the will of the Lord is also required for personal revelation, because as it states In D & C 63:64, the Lord requests “the heart and a willing mind.”

In my 20’s, I was a divorced, single mother, working in the technology industry. My life was just getting settled and financially stable. The company I worked for had sold and I fulfilled a lifelong dream of starting a magazine.  Yet I was feeling unsettled and didn’t know why. I kept asking the Lord to give me direction to ease the discomfort I felt.  Months went by until one night, I made a conscious decision to change my prayer. I added the words…’According to thy will’, and that I’d do whatever was asked. The following morning at 8:15 a.m., I received a call from a recruiter offering me a position at a start-up firm in Silicon Valley. I knew immediately that the call was direction from the Lord. I’d asked, he’d answered, and now I had to Act.

  • Conform to God’s will. Alma exhorted us to “be humble and submissive at all times.” 

Pioneer Brigham Young said that most people fail during the final 10% of the journey. In other words, they inquire of the Lord, receive the answer, but can’t do what the Lord has asked. In my case, The Lord answered my prayer by asking me to sell my home, close down my new business, leave my support system and move—all in two weeks. In his wisdom, he let me reach a mental, emotional and spiritual state where I could both hear the answer but act on it.

  • Stand in Holy Places: This is critical in times of need. Are we in a place at all times to be hear the quiet whisperings of the Lord?  Men in particular have a solemn responsibility to stand in Holy Places in order to call upon the powers of the priesthood when needed.

Fast forward seven years. I’d met and married the man who has now been my husband or 20 years. He joined and left the gospel within the first twenty-four months of our marriage. I knew he was the reason I’d been moved to San Francisco, but at I was at the point of giving up on the marriage.  I simply could not understand why the Lord would bless me with success but give me such absolute personal heartache. Again, for months, I received no direction or solace, despite fervent prayers. I was at my end.

One weekend, I attended a conference of financial executives. As I sat listening to the keynote speaker, I read his background. Below his list of accomplishments, and a Harvard MBA, was an undergraduate degree from BYU. I had the immediate impression to seek him out for a blessing. Now, imagine going up to someone, giving an introduction and asking for a special prayer on my behalf, but that’s exactly what I did. Waiting for a few minutes after the session was over, I touched his arm, and asked if he was a priesthood holder in good standing. He was surprised, but said yes. It took a few minutes to find a room, and he asked me few basic questions, then gave me a blessing with specific direction and details of my life known only by the Lord, It gave me the strength to see me through the following tumultuous years of my life, which included cancer and being told I’d never have children. But all the while, I knew that I was where I needed to be, with the man who needed to be by my side, and it was directly from the Lord. That knowledge sustained me through very rough times. Men, please honor the gift of the priesthood. You never know when you will be called upon to be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

  • Pray with faith, humility, sincerity and intensity.

Years later, I was able to conceive and keep my oldest daughter. One afternoon, at about six-months, I lifted her out of the crib and as I walked down the stairs, noticed she wasn’t sleeping but motionless and not breathing. By the time I reached the bottom, I was near hysteria. I thought through my options. As I lived outside the city limits, an ambulance wouldn’t arrive in time. My doctor couldn’t help over the phone and I had no idea what to do. As I cried, begged and pleaded with the Lord for guidance, a visual and specific words came to my mind. “Turn her on her side and hit her back, hard.” I laid her on the kitchen counter in the exact manner I had visualized, and hit her back with strength, all the while crying and praying. It took many seconds, but she started breathing again.

Richard G. Scott said that personal revelation, or answers to prayers, comes with different forms.

When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.

When He answers no, it is to prevent error.

When he withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.

I’ll share one last example on this point. After living in the Bay Area, we moved to Seattle. After a dozen years, Roger and I started to feel as though we should move. It was the same unsettled feeling that I’d had nearly two decades prior. We began looking for homes in and around the area, then extended this to five states. We made offers that were turned down for no reason, or homes failed inspection. After four years, we gave up, reconciled to feeling unsettled. We put all our energy and time into making our property our dream environment. No sooner had we completed the last bathroom, that I was sitting on a rock by the pond, admiring all that we had created, and I had this distinct feeling come over me that I would soon be leaving. I’ll admit, I cried for an hour. Why was it, I wondered, that the Lord didn’t tell us before we spent the time, effort and money to make it our dream home?

A thought came to me. “And he dwelt in a tent.” If the Lord asked Prophet Lehi, and those called before him, to give it all up all he had and live in a tent, then who am I to refuse the direction of the Lord, especially after we’d been asking for years?

While I don’t know all the reasons why CDA was chosen, I know the Lord will reveal it in time, and I must be patient.

