Enlightenment, Entrepreneurship and “Honoring the Spirit”

Moments of brilliance experienced by entrepreneurs often attribute their success to ‘honoring the spirit’

Recently a dear friend told me about an experience she had with her estranged father. After not speaking with him in over a year, she called him up out of the blue. Given their traumatic and dysfunctional relationship, I inquired as to what prompted the action.

“It had been on my mind incessantly, and I finally realized I had to honor the Spirit and do it.”

That begat a week or so of thinking about the phrase and concept. I’ve heard it referenced many a time, particularly when speaking with grossly successful people who in concert, relate a time when a ‘moment of brilliance’ or ‘enlightenment’ occurred. I thought of Steve Jobs, the devout atheist, who often called his ideas moments of enlightenment, a term I much prefer over the commonly-used “a-ha” moment of many-an-entrepreneur.

What faith-oriented people assign to the “the Spirit,” the “Holy Ghost,” or “divine promptings,” to name just a few, non-faith oriented people will say was a “gut impression,” “intuition,” or “circumstance,” among others. In the last year or two, even these words and phrases have been put six feet under, replaced with trendier terms like “ideation.” Even the “a-ha” moment has been retired.

Going back to my dear friend, I asked her what occurred during the conversation with her father, essentially wanting to know if the drama of the discussion was worth the effort of “honoring the spirit.”

“Absolutely,” she confided. Her father had learned he had lymphoma, it was spreading and may not have long to live. This prompting to call her father allowed her to talk and gain a level of closure and compassion she’d not had in many years.

Dispute, ignore, dishonor and suffer the consequence

Several years ago, I interviewed fifty executives from over thirty industries. Two billionaires were mixed in with millionaires, representing different races, religions and sexual orientations working in a variety of industries. I had twenty five questions and very soon, trends began surfacing.

“What made you successful?” I’d ask. The answers fell into three categories a) faith or belief in /self, b) determination/never-give-up attitude and c) gut/spirit/promptings as being key to their achievements.

When they didn’t honor their promptings, dire consequences followed.

One such example is from a self-made millionaire I’ll call Brandt who started from nothing to build a $750M manufacturing and real estate empire in the seventies. (Back when $750M was a lot of money). When I asked Brandt if he could identify any particular secret of success, he immediately said:  “listen to the Spirit.” Being the curious soul that I am, I asked if that was literal or figurative.

“Oh no, it’s literal.” Brandt described himself as a man of faith, and in his particular world (real estate and development but later in life, he ventured into manufacturing), he said that “listening”  had been one of his cornerstones of success. His most vital decisions had been based on ‘listening’ and was of primary importance when considering a new deal or hiring an employee.

“I’d always think about it, sometimes overnight, pray, and then listen to the Spirit to guide me.” He went on to relay that many times, what his advisors recommended and what he knew in the business world was in fact, correct. But it wasn’t uncommon for him to ‘have a bad feeling,’ ‘a feeling of warning’ or ‘trepidation,’ that steered him away from the candidate or opportunity. Sometimes, “it was an absolutely don’t do this,” and then a few times, it was a “very strong feeling I should do it, when the paperwork indicated otherwise.”

“Did you ever ignore this impression to your detriment?” I asked. Brandt laughed.

“Of course, and it was awful.” He described a candidate for a regional president position. “He literally was perfect on paper and in person,” Brandt emphasized. Even so, he had “an awful feeling,” but couldn’t help himself and hired the man anyway. “There was no reasonable answer for how I felt so I ignored it.”

If only moments of enlightenment were as obvious as the sun shining down

The following six months were so bad, the entire region almost went under. Brandt described the man’s management style, how he related to customers, his lack of communication and taking responsibility. So damaging was this person’s impact an entire fleet of managers left, a good many employees departing as well. Customers fled, and worse, the man didn’t want to exit the company, which led to a lawsuit. The position was poisoned for new candidates who envisioned it not as a thriving region but as a turnaround situation with unhappy customers, no staff and little confidence that ‘management’ knew how to hire good people.

“You don’t need to have many of those experiences to learn to ignore everyone else and trust your own guiding light.”

It’s rarely convenient to act

One week, I’d had the feeling to call my cousin who I’d not seen or spoken to in about six months. I was busy with kids, so was she, we both had jobs. The list of reasons why “not to bother her,” was endless. Finally, four weeks later, well after the promptings stopped, I called. In other words, when it was convenient for me. It turned out that those days when I was impressed to call, my cousin was in the hospital, alone, facing the news that her five months fetus had died inside her. Because of the size, he had to be delivered vaginally. She was in the hospital alone, her husband unavailable, her parents in another state unable to travel. The Lord was telling me to reach out to her in desperate time of need and I ignored it. Let me tell you, I’ve spent hours crying and regretting that period. The upside, if there is one, is that to this day, the experience is front and center of why I listen, and how I act even when I don’t want to or it’s not convenient.

Case in point: years later, my oldest brother called me on a Friday night. This successful yet troubled soul was a recovering addict, and even receiving his calls caused massive stress on my part, for I never knew what I was going to encounter. As the phone rang, I sat looking at it, willing it to stop ringing. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming feeling I must take the call. It triggered the event with my cousin and I immediately picked up the phone. As feared, my brother was extremely incapacitated, but I stayed with it, and after an hour, he started to normalize. He shared many heartfelt experiences from our younger days and words of gratitude for the relationship we’d once had, apologizing for hurts of the past and asking for forgiveness. The call was still hard, but as I was to discover later, it was closure, for he took his own life within a few days. Had we not had that conversation, I’d be left with a gaping hole of unresolved issues.

It’s rarely about the money

In my writing life, I can sense when I’m getting to close “to the line” I’ve set for myself or the readers. That means intimate scenes, wherein I want the readers’ blood to move a little quicker but not boil, or be embarrassed if someone else were to look at the page. As I write romantic thrillers, murders to occur, but being a fast-paced thriller doesn’t always mean gore.

Switching worlds, in the corporate realm where I still live half the time, that means I “listen” to when I should or shouldn’t call a person to pitch a new business idea or venture. It’s just a feeling that “no isn’t the right time,” or conversely, “call right now.” Just recently, I’d tracked down a reclusive billionaire’s cell phone, but sat on it for a nearly two weeks. It just hadn’t felt right to call. Then one morning (it was a Thursday), I stood in front of the fridge, pondering my next meal, when I heard this “stop everything and call him now!”

I did. He picked up. I pitched him. We spoke for nearly ninety minutes, and at the end, he invited me to lunch for the following Monday. He’s now involved in a deal I’m putting together, and better than that? He’s become a friend, like the grandfather I never had but always wanted.

It’s hard being quiet and listening about the “little things”

Another recent case was the prompting to grab the checkbook for an event. I distinctly remember thinking this is ludicrous, because I don’t use a check from one six-month period to another. Yet when I arrived at the event, the credit card system was down, I had no cash and they were only accepting checks. An associate paid my bill, so again, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was inconvenient. Worse, that so-easily-dismissed prompting could have saved me frustration.

Little things include giving credence to ideas or thought which seem so silly, random or unnecessary in the moment. Another experience in the last week included grabbing additional books before I headed out the door, thinking (once again) that it was — well, silly and unnecessary. I had no intention to stop at a retailer. Yet, I recalled the checkbook experience. Four hours later I received a call from a manager asking me to drop by because they sold out (two week ago). Taking the books saved me an additional trip and two hours. It wasn’t life changing: it was simply nice.

Perhaps these inspirational and directional moments of guidance are sometimes heart-stopping and life changing, the next new novel to hit the bestseller list or gadget to revolutionize the world. But more likely than not, they are in fact, the little things that comprise the majority of our lives. Stopping, listening and acting is when the real magic begins.

The upside of the crowds

A few days after writing the last block about how our little town of Coeur d’Alene has become a place of refuge for those fleeing the cities, it occurred to me that the upside has been far better than the down. While you might be tempted to assign it to my positive nature, or my pragmatic streak that includes “what you gonna do about it?” philosophy, but it’s neither. The truth is: I AM happy we have become a place for others to weather out a storm which may not go away for a very long time.

