Seventeen Years — How the Heck Did We Get Here?

Seventeen Years — How the Heck Did We Get Here?

Today my husband and I are celebrating seventeen years of marriage. Which feels weird. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been married that long, but then again it also feels feel like I’ve known him all of my life. Yesterday someone commented that marriage longevity was almost unheard of these days. We both laughed it off and counted off celebrity marriages that didn’t last more than five years. So it got me thinking about how the Swede and I have managed to keep our marriage strong, even when dealing with the wacky cultural differences and my general grumpiness–yes, I think I am pretty similar in temperament to a Border Terrier. I am cute and cuddly and grumpy. But I digress! I think I’ve come up with 5 reasons that–after over twenty years of being a couple and seventeen of them being married–the Swede and I work so well together.
1. We don’t live in each other’s pocket
Even when we first met and we were sometimes attached at the hip (and the lip), we gave each other space. I have my moments when all I want to do is read or write. Or when I am moody and just want to be alone. The Swede is the same. He needs his personal space, and I give it to him. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean that we can’t have separate interests. And I think this is a mistake a lot of couples make. They don’t give each other personal space. And just as every relationship needs quality time together, it also needs quality time apart. Sometimes I go on vacation by myself, he does the same. When we’re together again, we feel recharged.
2. Mutual respect
We respect one another. Even when we’re driving each other crazy, we always respect one another. Even when we’re angry at one another, we don’t intentionally say or do anything to hurt one another. I admire his intelligence and his integrity. I love that he stands up for what he believes in and that he always makes me feel like I am the most important person in his life. Whenever I am about to make an important decision, I always think about the impact it will have on both of us–and not simply on myself. And though we may both joke about our celebrity “free cards”, we both know we only want each other.

Our free cards
3. We talk it out
There are those moments when we misunderstand one another or we get into huge arguments. I won’t even pretend that we never fight. We do, just like everyone else. It took us a few years to figure out a good way to come back from those horrible moments. And now we talk it out. Sometimes I rant and he just waits patiently (he is a very patient man). Sometimes I have to wait a long time for him to verbalize what is bothering him–he’s Swedish, they don’t like confrontations or arguments, so this is kind of new for him. But we try to talk everything out and we NEVER go to bed angry at one another.

anigif_enhanced-9260-1396299187-22 talk
4. We make each other laugh
The Swede is a consummate goofball and I absolutely adore that about him. Though he may look stern and serious (Swedes have mastered this look–just watch any Swedish film: Max von Sydow, Stellan Skarsgård…even Alexander Skarsgård–they’ve all mastered that stern look), he will say and do things just to catch my off guard and set me off into a fit of giggles. And I do the same for him. We spend a lot of time laughing. Lately, we keep making each other laugh with our impression of the now iconic Peter Dinklage SNL skit, Space Pants. Yup, we never get enough of Space Pants.

5. Love above all else
At the end of the day, it’s all about love. I know that I love him, and he loves me. And I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else.

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Just A Taste of The Sweetest Thing by Gemma Brocato

Just A Taste of The Sweetest Thing by Gemma Brocato

Box full of sweets with heart-shaped chocolates in the middle. A Valentine's Day gift.

I’ve been working on a project that features the sweetest research. The Sweetest Thing is about a woman who gambles on a new venture, selling artisan chocolates, and hits the trifecta with a new town, new friends, and a new love. But along the way, someone is betting against her. My research took me to the shops of  Christopher Elbow and Cocoa Dolce and on a rather long road trip to Durango, Colorado, where the story is set.

I hope you enjoy this taste of The Sweetest Thing.

Because her business model was based on online sales, she could work from anywhere. The move to Durango hadn’t been hard. It already felt like home when she drove up Main Avenue.

Sera set the bowl aside. After grabbing a large pan from near the stove, she walked to the sink. She was experimenting with a test batch today, praying she got the ingredients right this time. There was an exact science to the proportion of chili to chocolate. She planned to feature this sweet when she opened for business. She stuck the pan under the faucet and reached for the spigot but was interrupted.

“Hello?” A man called out from the front of the shop. “Anybody here?”

Damn. She’d forgotten to lock the front door when she walked in this morning. Again. There were signs all over the super-sized front windows that she’d open soon. But soon wasn’t right now. It took some chutzpah to barge in when it was clear she wasn’t open for business yet.

She set the pan aside. Wiping her hands on the towel draped over her shoulder, she walked to the retail area of the shop. She paused when she caught sight of her visitor, with his back to her, inspecting the drawings for the menu board she’d left on top of the antique display case.

He wore faded blue jeans that loosely concealed a fairly spectacular butt, at least from where she stood. The denim looked so soft she longed to run her fingers across it to see if it was. Across his jeans, not his butt. Although, she wouldn’t mind that either. A ponytail skimmed his very broad shoulders. Sera had always been a sucker for a long-haired man.

