Thursday, March 8, 2018

Baking with Ease ... not

We all have it. Well, some of us. That deep down desire to create something edible and have everyone that tries it, moan in delight with every single bite. Now, I write novels, songs, make movies and I’m actually a pretty good cook. Anything and everything pasta … I got it. Soups, salads, you name it. I can create anything from scratch, give the best Chopped TV show champs a run for their money and have folks clamoring for a third or fourth helping of my chili. Yet … yet .. mind you, give me a dessert to make … I crumble faster than any cake I can make. I don’t get it. I don’t. I mean why is baking so damned hard. I will follow a recipe to the letter and still end up with … something … something so horrible my dog runs.

So can someone please tell me what I am doing wrong? Since I moved into the new house with the huge kitchen, I have really wanted to bake. But desire doesn’t equal talent. Take my latest endeavor. I was, was mind you convinced I could make a kick butt cross-shaped cake for my granddaughter’s christening.

I had to practice first.

I was in a creative culinary mood. I took that pound of ground beef and made philly cheese baked sliders on sweet rolls with homemade ramen noodles. At the store I got everything I needed to make that cake from scratch, icing and all. I found this great recipe with awesome reviews, my sister gave me her no fail icing recipe. This is the recipe I used. FLUFFY MOIST CAKE

Line by line, word by word I followed the recipe. It said 'bake 30 minutes', but at 30 minutes it looked uncooked. 45 minutes later the edges were crisp and I took it out.
It not only flattened it sunk deep in the middle.

As soon as it cold enough to remove, it came from the pan with ease then simply … crumbled.

I tried, I mean really tried, through tears of laughter to make it look presentable, but that wasn’t happening.

“Maybe it just looks bad,” my daughter said. “I bet it’s great.”
Do I cut a crumbling serving for her and I.
Um, it was thick, too sweet and so dense, a small bite was caught in my esophagus and it took two glasses of milk to get it down.

The icing was good.

I just can’t figure out what I am doing wrong. This isn’t the first cake I failed making from scratch, but after looking at the picture, I think it will be my last.

As for my granddaughter’s Christening cake … I have the number of the local bakery.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Being Poor: It isn't a SNAP

It’s a long one … be forewarned …..

I’ve never been rich and I doubt I ever will be. That’s  okay, I’m actually alright with that. I have however, been several levels of poor. From the ‘we will barely scrape by’ to ‘Robbing Peter to Pay Paul’ to ‘There is no Peter, there is no Paul, I’m screwed’

Recently I read an article where there is talk of USDA changing the EBT/SNAP/Food Stamp benefit. Taking up to 50% of the recipient’s benefit and replacing that with something called a Harvest Box. Which would be meat, milk, cheese, vegetables. The decision on what and who is affected would be left to the states.

Before I make a comment, I merely am going to give my own take on poor and not having enough to eat or rather lack of a choice in what I had to eat.

My low point, which some of you probably will say it wasn’t that bad, because it is true, no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else out there has it worse.

My journey into the worst ‘poor’ of my life started in 2008. Quickly following my marriage break up, I lost the car, and keeping the house was a pipe dream. I had no backup plan, no savings and at the time was writing (Making nothing) and working part time. That’s all I had to do, I was married. But that part time job wasn’t enough. Fortunately, I found a full time job at a nursing home and moved into this affordable apartment. It was five rooms over an empty store, no living room windows, steps from hell and the entire place was slanted. Seriously, all balls and cans rolled.

My take home pay was $1108 a month, plus I made another 300 being a Karaoke DJ. It was sustainable. Rent was only 650, a car payment from a ‘buy here pay here’ place, electric, insurance and phone, totaled just about 1200.00. We didn’t have cable or internet. If I set the laptop in the right spot in the kitchen, I was able to get the guest wifi from a local business. DJing paid for food and gas.

Then came my grandson. Suddenly that 200 to live on wasn’t all that much for food, diapers, formula, so forth. There were four of us to feed, gas for work. I was working all that I could and I found myself caught in a catch 22 loop. I applied for assistance, and was denied. See, my daughters had just turned 18, the baby wasn’t mine and according to guidelines I made too much money. My daughter applied and since she was technically still in school, it fell under my income, which again, I wasn’t allowed to count them. Not only denied SNAP, we were denied medical for the baby. Forget WIC, you need a doctor to sign off, no insurance, the Health Department was our doctor.