The top reasons why CDA is (still) the best even with more people

The economy boomed. While the state of Washington and Oregon shut down, residents didn’t wait for Amazon. They just drove ten minutes to come into Idaho to visit the Costco, Target and pretty much every restaurant. (Yes, wait times went from zero to two hours, but…)

Restaurants went on a hiring spree. Sure, initially the employees took the money and stayed home, causing the restaurant owners to become desperate. The good news? Washington residents came over, filled in the spots of those stay-at-home-thanks-to-the-covid-relief-money, and now, most of them have remained a year later.

Everyone else did too. The outdoor stores, recreational stores from bikes to Kayaks and running…you name it, the retailers exploded because why? You had to stay home and the government encouraged you to socially distance, which residents did–outdoors. This means a custom-made Kayak has a three-year wait list, so consumers are spending that + more on items for things to do NOW.

Idaho budget surplus exploded. A year ago, the fiscally responsible folks in Boise had a surplus of over $50M. Before the end of the year, it was over $650M. The local hot tub place, 3rd generation–went from no wait list, to one year, now it’s about two years as well–all paid in advance. Which means more taxes to the government, resulting in…

Lower Taxes on the horizon. New York and California face budget crisis. Not Idaho. Pretty much across the board, taxes are set to decline. Now, to put this in context, when we moved here, our taxes in Maple Valley, Washington were @$19K for a five-acre property with home. Here, we have 10 acres and the taxes are running around $5K. Back in Seattle, private school was $12K per student. Here, they were $5.5K, but the public Charters school is top 50 in the country, and it’s….FREE. You add all this up and…silence. No ka-chings at all. The silence is wonderfully deafening.

I snapped this on the (short) drive 90 miles to the Canadian border. Just another swimming/fishing hole dotting the two-lane freeway.

Our orthodontist is still in business. Our ortho, who served as President of this specialty poured $100K’s of thousands of his own money into new ventilation systems, and used his personal savings to pay his employees during the bleakest of times. Sadly, straight teeth didn’t make anyone’s list of ‘critical’ services, so he was shut for months and going into the hole. As I made an appt for my daughter last week, a regular four-day wait is now six weeks, but I’m happy–nay–I’m thrilled to wait. That’s still five months shorter than it was in Seattle six years ago, and I want his coffers to get full again! This leads to…

More employment for the newcomers. The front desk gal (at the ortho) was all alone, down two people. One decided to get married/have babies, the other just decided to switch jobs. Now, with new clients overflowing, the office staff is hiring. Required skills? Happy personality, task oriented and can answer the phone. Pay? About $20 an hour.

The schools are bursting. With the two schools attended by our children, this is a great thing. Limits on classroom size exist, but to have thriving, diverse communities is good. Sharing the (financial) load is divine, but it’s more than that. It’s also the contribution and vitality ideas gifted by excited, enthusiastic parents.

This was taken on the way back from Whistler, British Columbia. It’s a longer drive (about 8 hours) but gorgeous as you can tell from this (no-filter) shot.

Retirees are getting a great payout. Okay, so home prices are still at an all-time-high, but guess who this serves? Aging people who have lived good lives and now are getting the payout of their dreams. Sure, they don’t have a (local) place to go to, but their bank account can carry them for years if they make the right choices. Four families have left my community in the last six month–two more just this month! In those two recent cases, one is moving down to be with children in another state (where they can now afford to live) while the other is setting down roots near a river in Eastern Idaho.

Newcomers are (mostly) like minded. If they are escaping someplace they don’t like, odds are they want what is offered here. Not all of course, but that adds to the diversity and discussion of life.

Best of all…the views don’t change. The meager lights of the city don’t impact the lights on the waterfront…those were developed long ago. And you know why lakefront property is at such a premium–and always has been? Vast swaths are unbuildable. No roads to the land or way to arrive save for the boat. It takes a deep-pocketed, strong-willed and determined person to use a parcel of land that’s mostly unhabitable. Furthermore, quite a bit of lakeside land has restrictions due to the grade of slope. What would make an Italian or Swiss person scoff makes the government here shudder. That’s a good thing. Keeps the light pollution down.

One view of our backyard to the famed “Palouse Fields.” 20 min into town yet you still have this? Yeah. I’d move here too.

A city of refuge

It’s not easy being in a city of refuge, for that’s what us “locals” have begun calling Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. When I arrived six years ago, those who’d moved in twenty years prior were still newcomers. Now, if you’ve been here longer than twenty-four months, you practically homesteaded the area.

In case your grumbling about my grumbling, here’s a few sobering realities.

Finding healthcare is almost impossible. It took me over five months to find a provider for my mother, three months for myself, and when I did, my atheist-like husband literally proclaimed it was divine intervention. Name dropping and referrals from my close friends (surgeons to boot) were no good. The scheduling supervisor told me thirty people had called just that morning, and the previous month, 900 new families were trying to get primary care. (Of course the Kootenai healthcare center is close, robust and has a heli-pad, so that’s a bonus).

The hotels are at capacity. No, this isn’t because of the seasonal tourists. That doesn’t happen for another month. It’s because many residents decided to sell high when city-dwellers were in a panic, fleeing unrest and uncertainty. The prices quadrupled in many cases, the sellers pocketing the cash only to find everyone else had the same idea. No available apartments, condos or home rentals have pushed people flush with cash to the hotels. Those fortunate enough to get a room at the famed Coeur d’Alene Resort (with the floating green and host of American Idol where Katy Perry famously trashed the penthouse, and made it reek of pot), are complaining that they have to wait for room service–albeit with a nice view of the water. My heart bleeds for them. Really.

Like the Hilton, the Marriott sits on the river

No contractors/builders available. Those who bought land and want to build are now in a pickle, the combination of no builders and outrageous lumber prices. In a town of 20K which swells to 40K in the summer, only so many builders exist–like six reputable ones. All the  others are former landscapers—including the guy who dug out the hole for our pool five years ago. Last year he reinvented himself as “a high-end builder,” and within two months, had three custom home contracts. Yikes. Just last night (Thursday), a young couple who lives two homes from informed us they were selling their 10 acre property because their builder poured the foundation, then bailed to take a higher-end home build across the lake.

And let’s talk construction material costs shall we? A 14 foot 2×4 use to be $9. Now it’s $34, and if it’s available. A sheet of press board was $8. Now it’s $29. Our dear friends from Seattle moved over, bought land in Rathdrum, but their contractor didn’t use a materials (wood) contract. Their costs for wood skyrocked from $27K to over $75K in the four months it took for permitting and HOA approval. But with no end of price increases, they flipped the property and made a $40K profit for those 160 days of waiting. They also extended the contract for their lovely, 3,500 square foot rental home in Spokane Valley (20 minutes across the border in Washington), which is only costing them $2,000 a month.

Permits. When we constructed our out-building (a stand alone structure typically housing farm equipment, or in our case, snow removal rigs and toys), permits took two weeks. Two years ago, it was a three weeks, but twelve months ago, just around Covid hitting, it reached six months. Last month? Almost a year.

Dirt made of gold. Two years ago, a ten acre plot right next to us with 360 views sold for $100k. Today, a 1/3 acre is now between $695-995. Where are we, Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas, living by billionaires and Celine Dion?

Homes… Five years ago, we looked at properties for my parents for retirement. CDA was a little slice of heaven: 2,000 square foot rambler on 3 acres was $125,000. Three years ago, that same property was up to $175K where homes of that sort hovered…right up until BLM and the “exodus.” That very home was removed, relisted for $375K and two days later, taken off the market and relisted for $600K. It sold. All the quaint little homes that were moderately priced are selling at San Francisco prices, owned by people who don’t even live here, but want the security blanket of a place of refuge. In another case, our engineer friend moved here four years ago from Sacramento California. The total cost for a three-acre plot and building a 3,200 square foot semi-custom home with a detached outbuilding for his toys was…wait for it…$410,000. He felt like he’d won the lottery. Mid-BLM, his neighbor sold his similar home for $1.8M. He’s now at the Best Western Hotel, out of his mind that he can’t afford to replace what he sold. What’s he going to do and where is he going to go? It’s a serious question. The outdoors, overall lower cost of living and safe environment haven’t changed. (To wit: Ghiradelli’s chocolate baking bar is $2.98 here. Over the border in Washington, that same bar is $4.35. Same store–Alberton’s, but different prices).