“May I help you?” Her cool, professional tone couldn’t be misinterpreted. Despite his physical appeal, what she was truly asking was what the hell he was doing in her store.

The guy turned and Sera’s heart stuttered. His chestnut hair, slightly gray at the temples, was swept back, exposing a sexy widow’s peak over dark brows and dancing hazel-green eyes. An aquiline nose perfectly complemented the straight white teeth exposed by his grin. Which was surrounded by a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee. A black T-shirt stretched over his chest, revealing well-defined pecs. Slanted red and white lettering read They said it couldn’t be done, so I did it anyway.

“Hi! I’m Logan Hamilton.” He stepped forward, extending his large hand, palm open and friendly.

A dragon tattoo snaked from the underside of his wrist, curling over the top. Not a fierce, mythical creature…more like Toothless. It seemed he had a sense of whimsy to match his good looks. When his hand enfolded hers, sharp heat thawed her cool demeanor. She felt the corners of her lips lift into a smile, the shift in her heart echoing the action.

“Seraphina Taylor.” The raspy quality of her voice startled her. But it might have had more to do with the fact that he didn’t automatically release her hand. God knew she didn’t want to let go of his.

Gemma Sig-1

Grey’s Anatomy Makes Me Ugly Cry

Grey’s Anatomy Makes Me Ugly Cry

This being my inaugural post on The Spice Aisle, I debated what I’d want to tell you about my entertainment interests. Do I talk about Batman Vs. Superman, and why I think Jessie Eisenberg was absolutely brilliant as Lex Luthor Jr (contrary to what the rest of world seems to think). Or maybe I could tell you about my addiction to most of the Real Housewives programs. (It’s true, I follow a lot of them on social media). I know, maybe something about The Walking Dead, or Downton Abbey. My mind jumped all over, like my choices of television shows. This fact made me start thinking about discipline, and a pledge I made to myself when I quite my full-time job as a writer to be a writer full-time.

When I started working from home, I decided that I’d work 6-8 hours each day. I planned to stay disciplined and not stray from my resolution to keep the television off during the day. But, I reasoned, everyone gets a lunch hour. I should build that into my day. And to help distract me from my work, to clear my head a little and help generate some new thoughts, watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy on Lifetime would be the perfect escape mechanism.

Photo courtesy of ABC.go.com

Photo courtesy of ABC.go.com

I love the cast of this program (even though I’m not currently watching the original episodes on Thursday nights). They really are like an extended family. Richard Weber, the patriarch. Miranda Bailey does an amazing job portraying the brainiac sister. She’s tough, but moments of shining sentimentality peek through. For me, Meredith Grey represents the party girl sister for whom everything seems to come easily. But her sardonic outlook on life hides the angst she habitually suffers through. I could go on about the cast, but I think you get the picture.

I’m always a little shocked to discover tears wetting my cheeks as I watch. The show has generated a visceral response within me on many occasions. Like the episode where Callie and Arizona are in a car accident, and Callie almost dies. Shonda Rhimes, for some reason decided to film that episode as a musical. The verses of the songs picked were brilliant. Dang, I’m even tearing up a little right now thinking about it.

Here are a couple of clips from that episode. A word to the wise–get your tissues.

 

I also love how the patients’ stories parallel events within the medical staffs’ drama and dilemmas. There is always a moral to the story, tying everything together in a neat, satisfying package.

I feel like I should confess that while I do only watch one episode while I’m eating (okay, most days) I record at least two other installments to watch at night, when I can’t find Fixer Upper or Salvage Dawgs. My other guilty addictions.

Gemma Sig-1

Just a Taste of “Shadows of Gold”

Just a Taste of “Shadows of Gold”

by Veronica Forand

I’m playing with a new format for writing…Wattpad. Every two weeks, I’ll introduce a new chapter to my book Shadows of Gold. It’s a thriller and right now I have no idea how it will end!
Here’s a sneak peek at the first chapter which will be up on Wattpad tomorrow!

 

Shadows of Gold
Chapter One

After three years of being held hostage by militant forces in the Congo, Derek Gunn knew not to take full, deep breaths when working in the mine. The air was a poison, and he wasn’t ready to die. He climbed the ladder, his steps slow. His arm was poised to catch one of the women or children not able to complete the arduous trek up from the mine. He’d saved a few, using his long arms to catch them before they fell to the rocks below. More often, however, they perished, their bodies taking two or three lives at a time to the bottom of the cavern. He tried not to memorize names and faces of newly arrived workers, but he’d been a journalist most of his life. He remembered too many, and his heart broke too much.