As you can see, personal revelation has been at pivotal at key points of my life, guiding, directing and supporting my journey, and these are just a few. The Lord’s direction and love is available for all of us, at any time.

It is my testimony that direct answers to prayers and personal revelation is the key to us enduring our challenges, providing us direction, and helping us focus our talents and energies in the way our Heavenly Father wants for the benefit of ourselves and our loved ones around us.

I hope sharing this with you, my readers, has turned you closer to feeling, hearing and acting upon the promptings of the Spirit that is within you.

An author’s logic

Otherwise known as mood & memory loss

Two questions have been arising that might as well be addressed in this blog. The first is: why all the travel blogs, and second is: why do you keep switching back and forth on locations instead of the chronological order of visits?

If I had any shame whatsoever, I wouldn’t admit that travel blogging is as much for me as it is for wanna-be tourists. For yearrrrs, after every trip, I vowed to keep a journey, record—image or written- of where I went, what I did, ate, liked, hated etc., so if I ever wanted to visit the destination again, I’d have the details. In other words, my own Sarah version of Rick Steves. Alas, like my teenage journal writing endeavors, it ended up being more vision than action. Here I am, a million years later, like Methuselah, wondering if I need another vision for the Almighty to strike me down to change my evil ways.

So, it was (yes, this is the actual answer) that in February of 2019, when we booked this summer’s vacation plans, I was forced to pull out all the pamphlets, business cards, and what-nots from our last two visits. That begat the whole “Since I have to write this down anyway, maybe someone will benefit.” Like unto that was the “oh! This inspired my novel(s), and that might be interesting for another reader as well.”

Yeah, I know. Long answer to the first question, but now you know the backstory, and I’m all about backstory.

My scenery & writing area switches with my moods: one moment sitting chair, then couch, table and usually in the mornings, my kitchen counter, half-looking at the neighbors yard above my toaster. More importantly, my back is to the lake, so I’m not distracted. Is it any wonder that gold trader Danielle Grant positions her desk to the hallway and away from Lake Zurich? Who can get a thing done with a great view??

Second question is more simple: I get bored, and so do readers of my IG, Facebook and Blogs. Too much US, then too much Europe, Mexico or wherever. So, my original intention to go alphabetical was quickly discarded, as was the timeline. Now it’s whatever strikes my fancy. I do have one goal, which is to get all my major trips for the last couple of years up, so I can figure out what to replicate, what to add and ignore. Honestly, I’m a little stressed since I leave three weeks from today (time to start dieting), so don’t be surprised if my blogs become a wee-bit shorter, with more visuals than text.

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.

Johnny Rockets goes down

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

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar free = more energy

A real Boehms Frualine–
I actually no her! She works there!

To satisfy the unwashed masses who have afeared for my safety, I’m here. In spirit that is. My physical body is beaten down, an inch smaller from this new naturopathic program that eliminates sugar from the ol’ diet. Sadly, this includes Boehms chocolates. It’s been 8 days and 2 hours that I’ve been away from it. But like a dog to its vomit, an hour doesn’t go by where the craving doesn’t rear it’s ugly head. I’m sure meth would have been cheaper, but I’d have teeth loss, Starbuck’s more expensive; I’d have my teeth, but they’d be black. (I know, I have a fixation with teeth). (FYI-Boehm’s has great father’s day selection. I got my dad the toffee and an assortment of milk chocolate…and FYII…on Saturdays, all the young girls actually wear the traditional Swiss outfits. Apparently, Julius, the founder, was quite a ladies man with an eye towards….busty, young woman. Don’t hold that against him though. Apparently he was a great skiier, and that has to count for something).

In other news, I’m ready to throw my husband out for invading my space. Ok, not out as in, out-out. But out of my little hobbit hole I call my writing space. He’s announced he’s taking July off to focus on “my business,” which, loosely translated, means the business of Sarah Gerdes writing. What business, you ask yourself? 3 national orgs have come on board to have in-store events in July, though I can’t announce the names. The studio is going to give away 3 walk-on roles to people who register by downloading Chambers. Great idea. $2.99 gets you a shot at hanging with Angie and Brad. It’s surreal actually. One day, I’m typing away in anonymity, the next, I’m on the phone with a division vp who runs entertainment and merchandising for a national chain, then I’m talking with the producer, who will be signing autographs.

“What about security? do you have a hander to move people through? how many seconds for each autograph? where will the stand be?..”) All good questions, for which I have no answers. Yet. Will I know it soon? “You betcha” (my one and only channeling of Palin).