A few other tidbits: The area has one, count it—1- Costco. It serves about seven towns, because I’m just not sure little enclaves with 14K residents counts as a city. We have one—again 1, Target. Two natural grocery stores. A single drive-through car wash. The lone German food restaurant went out of business three years ago because business was so slow. Does this sound like a thriving metropolis? Now, when you go to one of the few marinas, the wait list is nearly three years according to the GM, who had too much to drink at his partners’ birthday part and was spilling the beans.

Am I annoyed? Not really. I’m more pragmatic than anything.
Growth and moving are a part of life. I don’t begrudge people moving away to a better place that to them (e.g. Californians and Arizonians) CDA is practically free. I’ve directly benefitted in strange ways. The hot yoga studio I attend now has a wonderfully gifted yoga instructor from Portland. What irks me is that non-retired folks who own or employed in shops, are cops or firefighters, game wardens or nurses, are so completely priced out of the market forever more, they are being shunted to the middle of nowhere.

Even so, there are over three dozen lakes in a forty-mile radius of CDA, the Canadian border is 89 miles north, and if you get on I-95, you can drive straight down to Las Vegas, going through the amazing fishing and whitewater experience of Hell’s Canyon and other world-famous sites. Heck, just thirty minutes from our home in the St. Maries-St. Joseph’s recreational area which hosts international fishing and hunting groups every year. Hint: if you’re from out of town, call it St. Joe’s area–no one calls it St. Josephs. A sure sign your from out of town.

Lots more to do than hunting or golfing

All waves must come crashing down

If you listen to the real estate agents (nearly 4,000 in a town of 20—yikes!) they’d love you to believe that you must buy now! But what’s to buy? The flood of properties on the market were snapped up at extraordinarily high prices. Today, twelve months later, it’s a different world. The homes are fewer, in less desirable areas and for those of us who watch the market, a definite downward trend of prices is evident. It’s as though the buy-and-hold mentality is being augmented with a realization that a) cities are not burning to the ground with Biden as President, b) a second home near the Canadian border isn’t really required and c) it’s darn cold and lots of snow here in the winter.

The rest of the community members (ergo, those not in real estate) are likening this to what happened in 2008/2009. That’s when many homes in golf course communities like Blackrock sold at record highs, where they remained until just this last year. We looked at a home listed for $1.9M sold and sold in a week for $3M, all cash deal. It was flipped and sold within another week for $6M. The general consensus is the panic-buying spree is over, everyone who purchased will never get their money back and in another decade, will eventually sell underwater.

View from the course at Blackrock

But what about us, you ask? We are staying put, despite receiving unsoliticed offers of 12X what we paid for this place 6 years ago. One can always create more homes (given money and time) but not views and mountains. Besides, where would we go? We’d have more money in the bank and be homeless.

So to all those still looking to escape to a gorgeously wonderful, safe and amazing area, I say come. Just make sure you bring a tent, a water purifier and food storage and some reading material and lots of patience.

End note: As to finding a primary healthcare provider, I was told that me and Rog just happened to have small problems which apparently pay well but don’t take a lot of time (migraine RX and shoulder injury). In and out, otherwise we’d have been turned down. And yes, healthcare providers are now profiling potential patients, but that’s another blog.

Photos: feature photo- the floating T at the Coeur d’Alene golf course. Photo gallery left to right: a pic from Silver Mt. Ski Resort, elk in our back yard, fly fishing, and a bunch of deer that were tired from trying to swim and rescued by a local fisherman.

The first official “author interview” is always a little nerve-inducing, because like most creatives, I’m fearful what questions will remain in, be taken out, if my answers will be edited or I’ll just come across as a tired mom, which I sometimes am. Thankfully, this one wasn’t too bad. I must have had a decent nights sleep the night before.

The impetus behind the sit-down is Above Ground, my latest release in the thriller-romance genre.

A partial interview is below. The copmplete interview is here.

From BookView March 20, 2021

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked to Sarah Gerdes, the award-winning author of twenty-two books (six reaching #1) that have been published in over 100 countries and three languages, about her writing and her upcoming title, Above Ground, a page-turning suspense thriller (read the review here).

Tell us more about your book. What inspired the premise?

Three things happened at once within a very short period of time. The first was a law in California that changed theft of under a thousand dollars to from a felony to a misdemeanor. The second was watching a documentary on the three-hundred miles of underground drainage systems in Las Vegas that were intended to be used for the seasonal monsoons but houses thousands of people from all walks of life. The last thing was a conversation with my brother, who’s an estate attorney for a number of celebrities and athletes in Las Vegas. I was joking about these subjects, and off the cuff, I said: I bet the stolen goods are coming from San Francisco to Las Vegas and he laughed and said: “Sure! It’s well know the Bulgarians fence the auto parts, the Russians the jewelry…” and as I listened to him, the entire story line clicked in.

How many rewrites did you do for this book:

17 (COVID was brutal!)

Which character was the most challenging to write?

The primary individual involved in actual trafficking of people. Someone who’s that amoral and soulless wasn’t easy.

What is a special standout element of Above Ground?

I take joy in writing about places I’ve been and sharing the locations with readers is a joy. For instance, a clubs like Taos is known around the world, but most people will never have the chance to enter, or a meal at Buddy V’s where you will sit be a legitimate business person and a well-known (but not convicted) dark element. Writing a scene is like opening the door and taking the hand of a reader, and we are entering/exploring together.

What characters (if any) based on real people?

The primary romantic interest, Trey Bridger, is a merger of a man I know with the body and fantasy I want! An attorney, the UNVL tennis player and boyfriend are loosely based on friend, a niece and her boyfriend. Lucas Weinstein, the Russian jeweler is also based on a wealthy, elegantly-slimy man I know in the pawn world. He takes it as a compliment, although he actually lives in Chicago.

Which scene changed the most from the first draft to the published book?

The final scene where a primary (antagonist) character dies. From inception, I always envisioned he’d float down the drainage systems in the monsoon, but with the plot curves, I thought that would be too pat. I also changed the dynamics of power between Shay Wilson and this man and wanted her empowerment to show through, but in a way that she, and the reader, would never expect. It made the book far more interesting for me to write and I hope for the reader.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

That very few people are truly unredeemable. Even the worst people will take care of their mothers or give to the needy, so we need to take or appreciate the good and without throwing away the entire human.

What makes this book important right now?

Like all my books in the suspense genre, fiction is built around fact.

How did you decide on this title.

Easy—there were a TON of books with the words ‘below,’ or ‘underground,’ so I switched it up, and talked about Above Ground, where the real criminals live and work side beside the rest of us, in broad daylight.

What inspired you for this genre?

I’ve don’t write in terms of genres, or at least I don’t think of it that way. I write books that inspire me and then it’s determined what category they best fit in. Page-turners without graphic details tend to be in the suspense genre, while thrillers can vary on a scale. My work is page turning while not graphic, and there’s a big difference.

How long does it take to write a book?

It completely varies based on what’s happening in my life and the world. During the last four years, I’ve averaged three books a year. But with COVID, Above Ground took nearly a year. My mother came to live with us, the kids—all of us were at home—and it was hard to maintain a single line of thought for more than twenty minutes!

Is writer’s block real?

Absolutely, and warrants an entire chapter in Author Straight Talk (AST), but the “block” is the symptom, the causes can be many. It just means a pause in writing. Fear can stop the writing process (will book 2 be as good as book 1?) Can I due to topic justice? Have I lost the touch? You can push through, walk around or over the fear and uncertainty, but eventually, the desire and courage will return.

Best money you spent as a writer?

Without a question, a good editor—but what most novice authors don’t know is that several types of editors exist, and they are stratified by genre and type. A great editor in the sci-fi genre won’t touch a romance book and vice versa. One of the biggest mistakes I make early on was thinking that an editor in one genre could cross to another. Once you have the right editor for the right genre, you need to the best ‘type’ editor. As I detail in AST, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on “strategic editing,” which focuses on plot, pacing, character development, reveals etc. It has been like getting a masters in each genre.