The mine entrance came into view and a full moon lit up the area to greet him back from the depths of hell. He rarely saw the sun. Soldiers, some as young as twelve, stood in military fatigues aiming AK-47s at the workers to ensure no one slipped into the jungle and escaped. One freed worker could provide the location of the illegal mine to outside groups. And this mine was not a small artisan mine. The main rebel group in the area had procured this spot by killing nearby farmers. It was the mother load of gold veins. The rebels used the nuggets found primarily to purchase weapons and supplies.

Derek glanced around for the two other Americans in a group otherwise made up of Congolese villagers. Harry emerged five minutes later, followed by Mitch. Each man tapped the base of his throat twice to tell the others he was doing fine, and then they separated. One American to a truck.

They hadn’t been face to face in almost two years since the last time they’d attempted to escape. Now, they all lived in different areas, but still managed to leave each other messages scrawled in the dirt in the lavatory pits. Stones left on the ground in Morse code also provided a means of communication. Recently, one of them discovered that certain bugs glowed on the walls of the mine when crushed. Made into certain patterns, the marks could warn each other of unstable areas.

Derek nodded to his friends and then climbed into the last truck. He always sat at the back edge, waiting for any opportunity to leave this prison and return home. A few of the children positioned themselves on the floor of the truck to listen to his stories, told in their native language. He tried to give them hope, to give them something to think about when the days became unbearable. Several of the child soldiers also sat close to him. He caught a few of them smiling at his fables fashioned from his recollections of the Brothers Grimm, Dickens, Mother Goose, and old sitcoms he remembered.

The women tended to be more weary. They often worked during the day and fended off rapists at night. They didn’t want company. They wanted to be alone. It didn’t matter. He only had need for one woman in his life, even if she was only a wisp of a memory.

The truck jumbled the group from side to side across dirt roads scoured by harsh rains and lifted by thick roots. A few downed trees created roadblocks and made the driving more dangerous. The lights of the other trucks had faded into the distance until only darkness guided their way back to camp. The rough rumble of the truck engine blocked the night music of the local birds, frogs and insects of the jungle. And then the world exploded.

The loud boom erupted from the front of the truck and the entire vehicle swerved to the right and tilted toward the site of the blown out tire. Once the descent into the gully began, the heavy weight of the metal and human cargo twisted the vehicle over itself. Derek ’s heart accelerated out of its usual slow tempo. He reached out to brace himself, but couldn’t grasp anything while his body twisted and curved around with twenty other bodies. A sharp pain pinched into his elbow as part of the truck crushed his arm. The world continued to spin, and he pulled his arm free before all movement stopped. People screamed, and the engine revved. The headlights pointed into the ground, only one worked now and made shadows and added confusion, but offered no guidance in its glow. Smoke billowed up and provided even more of a curtain over the scene.

People sprawled across the truck and spilled onto the ground struggled to right themselves, but the frantic movements of some and the screams and cries of others made the process difficult. The whole image was a surreal mash up of body parts and broken truck parts. Derek felt his way out of the wreckage, ignoring the shock of pain in his arm. The darkness and the chaos would hinder his vision, but he could use it to benefit his escape.

Once free, he rolled to the edge of the road. The high grasses and a few downed trees provided decent camouflage. His breathing was labored and loud. Even if they listened, they’d never hear him. Too much chaos, too much panic. He placed his hand in front of his mouth to slow his breaths and silence his fear. When the flashlights turned on and the soldiers scrambled to pull the victims from the truck, he had to make a decision, rescue his friends or save his own ass. He slid into the jungle, praying no one would follow.

Chapter Two will be out in my newsletter tomorrow, or you can wait until December 16 and I’ll post it on Wattpad.

The Manly Art Of Lefsa Making

The Manly Art Of Lefsa Making

The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means that lefse day is also on the horizon. Each year bold Vikings strive forth into the kitchen, sword in hand, for that manliest of occasions –  lefsa making.

For those of you unfamiliar with lefse let me just say…you are missing out. This Norwegian flat bread is the basis for an extraordinary cuisine that includes a jelly-like white fish treated with lye and stacked like cord-wood behind the cabin in the winter cold, rich, bland cream sauces, and macaroni boiled to within an inch of it’s life. (In Norwegian al dente means ‘not yet done’.) Thank the Lord for Swedish Meatballs or I would not have survived my church’s annual Lutefisk dinners.

But the shining star of the blond, bland traditional Norwegian cuisine…is Lefse!

Lefse

This incredibly versatile and almost tasteless flat bread is made of mashed potatoes, flour, cream, butter and salt. Now come on, can you get any blander than that?

Okay, I hear you asking…what’s the big deal?

My friends…here is the big deal. Behold my vast array of lefse making tools:

Lefse tools

What is that implement in the center you may ask? (go ahead…you may ask.)

Lefse Sword

Yes, that is my Lefse Sword. If ever one food reflected the proud bearing of a cuisine…a people…Nay, A NATION! it is Lefse. For Lefse is made with a sword!