Basic food was a luxury. Now, keep in mind, at any time, I could have called any member of my family and they would have helped. But pride kicks in and you just can’t do it. You can’t let them know you don’t have food. Plus, I would bother my brother for help with the electric, I couldn’t ask him for help with food.

So I turned to the church. They helped me sign up for the Food Bank. The Food bank was a godsend. The ladies there made sure I had a can of formula and diapers each week. My grandson may not have had the same formula every week, but he was being fed. My little bit of money went for extra formula and things that the FB didn’t give that week.. Mostly, everything we ate, breakfast, lunch dinner was determined by what we received that week at the food bank.

You know what? We ate.

The way a Food bank works is you walk through stations picking one item from each.  Each station was a different type of item. Sometimes they had goodies. Then there was always bread from the local store, and sometimes there was fresh meat. At the end of the line was a packed brown bag, you weren’t allowed to look inside, you had to grab one and go. Always in there were pasta, protein, veggies, cereal/pancakes, etc

I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t have the money to go to the store and get what I wanted. For over a year there were never cookies or snacks in the house. That brown food bank bag was like Christmas. Every Saturday I would open it with enthusiasm and thanks.

Had I been eligible for food benefits, I would have purchased things that I craved like real milk, fresh oranges and lunch meat. And quite honestly, I would have purchased cookies, chips, ground meat not in a can, and fish sticks, I love fish sticks, but they can be expensive.

Now, you can understand why when I got my first Amazon royalty for $33, I danced about and treated everyone to pizza.

When I hear people talk about SNAP recipients using benefits for steak and such, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe they’re eating steak every night. It’s a treat. Most using SNAP are making it stretch as best as they can. So what if they want a steak. Their steak was my fish sticks. On a good sale day a sirloin costs less than a box of Gordons.

When I hear of the plans for that Harvest Box, I liken it to that brown paper bag from the food bank. While the choice of what I would make and eat was limited, I was still was eating.

I firmly 100% believe that if by some far off chance they pass the Harvest Box law, those who truly need the assistance (Like I did) would gladly choose that box and small balance on a SNAP card, over nothing. People unable to afford food don’t want the help, they need it. It’s hard to ask for help and there isn’t any boasting and flashing of that EBT card. Standing in line at the food bank isn’t a social occasion, it’s a weekly sledgehammer to your self esteem and worth. A shame, at least for me, that I felt and tried to hide.

Thankfully, I was blessed and able to pull myself out of that situation, but many others aren’t as fortunate. They get hit over and over and when they find themselves two steps ahead, something knocks them back.

Trust me when I tell you there is great pride when paying for your own groceries, even if it takes your last dollar.

Whatever your opinion is on SNAP changes, that is your opinion, there is no right or wrong on an opinion.

Just remember before you judge those getting benefits, put yourself in their shoes. Not everyone getting benefits is scamming the system. Try to imagine working two jobs and still not having enough to feed your family, it’s a horrible feeling. When a dollar will and does break you. Asking and getting help is hard enough without people judging for buying Oreos.

Whatever the law is or will be, bottom line, we should not be a country where people go to bed hungry and wishing there was a single pack of Ramen left in the cupboard.

Friday, January 26, 2018

This is Us ... the show, the mystery, the legend

This is Us is a great show, but they almost sent me down the Walking Dead path … almost.

**Note, this blog may contain spoilers**

It started with a promo trailer six months or so before the premiere date. And I, like many others waited for This is Us. I needed something to fill the weekly cry fest hole that was left in my being after Parenthood left the air. Suffice to say, I was not disappointed.  At first to me, it was no Parenthood, nothing could be. Come on, Zeke Braverman was the man. While I love, love Jack, indulged and sobbed that first season, there was one thing, in my opinion, that stopped the show from snatching the golden crown from Parenthood .. relatability.

Other than Kate, I couldn’t relate nor could I relate anyone I knew to the characters. They were good and enjoyable to watch. Kate’s struggle with weight loss and self esteem issues struck home with a lot of people. But Kevin and Randall. Nope. When we are first introduced, Randall was searching for his biological father. Yes, people do search for biological parents, but not many are well to do enough to have a private investigator handle it., and he was a Weather Trader, whatever that is. Kevin is a famous television star who has everything, good looks and a body. So unless you’re Chris Pratt sitting on the couch, watching This is Us and saying, “Yes, Kev, Yes. Nailed it.” Relatability out the window.