For the complete interview, click here.

A stranger’s smile

Ever wonder about a stranger smiling your way? Do I have mustard on my cheek? Is my hair all wrong? What’s the motivation behind the look? I’ll often ask myself.
“None of the above” Rog said, during the most recent instance of being on the receiving end of a (in this case, male) stranger’s smile. Besides, he continued, “Who cares why he did it?” Rog asked. “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/Swiss, 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 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 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 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 who ultimately benefit.

The upside-downside smile perspective

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 emerged from the local public library 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 (I figure I’m invisible to people three decades younger, 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 remaining!

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 Swiss 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 twisted kind of a way. But then again, I’ve noticed something else: those smile-affronted are either newly married (as I was), 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 gave me 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 creeped out by 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 beautiful 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 Saturday. Greet the day, and complete strangers, with a smile.

When dreams die

Ever since I was a teenager, I’d wanted to learn to fly, not as a vocation, but for the fun of it. I was a natural according to my dad. He’d let me fly for hours, turning in accordance with the maps and flight plan, even descending until he was ready to land the plane. By the time I graduated high school, becoming a private pilot was a forgone conclusion—a dream I was excited to achieve when I had the time and money.

Throughout my twenties, I held onto this dream. About five years into our marriage, me and my husband (Rog) made a deal: he’d take over my business for a year so I could finish my first book (another life-long dream) then we’d swap roles as he earned his pilot’s license. The deal worked; my book was published, he became a private pilot and I was ready to become one myself. I was on my way…until I wasn’t.

You see, I was great at the task(s) of flying, but sub-par at the details part. I know this sounds ridiculous and inconceivable, but it’s true. Suffice it to say that weights and balance, the outside checks of the aircraft, measurements and calculations for distances etc.—all the manual must-do’s for a pilot—well, I was terrible. Now, I can hear you saying: but that’s what checklists are for. True, but there’s a little thing called acumen. It’s the difference between “something comes naturally” vs “I have to make/remind myself” to do it. One can get away with using sub-par running shoes without dying. The same cannot be said for scrimping on the details associated with flying. So it was that at 31, I gave up my dream of flying.

Dreams die daily

We live in ice hockey country. Here, dwellers convert old hockey sticks into windshield scrapers for the snow and ice–because one must also show a love of the sport, even when one is not playing. It also means that youth players are frequently tapped for juniors, the precursor league before going pro here or abroad. Over the last four years, we have seen many dreams fade before ultimately dying. Just today, we had a talented young man (19) who played several seasons in Europe call my husband. When I heard the advice Roger was giving, I thought to myself, “another dream just died.”

Rog empathized, he himself having experienced three successive dream-deaths as I call them. First, it was failing the eye exam required by the Air Force while still in high school (he wanted to be a fighter pilot). He was crushed, but according to his mother, rebounded by focusing on sports. Only 6’2, he was a standout basketball player in his region, receiving scholarships but not to the top school of his choice. When that (second) dream died, he pivoted to football, walking on to the University team his freshman year as a tight end. This dream continued until he was injured his sophomore year. Bah-bum.

Reframing the dream

As I listened to Rog provide feedback to this youth, he empathized with the young man devastated by the notion of a future without professional hockey. Then the problem solving began.

“What do you want to do? Where does your passion lie? Does standard of living matter to you?”

They were the kind of pragmatic, rational questions a high school counselor or parent/mentor asks. Over the next forty minutes, all sorts of options were discussed, as well as areas of the country to live, the pros and cons of each and ultimately, what needed to happen to get from here to there.

Rog concluded with an admonition to pivot towards a dream you can control. It’s what I call positive pragmatism. Reality has gotten in the way of your dreams, and because reality won’t change, you have to. In other words, you don’t stop dreaming, you create new dreams you can accomplish.

With Rog, he pivoted his energies towards what he could control, and that was academics. He finished his masters in eighteen months while working full-time. He controlled his efforts to pivot once again, creating a new dream of succeeding in the business world.

A dream with a deadline

I’ve often said: “A dream is an objective with a deadline.” When it comes to creating a new dream, commit to it with all the vigor your younger, more enthusiastic and excited self had. The fact you are now older, wiser and more capable increases the possibility that your dream will be realized.

When it came to writing, Stephen King advocated to “Write ten pages a day and in a year, you have a novel.” I couldn’t be a basketball player because no amount of perfect free-throws were going to change my height, but I could learn the craft of writing and become a novelist. But as I did so, I worked (for years) in the software industry, created a management consulting firm, got married, had two kids…writing away, always keeping that guiding light of a dream in the distance. Guess what? With each page, each book, and each year, that light became closer and brighter, until finally, one day, years later, a book hit #1. Yeah, it took 20 years, but as I always say, “The time is going to pass whether you do something with it or not.”

I know 2020 has been a dark year for a lot of people, but among the scorched Earth of the pandemic and election, many new dream seeds have been planted. A new business idea, a new passion, hobby or even the dream of love.

As we approach the years’ end, look around and find those seeds which have been planted in your life. Nourish them. Help them grow. And if your land is barren, a personal scorched Earth, then get out of your zone find some seeds. Take action. Create your own dreams because guess what? The only person who can create and realize your dream is you.

Cyber Week Deals

Monday 11/30, 4 free books across ebook platforms!
Amazon Cyber Week deals = .99-1.99 books for 7 days!

On Amazon, all (active) books .99 with the exception of 2 (because Amazon puts a limit on the price due to the size of the book).

Convert your knowledge to money today

The Overlooked Expert: A terrific guide for anyone looking to build a successful consulting business… (Prairie Book Review)

In a highly readable work that makes a convincing case to develop a client service business, Gerdes leads the overlooked experts together through a proven approach to realize their future. Drawing from her own experience and featuring several highly successful real-life consultants, Gerdes outlines why all overlooked experts, especially middle managers should consider the idea of freelance consulting a viable option. Gerdes began her own consulting firm, Business Marketing Group (BMG), in San Francisco after realizing she was stuck in the same position for quite a time and went on to consult not only for start-ups and Fortune 500 clients but also for the governments of Britain and Ireland.

Summary review

Separated into ten sections, Gerdes covers everything from the initial discovery of an overlook skillset, determining if the skill had a value in open market, starting a business for little or no cost and realizing immediate income to expanding one’s business. Gerdes has an engaging, uplifting viewpoint and infectious spirit that should be appealing to middle managers stuck in uninspired jobs for too long or consultants burdened with uncertainty of today’s job market. She includes strategic insights, business rules to follow, compelling facts (a list of over 100 consulting vocations) and helpful tactics (how to pitch and negotiate fair deals with clients, how to recognize downturns patterns and prepare your firm) to make this book a master-class in how one can transform their skills into revenue. This is a fun, easy to read, and well worth the time invested.

Review published PBR Nov. 8, 2020

The Overlooked Expert

By Sarah Gerdes

Buy now

Barnes & Noble

Price $7.95 (USD) Paperback, $2.99 ebook edition

What do you title a blog about encountering a person who lacks a nose? It’s hard. To wit, you notice I just avoided it altogether.

There I am, standing in line at Kohl’s, one of the few shopping experiences around here where one can go in, grab and go without the hassle of a line. Let’s not get pissy about stores okay? Kohl’s became a fav when my butt expanded with my time here in Idaho and I discovered Jennifer Lopez’ line of curve-hugging-yet-flattering pants, perfect for those of us with small waists and ahem-gracious derrieres’. Kohl’s also has fantastic (and I do mean fantastic) deals on appliances (Euro brands + Kitchenaids etc) and Xmas items at prices so far less than Macy’s it’s really wrong (as if Macy’s weren’t struggling enough.

But I digress. The buzzer rings, I step off my personal round space used for distancing, say hello to the register worker and answer the basic questions. Yes, I found everything, yes, I’m having a good day. Because I’m old school and believe in making eye-contact, I don’t immediately notice the missing section between her eyes and her mouth. Normally, a point lifts the mask off the nose. Furthermore, here in Idaho, the mask mandate has been eliminated, although many wear a mask but pull it down just below the nose.