This week has been full of the minuteau of things like trying to track down a videographer, a photographer, extras, what to put on the registration cards…blah blah. If you have a vision that “authors” arrive at an event, sit down and look glamorous, perish the thought. Reality is perhaps a bit less exciting (I’ve heard that truly famous authors ride around in limos until the last minute, whisk in, smile and leave), but as my Dad says “I don’t want to hear it!! Don’t diminish my vision of you!” Yeah, whatever. This is bloody hard work, that’s all I’ve got to say.

On the bright side, I’ve never been so motivated to get rid of the stuff and puff that lines my muffin top and jawline, leading us full circle back to the no sugar thing. It’s actually working, by the way. Good thing. I need the energy!

Death and grieving etiquette

The Perfect Stranger's Guide to Funerals and Grieving Practices: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious CeremoniesI’d never thought about grieving etiquette until yesterday. For the last two weeks, I’ve had the feeling to call a fairly recent acquaintance. A tall (6’2″), gorgeous woman, thin, after five children, married to an emergency room doctor, all of 42. The type of woman that would engender the hatred and jealously of all others were it not for the simple truth she’s funny, outgoing and self-deprecating. Our friendship began when she invited me to speak to a group of young women in her church, basically about keeping standards high in a world where standards are low. Our conversations were brief but fun, and I showed up with few expectations about the event or her. I was surprised on both counts, glad I recorded the 40 minutes and left with a new friend.

These last two weeks, I refrained from calling until the bitter end. Sometimes, impressions start out quietly, then get louder, progressing to the point where I think I’m starting to lose my mind. It’s reminiscent of not being about to get Born this Way out of my head actually; a rhythmic beat that won’t begone. Eventually, my will gives out. I emailed her three days ago, then called several times. A day later she responded, told me that her sister (also named Sarah) had unexpectedly died 10 days prior. She’d gone to the funeral, assisted with Sarah’s 6 children and husband, and provided much needed assistance. The day I contacted her, she had returned from the trip. She invited me to come to her house and I jumped on it, having never been. She said she’d “appreciate the distraction,” and though I had no idea what to do for a person who’d lost her sister and best friend, I went. No food. No flowers. Just me and my young daughter.

As an aside, everything in that home was tall and big (including her ceilings, high enough to accommodate her 6’6″ husband, 6’8″ fifteen year old son, 6’2″ 14 year old daughter, and so on). I felt my body grow taller and slimmer being in the environs. In any case, the woman kept me talking, non-stop, for over an hour. It was slightly odd, being turned away from directing the conversation to her. She successfully thwarted every attempt I made to ask about her in any way. Finally, after I’d been going on with diarrhea of the mouth, I put an end to it. This took the conversation in a surprising turn.

“Normally I wouldn’t do this,” she began, “but I want to hear about other people, other things, anything but myself.” She went on to ask me if I’d ever lost anyone close to me. No, not really, I’d replied. “I’ve been doing everything wrong!” she said emphatically. “All wrong–I’ve left everyone alone, thinking they needed ‘family time’ she continued, “when in fact, that’s the last thing they want–or I wanted. Cards, flowers, phone calls, from people I don’t even know made me feel so good. But most of all, I want company.” She proceeded to explain a person suffering from a loss doesn’t want more alone time–“I’m already alone in my heart, I want company.”

Ever the cataloger of all things helpful, we talked about advice for the support group. It came down to a few tidbits she’s learned:
1. don’t be shy about calling, writing or just dropping by. A person in grief won’t ask for help, and won’t want to bug anyone else. Don’t call and ask if a casserole is needed. Just bring it by. If no one answers, leave it on the doorstep with or without a note.
2. cards and notes and calls are all welcome. doesn’t matter if the person who passed was a distant acquaintance or friend of friend. The memory and thought counts and helps the grieving process.
3. next to food, babysitting is the most helpful service to provide. Picking kids up from school, helping out the spouse of the person with the loss is appreciated (taking the kids home from church so the husband can attend to his duties).
4. coming over, and like I learned, being comfortable with talking at length about fun things. “Don’t forget the fun things!” she said. This was particularly hard for me. It was a big week, what with the ebook and movie stuff being announced and launched. Yet time and again, it was what she kept coming back to (her husband even got in the game, asking questions to assist in the novel he’s writing). a person dealing with hardcore issues wants to hear about fun, exciting events, not more depressing stories.
5. don’t worry about empathizing and crying. Enough tears have been shed. It’s okay to be happy. The funeral for my friend’s sister Sarah was a joyous occasion, as much as it could be. A celebration of life rather than mourning over the death.

The entire conversation was extremely helpful to me, and though I won’t look forward to death, I’ll definitely keep this etiquette in mind when it comes my way.