Combine that with the fact that not only did they keep us in a shroud of mystery over Jack’s death, they tossed out clues that were totally misleading. Making the ever guessing fans look like weirdos. I went from watching it live, to watching it on Wednesday and when Season 2 started, I was like, “Eh, I'll DVR it and watch it when I can.”


Then somewhere, Kevin became an addict, Randall quit his job, needed to find himself and Rebecca became human. (Notice I left  out Kate, she’s perfect). Suddenly this family, struggling to live up to their father, became broken and not perfect. The second half of season 2 fires into the writers focusing more on them as a family, over their individual storylines. The Jack mystery death …. UG, they reeled us in the with mystery when it was actually a sniper attack. I suddenly didn’t want to know. The latest episode had me reaching for the bourbon, pausing the show because I didn’t want to see more, examining my crock pot and running around checking and double checking every smoke detector in my house. Thank you for that, by the way, This is Us became a PSA and because of that episode, someone out there was saved.

They hooked us with Jack, kept us coming back for Jack and as the season progresses I find myself ready to face the series without Jack. Like the characters do, reflecting on the man’s life, instead of obsessing over his death.

As I pen this, we haven’t gotten to episode 14, the one after the super bowl. I’m not ready for it. Not at all. My only grip now is the misleading they have done. Since the first episode of Season two, we’ve known about the fire. Yet, the cast and producers kept saying., “The viewers will be shocked when they find out how Jack dies.” Showing his unburned personal effects, had viewers scrambling for a reason for Jack’s death and the fire. “none of the fans have guessed it,” They’d say. Of course not, we’re not gonna guess a freaking crock pot. We weren’t looking for the cause of fire, we were looking at the death. And if he burned in the fire, why were all his things unharmed.

None of the kids looked like they were in a fire. After seeing the promo, it looks more like he does die saving his family. I got news for the writers, we’re not going to be shocked. Even if he runs back in for Scrappy the dog, no shock there. If he dies in the fire we have known since Episode 1. Crock pot or not.

If I was the writer, Jack would have been hit by a car while chasing the dog that ran into the street, the house fire was caused by the crockpot and only because Rebecca was in the hospital watching Jack die.

That’s just me, that’s why I’ll stick to writing end of the world stuff instead of dramas.

How Jack ends up passing still remains to be seen and I will be watching.

This is Us went from being a great show to a fantastic show, and it’s mighty close in my book to catching up to Parenthood.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Nuclear War Myths

My infatuation with nuclear war began long before my twelfth grade English class when we read the novel, Alas Babylon. I remember thinking that it was pretty spot on with information I had learned.

Then again, I had the advantage of growing up in a time when the threat of nuclear war was high.

When I was a child, even at ten years old, I set up my own shelter in the basement of my home, complete with food I stole from the kitchen.

Even though I was a Reagan era kid, I still was not the norm when it came to obsession and education about surviving a potential nuclear war. People in the fifties learned because they were made to learn it, it was part of their everyday lives. As time moved on, people fell into the ignorance is bliss category.

While I am not wanting this to be a strict survival blog, for the time being, it seems to be a focus.

With the recent Hawaii alert scare, scanning social media posts showed me a lot of people have some misconceptions.  So I thought I would do a blog about some myths I have read on Facebook.

I’m going to try to avoid being overly scientific, simply because that can get boring.

Let’s start

Myth 1  - I will have to stay underground for years
Not true. Radiation decreases with time. There is the 7:10 Rule and you remember it, it could save your life. There is an exact science to it, for every seven fold increase in time, there is a ten fold decrease. But I have found an easy reliable formula is every seven hours radiation levels will drop 7 x 10% of the reading. EX: 1000 Rads of radiation, seven ours later will be 300. Or even easier 14 hours later radiation levels are 1/10 of what they were. That is why staying underground, not exposed the first 24 hours are crucial.

The human body can endure up to 100 Rads of radiation per hour before getting sick. 350 can be fatal. The body will process and get rid of it, unless you have Prussia Blue you will have to rely on your thyroid and time to expel it. There is no radiation reset.