This woman, I realized, had no nose. It was gone.

We are talking about the essentials of life; the upcoming holiday season, the best deals and delight that waiting lines no longer exist because consumers are shopping on line. I ask if she’s worried about her job and she just scoffs.

“I’d been through a divorce, and my house burned down because of an electrical issue,” she tells me, all the while scanning my items. “My own smoking caused this,” she says, pointing to her nose, then shrugs.

“You think I even care about COVID? It’s the flu. Try having your life wiped out by a fire and your nose being sliced off. Then come talk to me.”

Whew. What do you say to that? (I know you’re wondering what I said. It was “no kidding,” reinforced with a head nod.

Walking out the door, I remove my own mask and take a long inhale of 10 degree air through the nose, a sensation I’d always taken for granted and never thought about twice. I do now.

Stories from the waiting line…

Once upon a time, my public outings 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 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 2019-2020 fashion season. I’m tapping away on my phone, 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 an author. 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. As she continues, I’m visualizing 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 your son like the idea or get offended?” I boldly ask. She enthusiastically tells me that she floated the idea to him. He apparently responded something to the effect “Mom, that’s pure love.”

Sounded more like Son got pragmatic. Second marriage. 30+ yr old fiance. 50-50. When the son gave it to his fiance, she loved it, having it resized.

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) was a promotion from one executive position to another. This woman wasn’t hurting, at least not financially.

“In the middle of it all,” she continues, “I feel this lump in my belly—this big,” holding up her clenched fist in the air. I put down my iphone, giving her the full attention she clearly needs. Her OB tells her its nothing, but that she needed a hysterectomy.

“Everything falls you know,” she says in a matter-of-fact voice. No, I tell her, I don’t know, trying to hold back the revolting feeling that graduates up my inerds. “Yeah, it all sort of drops since nothing is there to hold it in.” I’m wondering, ‘what drops, exactly?’ but I my raised eyebrows must say it all. “Your kidneys, sometimes your live,” she goes on. “Your vagina.” My eyes pop, but I just nod and ask, if any of that hurt. With her hand still raised in the air, she triumphantly announces that she got to the bottom of it.

“It was my rectum!” she says proudly, “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, the visual of a guts and stuff dropping out a strangers nether regions in my brain. By the time I get to my car, my appetite is completely left me, but I do have visions of the next random story I’m going to get while waiting in line.

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 kids. As I’m reading,  my 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 know, 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.

The emotional lifeline of Hope

From the start of Monday, the week has been frought with bad news. All sorts. Job loss. Friends losing homes. A divorce. It’s not a surprise to hear the words of despair, the temporary absence of optimism, of hope that the situation will improve.

Hope is an emotional lifeline. When I told Rog I intended to write about it, he says “No, what right do you have to pontificate to others?”

“Who better to write on hope that me?” It was then I reminded him it was I who’d experienced divorce, single parenting, bankruptcy, foreclosure, the freezing of my assets and an expanding arse to boot. He krinkled his face when I recalled it was my hope we’d have children someday, which was a mantra I chanted for seven years as he maintained he’d rather get divorced than bring a child into a dark, hate-filled world. Until one day, he woke up and essentially said ‘we might bring a child that will make the world a better place.’

Nobody who hasn’t been a part of my life has any clue that it was the hope in dark times that allowed me to endure to reach the point I am at today, which to the outside, is perfect. For years, it wasn’t perfect. It was hard. Lonely. Loveless and it was my foundation.

“Ok,” he mumbled as he walked in to the office. “Write it. Just don’t be sappy.”

I make no such promise.

Hope is found when a stranger smiles at you on the walk home.
Hope is given to a foster child turns 18, and a business owner takes a chance and gives a job.
Hope is what remains inside a woman, long after her man has walked out the door.
Hope is rewarded when a new man appears, one far better and more deserving then the one who left.
Hope is felt when a mother tells her daughter her son will one day return.
Hope is rewarded when the daughter broke it off, right before saying “I do.”
Hope is renewed when the son goes to college on his own accord.
Hope is a person wronged will forgive, and a friendship will be regained.
Hope is the crowd will cheer, not boo.
Hope is going on again the next night, no matter what happened the evening before.
Hope is the light in a newborns eye.
Hope is the enemy of despair.
Hope sees me through the tears and heartaches.
Hope is within, ever present.
Hope is life.

And yeah, this got a little sappy at the end. It couldn’t be helped.

Asian Style Crab Crepes

If you want an incredible tasting appetizer that is also beautiful, holds until the next day AND is fun to cook, this is it. For the carnivores at my gourmet cooking class a few weeks ago, this won top awards. (The vegetarians loved the artichoke bruschetta that best). When I say ‘hold until the next day’…to be clear, the batter must be separate from the filling.

Ingredients
½-3/4 cooked white crabmeat, shredded
7 scallions, both white and green parts, chopped
3 fresh hot green chilis
2 ½ cups chopped cilantro
¼ cp canola or sunflower oil
1.5 tbsp dark sesame oil
1/3 cup lime juice
1 ½ tsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped or crushed salt
For garnish, peeled shrimp, orange, lemon and lime wedges, dill sprigs and basil leaves.
Preparation
  • 1.     Toss together the crabmeat, scallions, chilis and cilantro (and yes, you will use ALL the cilantro)
  • 2.     Stir together the canola or sunflower and sesame oils with the lime juice, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Toss with the crabmeat mixture. Add salt to taste.
  • 3.     Cut the crepes in half. Warm them in a pan or in the oven at 350 degrees.
  • 4.     Fill and fold the crepes, arrange on the platter and serve immediately.

Crepes

1 1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp salted butter (melted)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp butter all-purpose flower
Preparation
  • 1.     Sift dry ingredients together
  • 2.     Combine milk and melted butter
  • 3.     Add wet to dry, blend with old-fashioned egg beater or electric mix.
  • 4.  For a thin crepe, use 1/4 cup batter. For a thicker crepe, a bit more-like 1/3.
  • 5.     Pour in crepe pan
To make the crepes look extra exotic, add chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsely, tarragon or chervil to the batter just before making the crepes. When serving…cut the round crepes in half. Spread the filling in the center–a little goes a long long way. Start at the corner, fold in, and make a nice folded crepe. If necessary, use a toothpick to hold the crepe together for a finger food. Looks great!!
At the class, I used a full-size crepe pan. It’s about 9″ round. This was perfect for cutting the crepes in half, as noted above. The size was fine for a dinner, but for a party, the crepes and serving sizes needed to be smaller. For a baby shower I gave, I used my small omelet pan, (any non-stick pan works fine) and made crepes about 3-4″ in diameter.
One last note. With or without a non-stick pan, melted butter is a far superior substance than  even the most expensive non-stick products. Better taste aside, the butter simply works the best. My trick is to melt one stick of butter in a small bowl, place on a plate my the stove along with a tablespoon and a paper towel. After putting a TBS of butter on the surface of the pan, I spread with a paperto wel, thoroughly coating the bottom and all sides of the pan. THEN pour in the batter, swirl around the bottom and sides of the pan.
Unlike breakfast crepes, you don’t want the edges to turn brown before turning. Keep an eye on the crepe. It takes only a minute or two so on med-to-low heat on each side. The goal is to have the crepe cooked, but not brown.
When you are done, slide the crepe on to a dinner plate to cool. It will burn your fingers if you attempt to put the cold filling directly in the hot crepe. It will also change the flavors slightly. Of course, you can eat this app warm or cold, and it’s divine either way. Enjoy!

The 3 D’s of Success

There I am, lying on my back, the ceiling spinning, sweat dripping from every pore and I’m having an out of body experience, willing my soul far from the oppressively hot room. The hot hatha yoga class is nearly over, the final Shivasna meditation pose supposed to one of relaxation, where the body absorbs all the pain and punishment it has endured in a room of 110 degrees and 60 percent humidity. It’s the hardest part for me, because all I can think about is getting out of the room, into the cool air and slurping down ice cold water–which of course, is  the worst thing I can do.