Easter fun with Cake Pops



spooky halloween cakepops



With Easter Sunday coming up, families around the world will be celebrating all things religious and egg-oriented. I suggest trying out a relatively new, rather digusting but fun edible family project.
Cake Pops.

Never heard of them before? You aren’t alone. I too, was Moses, wandering in the dessert desert, wondering how my life could get richer when lo, an angel appeared to me in the form of a Christmas present from my Las Vegas-based cousin who realized I was without the mother-of-all sugar formations.

This is what you need:

  1. The book:The Bible of Cake Pop books. Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recips for morethan 40 irresistible mini treats.
  2. Box of your favorite pre-mixed cake mix
  3. 9×13 cake pan
  4. mixing bowl
  5. 16 oz ready made frosting (this is America, home of the packaged and parceled after all. all my wonderful, incredibly civilized European readers will gag, but you have to understand this isn’t just food. It’s an experience).
  6. wax paper and 2 baking sheets
  7. Plastic wrap and toothpicks
  8. Plastic or paper sticks
All the recipes are the same. Basically, here it is. Make the cake, let it sit out overnight and get slightly dry.
Take it out and crumble in a bowl. Slightly microwave the ready-made frosting and put it in the cake mix.
Get grimy with your fingers, make it in to a ball (or whatever shape you want), place on the wax paper, cover with plastic wrap and chill.
 

When you are ready to decorate, pull out and get creative. We used 6 different kinds of decorative gel (found in most supermarkets) and lots of easter egg type glitter.

A month or so ago, I gave this a whirl with my five year old, attempting to make Easter Pops. They turned out like mutant pops, so sugary my face puckered and even Porsche spit them out. No matter. The girls loved the decoration part and proudly displayed their egg pops.

The final product. A bit scary for Easter, but gets the point across.

The entire production was less than 20 dollars, and provided hours of fun. the book has amazing ideas for all holidays….do what my cousin did and get someone the entire set of items (from cake mix to sticks). It makes for an inventive gift as well.

Russian Tea Cakes– the 18 min, impressive treat

I’m not Russian, nor do I drink tea, so its strange we somehow went from mother’s Swedish Pancakes to Russian Tea Cakes. She loved to serve the fancy little dollops of sugar and fat on silver plates, but I liked them warm. Never could wait until they cooled, as is the proper way.

The batter-mix until it barely sticks together
The oddity came in handy today, when, in a panic, Porsche reminded me I had to make “something Russian” to go along with her world report on Russia (at 5! yikes). As she talks about how Tsar Nicholas and family were murdered, the sturgeon are slaughtered for caviar, and how Fabrege eggs are in museums (oh, and can she pleeese have more ballet), she is going to be giving out tea cakes.
I must say, they don’t go over well at parties, even though they look as good as they taste. I don’t know if people are averse to trying something new, especially when coated with powered sugar. I will say this: they taste great, are so easy a 5 year old can do it, AND take less than 5 min to make and 9 min to cook. if you are EVER in a pinch, make these.
Once again, the Sarah version, to use portions that are meaningful instead of wasteful.

Prep time: 5 min (if butter is soft)

Cook time: 9 min

Ingredients

2/3 cup soft butter

3 full tsp of powdered sugar

1 tsp of vanilla

3/4 cup flour

pinch salt

(walnuts if desired)

Preparation
  1. Place butter and vanilla in a mixing bowl, and using paddle attachment, mix well (a minute or so) on med
  2. Add the powdered sugar.
  3. Add the flour and salt until just mixed (the dough will come off the sides of the bowl). If not, add a bit more flour
  4. Form small balls (ab nickle size around
    for kids. Larger for adults)
  5. Remove and form in to small balls. As you can see from the picture, 2/3 butter recipe made more than enough for 13 5 year olds and teachers, or a silver plate.
  6. Bake for 9 min or until the cakes are bouncy on the top
  7. Remove and allow to cool
  8. Roll again in powdered sugar
Bake, then sprinkle w/powdered
sugar (can roll in sugar  instead)
A note on NUTS: so many people are allergic to nuts of all kinds, I make this in 2 versions–with and without. Works either way. If you want some nuts, walnuts are best, and not much-about 1/4 cup, or else you need to change the recipe.
The finished product, 18 min later!

Another note on dryness: this recipe is interesting, in that the ‘best’ tea cakes, according to the mother-of-all-cooks, (mom), are flaky to the point of nearly falling apart. I’m not a fan of the falling-apart anything. It’s messy. I’m sure she meant crumbling in the mouth. Regardless, play around with the measurements to fit your liking. These are by far, the easiest, tasiest morsels you’ll make.