So how will you know when it’s safe, especially if you don’t have a dosimeter … play it safe. Assume it’s high for at least 3-5 days. That does mean go frolicking in the apocalypse, it means play it safe. Keep exposure to a minimum.

MYTH 2 – Nowhere is safe.
Radiation carries west to east with the winds. This handy map from the cold war, shows you how radiation will flow.

Also, this SUPER COOL tool, will give you a look at how a nuclear explosion will impact your city. Play with it. Test it out. NUKE IT MAP

MYTH 3 – We will get hit with thousands of bombs if nuclear war starts
Okay, if it was 1983 then I’d say yes. There were 70k nuclear weapons then. But now there are 15k worldwide. The US and Russia make up for 13k of them. Of Russians 6600 nuclear weapons, 1500 are ICBMs ready and Deployable. Over half of the 6600 are stockpiled. Meaning they aren’t ready. Should they release their bay and the US release theirs. They won’t have resources left to prepare the remaining bombs. The US would intercept 40% of all missiles.

Let’s be real. If there is a nuclear exchange it will be limited, because it won’t take any more than a few nukes to bring society to a halt.

MYTH 4 – If a nuke goes off we’re screwed, the EMP will destroy everything.

A perfectly placed high altitude nuclear explosion could indeed shut down all electronics THAT are running, plugged in or have a receptor source like an antenna. But a ground burst would only cause a localized EMP. The higher the explosion the further the electronic damage.

Business Insider did a nice article about it this summer. You can read it HERE.

MYTH 5 – The pope says we’re on the brink of nuclear war
For as long as I can remember, there has only been a few times that we weren’t on the brink. The pope is trying to be a peacemaker, perhaps if he says it, the leaders that are pissing around might think he has some sort of divine information. Truth is, we will never know, when we are truly on the brink. We just have to be ready and prepared.

There are so many more, but it would have made for a really long blog. Check out tomorrow, when I blog, ‘The Poor Man’s Tips for Survival

If you have anything or topic you want me to discuss, please feel free to let me know.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hawaii Missile Alert - Conspiracy Theories

So if you are like my daughter, and you haven’t heard, apparently an alert went out in residents in Hawaii via their phones that a ballistic missile was on its way, take cover, not a drill. Not long after, there was a huge … Whoops, our bad, we didn’t mean it.

Really? Come on. While I believe, more than likely it was an accident, (Clears throat - there are two people that have to activate that system) I have a couple theories about it. Please don’t pick on me or tell me to remove my tin foil hat. It’s the writer in me theorizing.

Before I get to them, I want to note that since that happened, I have been seeing posts pop up on social media. Everyone is suddenly talking about my favorite subject … nuclear war. Not that I want it to happen, I just happened to absorb all information about it. Always have. Thirty years of research. Heck, I remember the days when the world’s arsenal was 70k nuclear warheads compared to roughly 15K now. I read, went to seminars, etc. … As some of my readers know, I have fictional novels about it.

What I am also seeing it a lot of crazy talk. Things being tossed out there that aren’t scientifically based. Since Trump became president everyone talks about it, but no one knows about it. Why? It was a thing of the past.  And the only information that people tend to get is what they see on drastically over done movies. It’s insane, tomorrow I will post a blog on Nuclear War Myths. Is there such a thing … yes. But onward now to my crazy theories about that alert.

The CDC did it. Nothing screams success and press like getting lots of website hits. Some of you may or may not know but on January 16th, the CDC plans to hold a briefing on surviving nuclear war. Suddenly they feel the need to do this. The public needs educated, um, yeah, I agree. That alone is scary. What on earth does nuclear war have to do with the CDC? Still, they are holding their briefing. What better way to draw attention, to get ‘hits’ than to have a little nuclear war scare and people searching YouTube for ‘Duck and Cover’.

North Korea did it. The hacked us before they can hack us again. What if it is all an elaborate  scheme and part of their grand war plan. Don’t kid yourself, Hawaii is in range of their nuclear weapons.  They can only cause the most damage if they pull a Pearl Harbor. The element of a North Korea surprise is slim, but if they played on our ignorance, they stand a chance. Hack the system, send out a warning or two, people won’t panic as much the next time, after that they’ll ignore it. What better what to cover an attack, than to have people not believe you when it actually happens.