“The 5:30 a.m. class is my favorite,” says the teacher, her voice calm and sincere. “It’s because the students here embody the three D’s: decision, discipline and determination.” I snap back to the present, the mantra reminding me of a keynote speech on success and entrepreneurialism more than yoga.

I sucked my soul back from its hovering position above me and refocused on her words.

“The people in this room made the decision to be here. Then you had the discipline to get up at four or thereabouts, eat and come here. Once in the room, you had the determination to put your entire effort into every one of the twenty-six poses.”

She’s absolutely right, I thought, breathing shallow, telling myself I can last another few minutes. Her Three D’s can be applied to pretty much anyone who’s achieved success by any measure. “We” make the Decision to go to college/run a marathon/write a book etc. Then we have the Discipline to study/train for a year/fail for a few novels and through Determination do we get persevere through the downs and ups, blisters and callouses and rejections on the long, hard and oftentimes bumpy road to our goal—the decision we made in the first place.

As Mimi, the morning instructor talks through the last five minutes of meditation, I continue ruminating on the notion, considering the application of the three D’s, reflecting how I’ve defined much of my adult life by determination, but neither decision or discipline. In fact, my oft-repeated joke has always been that God didn’t give me any natural skills or talents except one: Determination. My husband lovingly calls me his goat, but not in the Michael Jordan-type greatest-of-all-time. Rog means it literally. He often says I will “chew my way through a wall to get what I want.”

I take that as a compliment by the way. I just simply say: that’s what I want and keep going until I get it. Of course I’m realistic, no WNBA or President of the United States for me. But I do tend to focus, ignoring every bit of distracting, external noise in my path. As my yoga instructor implied, it’s a personal decision, a personal level of discipline and personal determination that got each and every one of us to yoga in the first place. No one else got us up, dressed us, stood for us or wiped the sweat off our faces when it was all over.

The after effects of that wonderful morning yoga session was I have added the other two D’s to the one I’d always considered the absolute. Perhaps that’s also given a conference seeker another topic.

Gift card scamming

The server scam

Gift cards are wonderful things. Easy, convenient, and during these strange times, helpful when things can be delivered directly to your doorstep, including food. Yet I realized many of you might be unaware of the latest in gift card scamming that I’ve actually experienced firsthand.

It goes like this. You give or receive a gift card for $200, the amount I provided my parents last year for their anniversary. This happened to be for the Cheesecake Factory. Upon presentation of the bill, and their providing the gift card, the server returned stating that the gift card was only for $50. Well, that wasn’t the case, but my parents, without the receipt showing the authorization, were unable to argue otherwise. The bill was over $100, and their card—as told by the server—was only for $50.

My parents—bless their hearts—didn’t tell me this for over a month, because they assumed I was the one who actually misspoke (or being totally cheap). I was incensed. I dug through my receipts, found the activation code, called the gift card number and verified that yes, it was activated for $200. Armed with this info, I then called up the General Manager in the Reno location of said restaurant. To spare you the minutiae, what he ultimately found was that the server had taken the bill, uses the entire amount of the gift card, applying only a portion of the gift card, thereby pocketing the rest. It’s quite ingenious and might appear in one of my books at some point.

Problem solved and lesson learned, I thought. Although it’s classless, I began including the activation receipt along with the gift card. In my line of work (author/advisor) I get a ton of gift cards myself, and happily use them. As it happens, I received one for PF Chang, a wonderful chain serving fantastic food. The card is for $150, but I was not given the activation receipt. However, I’ve learned a lesson. Prior to going in, I went on line, used the website on the back to confirm activation and amount. Sure enough, $150. Imagine my surprise when the server told me that only $75 was on the card. I disputed the facts with the server, identifying the activation and amount, even the General Manager came over, but to no avail. I didn’t have the hard copy, activation receipt. In short, I was out the $25.00.

The last example—because third times a charm, right? This time it involves Red Robin. In this instance, a relative had given me the gift card, again, no receipt. Once again, I verified the card amount on line as being $50. What I did different was upon arrival, I requested the hostess to do a quick check of the amount on the gift card. In less than 15 seconds, she assured me it was in fact, $50.

Now I had a witness.

When the bill for $42 including a tip was presented, the server told me that $15 had already been used on the card. Hmm. I rather pleasantly called over the host. She was unaware of the what had transpired, and affirmed the amount on the card. I politely told the server she must be mistaken, as did the hostess. She stumbled and fumbled, but I received a revised bill and statement. Whatever she did in the background to rectify the situation was never revealed.

Three restaurants, three versions of the same scam. No need to make a big scene, because I get it; people are well…people. Not everyone is going to operate the same way, and as a well-known Hollywood producer once told me, “Everyone is broken in one way or another. If we (producers) don’t work around their issues, nothing in Hollywood would ever get done.”

So the work around is have the receipt if possible, and if not, check the balance on line (look on the back of the card). When you arrive at the establishment, ask the hostess or manager to double check the amount so you don’t run into issues. Lastly, at the beginning of the meal, prior to ordering, tell your server that you have a card and the amount has just been verified by the manager/host. That removes any possibility for fraud to occur.

After that, enjoy a great meal!

Getting to the CEO

Breaking through the email barrier

There has never been a better time for email outreach, the stay-at-home economy requiring workers to be tethered to their devices more than ever. A few weeks back, the CEO of Intel told NPR this was the first time he’s been home in 30 years, his email, video conferencing and phone becoming the life-blood of business. That means you, the business development, sales or PR person, are presented with the best opportunity to get in front of the right person for your pitch.

Yet you it’s not always as easy as connecting through Linked In, especially when you want to reach executive staff. Emails are switched up and around, purposefully confusing the outsider. Because I’ve spent several decades breaking through the email barrier, “cold-emailing” and getting responses from the executive levels at the largest retail, technology, banking and manufacturing companies in the world, I’m going to share a few tried and proven tricks.

Conventions

A convention is technology-industry-speak for a format used by the company. These are pretty simple and vary depending on the size of the company. When it was small, it was bill@microsoft.com – which of course, was for Bill Gates. It remained so until he formally left his position. All other bills had a convention using numbers. As the company grew, it modified the names in a combination of first and last names, letters and so on. A great example of this is Steve Ballmer. His email was steveb@microsoft.com. Because so many Steve’s had the last name b, he was referred to internally as steveb–when in conversation. “Steveb said this…” “that’s what Steveb wants.” For years, I was known as Sarahg within that same organization (thus proving we can morph into our email names).

Most commonly used conventions

  • First name, last initial: sarahg@
  • First name only: sarah@
  • First initial, last name: sgerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes@

If the company is a mid-size (250 or above), you will have the same names. In this context, they usually modify the first or last only slightly, but adding the second, then third letter, or also adding a number.

  • First name, last initial: sarahge@
  • First name only: sarah1@ or sarah01@
  • First initial, last name: sagerdes@
  • First and last: sarahgerdes01

It’s rather amazing how uncreative those assigning names are, and how easy it is to penetrate a firm using a combination of the above.

Conventions aren’t limited to just the first and last names. It also applies to the company name. For instance, for Benjamin News Group, a Washington-based firm that’s presently being acquired by another entity, the address ends with @bngspkn.com. It was the first three letters of the company name, then the city where the firm is headquartered. Now, this is different than the URL designation on the main website, so how did I attain that email and correct ending? I called the main number, gave the pitch and was given the name of the general manager. He was out, and what I really wanted was his email. Trying the mail URL didn’t work. It was only later that I learned that the abbreviation his particular city was included in the address line. This shows two things: it is possible to get past the first line of defense (the receptionist and attain the name), the second is that I learned a new convention, even after all these years.

Getting creative

These aren’t always going to work, so you need to dig deeper. Looking up the CEOs name for the largest property holder in the country was done through a search on legal filings! It turns out that families get in spats, and when emails are filed with the court of law as a part of the proceedings, these documents are made public. Along with the full content, so are the emails. Can you believe that people don’t go back and change their emails? I’ve contacts who haven’t changed their emails for two decades, and in fact, I’ve not changed my BMG email in that long. That said, I have disabled it because I’m not taking on new clients at the moment, and if a person wants to get a hold of me, they can get creative themselves.

Another creative way…. social media

This isn’t perfect for a long pitch, but I’ve had executives, fans and parents track me down on Instagram and Facebook (see above comment on creativity). Several of these have been busines oriented, but most have been of a personal nature, seeking additional clarity on a topic I’ve written about. Because I don’t have a service or personal assistant, I eventually get to these items myself. It might take me a while, and I sometimes skip over or neglect my accounts for a while, but I do eventually get there.

Forwarding emails

This is another little trick that I’ve used myself. I’ve always wanted to make sure that variations of my name are taken, whether or not I use the various instantiations. To have one dashboard (or view) of all my accounts, I have them forwarded to my central account.

Executives do the same, using not just one, but multiple accounts, all being aggregated into a single view. My only caution to you, the sales/biz dev/executive, is to beware of hitting multiple accounts without waiting a reasonable period of time for a response (a week). Don’t hit all of them at once, as much as you want to get after it—the recipient will only become annoyed. It might take a month or so, but be patient.

The list of DON’Ts

On one hand, it’s wonderful to know that it is possible to reach the CEOs of the largest firms in the world. By the same token, your email MUST be free of a few things that will catch it up in spam.

No links. This is the first spam filter applied to any email. Don’t link to your website, home page, or product listing. You will never recover.

No links in your signature. My email signature (at the bottom, name/title/phone etc.) included the link from my name to my author page. This was causing my emails to go into junk. It was surprising for me to learn that even recipients who’d authorized me (my attorney in this case) had the filters set so high that all my correspondence was going in to junk. I had to remove the link from my signature in order for him to receive it, even though I was specifically authorized by him.

No attachments. This also gets caught in the first line of defense. When writing the first pitch email, it should be so inspiring it gets a response. Attachments can be sent thereafter.

Don’t copy another person. If you have the CEO and a VP, you need to make a choice. The rates of a non-response skyrocket when you have two or more copied. Why? First, no one is required to respond—the buck gets passed or the dropped entirely. Common thought is that the person on the To line will respond, and those CC’d will just observe.

That’s the wrong way to go about it. If you are confident in your pitch (and your product/service warrants it), make it to the CEO, who will in turn, provide it to the executive in charge of that area. Otherwise send it to the VP in the appropriate area. This strategy also provides you options in case you don’t receive a response (ergo, send to the CEO when the vp doesn’t respond or vice versa).

Bouncing or received?

How do you know if an email is incorrect? The email will immediately bounce as undeliverable. You know it’s working when the email doesn’t bounce, but you don’t receive a response. This indicates it’s likely gone into a “holding folder” where an assistant is assigned to look at it.

One such case was when I sent my first email to Steve Ballmer when he was at Microsoft. In that instance, I new I had the right email as I was a vendor. After three days, I received a response providing direction on the opportunity at hand, and when I inquired, learned that he had three assistants monitoring his email. He’d respond personally after a first review of the incoming mails were culled.

When to send

There’s an adage I heard a million years ago when I was starting out. My vice president of marketing told me “the higher the title, the earlier they will be up.” I’d been sending emails between the standard workday, thinking if I sent at 8 am (their time, not mine) I’d be the at the top of the in-box. Sure, I might have been, but by that time, the day was off and running, and the email wouldn’t even be opened until the afternoon. Conversely, if I sent the email in the afternoon (thinking people were winding down the day) I’d get more mindshare. Negative on that. Tired, grumpy and overwhelmed tended to be the emotions I’d experience when I placed a follow up call.

Sending early, as in 6 a.m. Yep, I wrote that. A CEO has thinking about the business 24×7, rising early to get a jump on the day. Delegation is one key to success, so the email is read and forwarded to the right person. If that means you are on the west coast, you get up at 3:30 a.m. and send that baby off (unless your system can schedule it for you), but beware. If you receive an immediate response and don’t answer, it’s clear that it’s a bot on your end.  

In a recent example, I sent an email to the CEO of a $26B firm last week. He responded in 1 hr 22 seconds, forwarding the inquiry pitch to two vice presidents, one being the primary contact.

Sending Sunday night. Until recently, this has been my favorite time to send an email, because I constantly found that CEOs weren’t/aren’t waiting until Monday morning. Many get online Sunday night to plan for the week ahead. Last month I sent off a pitch to a Canadian investor originally from Hong Kong on Sunday, because he’d specifically told me he likes to receive items Sunday night. Within an hour I had my response to the proposal and next steps.

I say “until recently” because I’m personally trying to not work on Sunday for any reason, not even cracking my computer open to write or work. As I’ve aged, I’ve gotten more focused on family than business, especially on Sunday. If you don’t share this perspective, then by all means use this as a tool—and sometimes, others will require it.

Now go forth, write and send—oh wait, it’s Thursday afternoon. Not yet!

Resilience & rubber bands

“During these Covid times,” being flexible and strong, never breaking and always protecting like those elastic gems is a must

March 17 was the invention date of the rubber band, a wonderful, magical tool that I couldn’t live without. Had British inventor and businessman Stephen Perry not been fooling around with vulcanized rubber, papers, products and hair and other mishmash items would scatter around willy-nilly.

Stephen Perry

“During these Covid times” as my ten-year old has been saying for two months now (the precursor to suggesting or doing something that’s normally not acceptable) I’ve been thinking about the rubber bands of life.

Bodies expand and contract like those wonderful elastic vulcanized rubber thingy-ma-jigs. Financial lives have been stretched to the breaking point, pulling and hurting in equal amounts, momentarily contracting then pulled again. Our emotional and mental states have also expanded beyond points we were prepared to endure. For a few, the rubber band has snapped. A front-line doctor took her life, horrific crimes have been committed against fellow human beings.

Yet this time hasn’t been entirely bad.  Bike sales have spiked during Covid, the joys of family together melded with the very real need to get out of the house. And prior to that, games, puzzles and ebook/traditional sales dramatically increased. I’ve not experienced or seen bad temperaments of in-store fighting or wars of words. On the contrary, here in Idaho, it’s been politeness and sharing, the six-foot distance doing no more than stretching our boundaries, the visual rubber band at work. The elasticity of the human spirit has been wonderfully at work.

The rubber band family

Those of us Idaho-imports moved here had no idea that stocking up for potential snow storms would help against a completely unexpected virus. And when you do live in rural area, you make must have a level of self-reliance stock up because you have to. Town is thirty minutes away, the nearest gas station fifteen, so if the unexpected happens, the bread (and toilet paper) will be long gone before you can get to town.

For yourself or your family, coming out of the “these Covid times,” doesn’t mean spending wildly on fun stuff, although it would be nice if you can. It means preparing for the next unexpected wave. Doing so gives me safety of mind, which is akin to ensuring my personal rubber band around my family is in good shape, protecting it and holding it together.

What about the fires in Florida which happened this month along with the flooding in the Carolinas? If Covid weren’t enough, you have strife-inducing events caused by nature. Out here in Idaho, most goods come in (via truck) from the coast. One year, a strange snow melt covered the singular pass between Seattle and this region, shutting down the artery for two weeks. We had tires on a semi which was stuck, along with lettuce, clothing and every other item it takes to live. So while it wasn’t a fire, flood or pandemic, it was a simple snow melt that brought this region to its knees.

This all gets me to wondering, how can we be more like that beautifully simple product created and patented by Stephen Perry, expanding and contracting when the challenging times come again? It’s simple, just like the rubber band. Stock up on essentials well before it’s necessary; be it clothing for the kids (buy one of present size, then one size larger) that extra can of food, the additional box of detergent and of course, toilet paper and water. It’s not sexy and won’t gain you followers like that photo of being in Greece, but it will keep you alive and help you sleep at night, and that comfort is priceless.

Start today, sleep tomorrow

Money: always have $500 in small bills if possible. Start today with a ten here, a twenty there. Save it/don’t touch it.

Food: Buy an extra can of anything you pick up. Buy-one/save one is a good motto to follow. You’ll have two weeks of short/long term food storage and paper products in no time.