It really happened.
Why is that message even in the automated emergency alert message system? It’s not. It was written.
Image for a moment you are a worker in the IT department of information. (Disclosure – I’m guessing that’s what it’s called) You’re sitting there, enjoying your cinnamon bun, when all of the sudden you are told, prepare a warning, a submarine located 300 miles West of Hawaii accidentally launched an SLBM (Submarine launched Ballistic missile) in fifteen minutes it will land. You know all stops are out to halt it, but as the minutes tick down and ground zero is close, your supervisor says, ‘heck with it, send the warning’ – just in case. The bomb was intercepted, all is fine …but then … the text was sent. How do you cover … um accident.
+++EDIT - Just to be clear, I am not saying this was NK, I am saying it may have been an accident from out own or someone else.

Those are my theories.

Little note to segue into tomorrow’s blog. It won’t take 1,000 warheads to begin the downfall of civilization. All it will take is one. If this country took a nosedive financially after September 11, imagine what one nuclear warhead detonated on American Soil would do to the economy. Economy halts, infrastructure crumbles …

More tomorrow … hope you check back.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Geostorm: An Apocalypse Author's Review

If ever there was a disaster movie that I would say starred the Slagel Characters from my Beginnings series, it is GeoStorm. BTW the movie poster is misleading.

For a movie I couldn’t wait to see, it took me long enough to watch it. Mainly because it was in and out of my local theaters faster than Gerard Butler solves a problem in his movies. I was worried you know, because I wrote my book 10:37 about geo engineering gone wrong, but this is nothing like my book.

Geostorm follows the typical disaster, end of the world formula. Faulted hero, lurking doom, disaster begins, only one person (team) can stop it, complete with predictable twists and turns.

And Gerard Butler

Call me crazy but I liked it, I liked it a lot. Not once did I pause or fast-forward. Although I didn’t rewind, and that is my tell tale sign that I love a movie.

I did however really, really, really have to push suspension of disbelief when it came to ‘buying’ that Gerard Butler was a scientist, come on, the guy is rough around the edges and I’d say his favorite reading is the beer selection menu at a local pub.

A scientist? No way. Then I had to push it again to believe he not only was Gerard, our loveable, rough around the edges, beer loving actor, this brilliant scientist, but he designed this super complicated, intelligent weather control system, that encompassed the entire planet like a shell made from an erector set. All of that, plus Gerard Butler is so Frank Slagel like its probably why I had a hard time buying it.

In fact the film focuses on two brothers, and the writer in me couldn’t help but think of Robbie and Frank. If you’re reading this blog and saying, “Who the hell are Robbie and Frank. And what do they have to do with this movie?”

Nothing if you aren’t a reader of my books. But if you are, you know. They are part of my Beginnings Series, I’ll be happy to give you a free book so you can see.

Back to Geostorm

If you haven’t seen it, your feelings on the movie will all depend on what you go into it expecting. If you rent/buy it hoping for some deep science flick with detailed explanations, you won’t like it very much. But if you go into it knowing it’s an action, disaster film, you’ll enjoy it.

I knew what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed. Still trying to find where I put my suspension of disbelief, I suspended it so much … I’m thinking Big Mac’s are now healthy.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A New Year and New Resolutions

So here we are, another year and I have to say that 2017 wasn’t a good blogging year. I remember the days when I never went without blogging, it’s a great writing tool and I haven’t a clue why I don’t keep it up. Once again, like I do every year (Since the days of daily blogging) I am going to resolve to blog more. Thanks to my writing friend, Kate. I think my problem is I put too much of an unattainable goal on myself. So I will keep it achievable. I vow to blog at least once a week. Kate suggested maybe a writers’ tip blog once and a while. I’m thinking a peak into my life as well.

Those of you who read this, I promise future posts won’t be so boring. This one is my kick off.

One of the things I used to do is make a list of resolutions. Then I’d visit back and see how many I kept.

My resolutions for 2018
Blog more (Yep, already starting that)
Maintain my healthy eating and keep my weight in check
Write eight books this year (4 stand alones, 3 series books, 1 due to my new publisher)
Write at least one piece that will positively make a difference in someone else’s life.
Take time for myself once and a while.

And that’s it. Hey, I did it. I blogged. Happy New Year to anyone who has read this.