Clothing: buy an extra size when it’s on sale, for yourself or kids. My weight went up twenty and nothing fit. While some wore pajamas and sweats for comfort, I wore them out of necessity. NO BUENO!

Gas or other essentials. We were down to a few gas tanks, but seeing how the coasts were hit, we had a month lead time until restrictions hit us. We were lucky that way, because we had time to purchase and save. Now that the shelves are being restocked, do so now.

These are at home items, but the Go Bag, which I’ve often referred to, and have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side. Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level.

Fires are the big thing around here, and I’m telling you what: if you can’t get it and go in under thirty, life is not good. The Go Bag is my mobile rubber band that keeps my family together at a basic level. We have for each of our cars, has essentials that can all fit in a waterproof backpack. I go through it about every 4-6 months just to be on the safe side.

Staying Above Ground

romantic suspense title coming June 2020

A week ago, I learned my amazing designer had six months worth of projects cancelled due to Covid. He had created massive trade show pieces, web design, software application front ends–all shut down mid-stream. Most of the clients were unable to pay for the work he’d done, let alone pay for the aspects remaining. Now, I love this guy in a purely platonic, he’s an-incredibly-talented type of way. He’s created the covers for my last 15 books and a myriad of social media, in-store retail and odds-and-ends I’ve required. His question: Do you have any upcoming books that I can work on now. My answer: YES!!

The backstory is my stuff usually gets slotted in months in advance and let’s face it: author covers/design are pretty much at the bottom of the priority list due to the time it takes and the money. It’s simple math, and I’ve never had a problem with it. That said, the unfortunate circumstances have allowed me to skip to the front of the big-boy line.

Passing on the love

Download a free ebook and enter to win a free, signed copy of Above Ground

This novel is similar in genre to Global Deadline. A suspense genre set in Las Vegas. It goes to the editor in three weeks, which means it will be out June if I’m lucky. And since I’m thrilled to keep my designer at work on my projects, I gave him the green light to work on Chambers 3.

Want to be an advance reader? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Also, you can download a free book and enter to win a signed copy as well as get alerts for new promotions when I have a title that’s included in group-author promos.


Back of Book

Far beneath the bright lights of the Vegas strip lies a thriving subtropolis, nearly 300 miles of it. It’s dark. It’s real. And it awaits those who can’t make it in one of the most competitive cities in the world.

Born to a single mother and former showgirl, Shay Wilson was determined to succeed in her hometown of Las Vegas, not on stage but in the courtroom. After paying her way through school as a bartender, Shay is hired by one of the most prestigious law firms in town, yet quickly realizes she’ll never make partner unless she finds clients of her own. With that goal in mind, she returns to her former night job to serve drinks and pitch potential clients. But with these new clients comes trouble. Shay expected to fight crime in the courtroom, not on the streets.

Discovering her new clients are linked to a national fencing ring of stolen goods puts both her personal and professional lives in jeopardy. And the two men Shay turns to for help add to the danger. One is an undercover cop tasked with exposing the organized crime, and the other is an executive intent on discovering who in his organization has betrayed him.
To survive, Shay takes refuge in the dark underworld below the city, a shelter to criminals and innocents alike. Uncertain of how to navigate this new landscape, Shay must figure out who to trust, who to fear and how she will make it out alive…

Chambers 3: The Sphinx Princess

Not quite ready to share the back of book on this one, but here’s the cover. I love it, and hope you do too.

As with all the historical-fiction/time travel Chambers series books, this third installment is based in and around the facts of a particular time in Egypt. The pharaohs built tunnels connected the pyramids to the Nile in order to escape or simply relax. Mia, pictured above, is believed to be a reincarnated Princess, who in real life died in her early 20’s. Won’t say anymore for now… looked for specials on my authorpage or other social media. Books 1 and 2 are up and available if you want to catch up now.

Want to be an advance reader for either? Let me know on my Facebook page, Instagram or direct. Remember to download a free book and enter to win a signed copy.

Suspenseful and tense…a page turner

The Cube Master…. “Gerdes has created another winner. YA as well as mature readers of techno thrillers will be rewarded.”

Always a joy (and relief) to get a good review. In case you missed it in the wave of news, bookmark this for your reading list. A tip: signing up for my newsletter at BookCave. allows you to download your book of choice. Scroll along the top and you can find authors, books, deals and offers. Incarnation is presently running under a promo which allows you to read book 1 of the series for free, and a few others. It ends at the last day of April. In the meantime, here’s the taste for book 2 in the series which is available at all the major print and the major ebook outlets, plus Amazon .

Me and Bonnie, long lost relatives

A wonderful, weird outcome of this stay-at-home period has been the ancestry efforts conducted on Family Search, Family Tree and whatnot, lines and lineage all strung together like the vines on netting, where one branch ends, another begins.

My own discovery has been a bit odd, starting with a round, chunk of grey which, like Star Trek, no grey had gone before. Visualize your face as a clock, then find 11, approximately the upper left diagonal of your eye. Trace the line with your fingertip, starting at the brow, ending at the hairline. Then, because you have nothing better to do at home, make a circle about the size of a quarter. Just for fun, extend that to a silver dollar.

Bonnie as a teenager

Now imagine that circumference all grey, as in, you took a white marker and painted it grey. That’s how I came to find my heritage with Bonnie Raitt, for she too, has a grey circle at the top left of her hair. Who knew that all it would take is Covid-19 to connect my grey circle with hers?

Why now? Why this time?

As so famously said by the illustrious law student Elle Woods whilst attending Harvard law, when asking the question of a man discarding previous sperm “donor” attempts, but not “this time?” In my case, I’m asking myself, why now? Why this time?

middle-age Bonnie

Easy. No hair coloring available, and having learned from past attempts at being my own stylist, coloring is not a skill set in my bullseye. It’s better to go grey than go green (sorry, no images but it’s alive in my memory). The last time my hair was natural was eleven years ago, and before than, fourteen years, both aligning with pregnancies and breast feeding when I went au natural across the board, from eating to dying to fixing, pricking and plumping. The good news for me was I was younger then and I didn’t have grey. The bad news was I couldn’t even recall my natural hair color, but I certainly do now.

Poor Bonnie however. You can see she had “the spot” as I now refer to it when in high school! Youza. I think it’s like a birthmark–one needs to embrace it, just like Cindy Crawford and “the mole,” which somehow got morphed into a beauty mark. If that was on me, my brothers would haven’t called it for what it was: a curse. But in our new-age day and way, what do we do? Love it. Hug it. Embrace it. Let it shine. Don’t cover it up, slice it off or otherwise diminish it’s greatness. Bring it to life! I say.

Rog says not

My dearest husband is not about embracing, loving or cultivating “my spot,” like a fertile plot of soil. He is about shading it with an eye pencil, and when that doesn’t work, he’s not above recommending a permanent marker. When I balk, he offered up one of the girls non-soluable paints from IKEA. I tried to compare myself to Cindy and the mole, which didn’t go far. She had the body to match. Not I.

Present day Bonnie- still the boss

The real problem with my body’s attempt to become like Bonnie is that it’s on my part line–just like hers! Couldn’t my body have chosen to be original? Or self-identify as a back-of-head spot of above-the-ear-spot? Why on my part line?

Further, could it not have been born a part of me, like Cindy and her “beauty mark?” It was a part of her being from the get-go and her parents were probably too cheap to spend the money on a six-year-old. They had no choice but to call it pretty. By the time she was a teenager and making more money than her parents, she too, was convinced it was pretty. Compare that to my ugly mark, because let’s be honest. When you get a sun spot, it’s from age, not from God. My grey blob at 11 o’clock is a curse of aging, not a beauty gift from the almighty, like a snake in waiting, hoping for the sun of Covid to shine on us all, thereby revealing our true nature.

As I’ve become more reconciled to my relationship with Bonnie, I’m pointing out our similarities: we both have blue-ish glasses. we both insist on having long hair and wearing long earrings, but tragically, the comparisons end there, but I’m certainly not slingling the guitar like a boss as Bonnie.