Oh how those hearty Vikings, fresh from the rape and pillage of Europe must have looked forward to wielding their swords in the kitchen upon their return to Norway. Hearty men in horned helms flinging bland flat bread on to table and shield in a quest to find something…anything…that would make that lye soaked fish palatable.

Now women, stand back, for this is a manly art, and not for the faint of heart.

Balls of cold dough…

rolled so thin you can almost see through them.

Then the sword is applied…

to move the thin pastry to the griddle.

It is the truest mark of a man’s skill at arms.

At my side will be my trusty sword-mate (my niece’s husband) Matt. He learned the craft at my knee a bare five years ago. The boy became a man that day, and has since upheld the annual tradition that is Lefse Day.

Lefse will soon be once again available for meals, for snacks (it isn’t just for breakfast anymore). A dinner roll replacement with butter, a wrap for sandwich fixings, a basis for hundreds of different meals, snacks and desserts. This flexible food has limitless options, and only wants for a bit of imagination. Don’t take my word for it. Look here (I ♥ this restaurant. Lefse year round.): http://norskenook.com/menu-lefse-wraps-specialties/

If we are frugal, our batch will last through the holidays, though most years I am forced into making a second batch. Gladly do I draw my sword and march once again into battle. For we must have lefse for  Christmas. But there will come that day, usually late into a cold, snowy January, when the lefse runs out. Then we must wait, and do without lefse, the rest of that cold, dark year, for the grand tradition that is…LEFSE DAY!

Steve

Stepping back in time.

Stepping back in time.

Douglas Adams, in his book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe writes about Milliways, a dining establishment that uses a wormhole to take customers to the future where they dine and watch the universe explode. What fun.

 "The Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy thousand million billion years and will be ending in a little over half an hour. So, welcome one and all to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!" ”   	 — The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

“The Universe as we know it has now been in existence for over one hundred and seventy thousand million billion years and will be ending in a little over half an hour. So, welcome one and all to Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!” ”
— The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

But of course we can’t go to the future (well, not yet anyway). But sometimes it is possible to step into the past.

We’ve all seen them, those wonderful throw-back diners, and in my new home town, Sheboygan, Wi, I’ve discovered a great one.

Harrys1       IMG_0111

Welcome to Harry’s Diner. Welcome back to the 1950’s.

You’re greeted at the door by the King himself. Where else do you get this treatment? (Okay, maybe Las Vegas)

Elvis     Harrys2

The wait staff is appropriately attired, the music is all from the era, and the food is excellent. What more can you ask? It’s just plain fun.

Memorabilia lines the walls, making it easy to fall back into a bygone era.

IMG_0118    IMG_0121

My wife and I made a special trip in, early, early, so I could get these pictures. The place is usually hopping and bopping. Breakfast was, as usual, a delicious dining experience.

So, where’s your favorite throw-back restaurant? Let me know in the comments down below.

And if you’re ever in my neck of the north woods, stop in to Harry’s.

Steve

Can *anything* replace Hannibal for me…?

Can *anything* replace Hannibal for me…?

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 06.01.03

I’m not really sure how I became a fannibal. Back in the old days, if you’d asked me about Silence of the Lambs, I would have told you I thought it was a great film and that I loved the pairing of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. Is it a film I watch whenever it’s on TV? No, well..I won’t watch the entire movie because it doesn’t captivate me the way it used to. When it was first released, I saw it on the big screen and I remember thinking Anthony Hopkins was awesome as Hannibal Lecter. I thought no one else could do that role justice.

I was wrong.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 06.14.53

Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen

Enter Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Now, I’ve been living in Scandinavia for twenty years, so I was used to seeing him on TV and in films. Usually he outshone the actors he shared the screen with, but I wasn’t a rabid Mads Mikkelsen fan. I thought he was a good actor. I thought he picked smart roles to play. I never pictured him as Hannibal Lecter. When he took his first Hollywood role (which I think was as Tristan in the dreadful Clive Owen vehicle, King Arthur), I worried he’d be typecast. He’s not conventional looking. He doesn’t look like your typical leading man. So even if he goes over well as the romantic lead in Scandinavian films, his intensity and his quirky looks aren’t going to win over the housewife in Tupelo or the college girls in Cleveland who want someone like young Brad Pitt to scream over. Mads Mikkelsen broods….he exudes that Scandinavian stillness that most Americans find incredibly uncomfortable–and he’s amazing at playing characters who are not always likeable but who have charisma, which is probably why he’s been typecast as the villain in US films such as Casino Royale and Clash of the Titans).

I think it’s that Scandinavian stillness and his ease at playing morally questionable characters (let’s face it, he’s played a long string of very flawed characters) that made him the ideal actor to play Hannibal Lecter. I will admit, I was skeptical initially. I couldn’t envision him in the role. Before the show even aired, I remember telling a friend that Mikkelsen could never step into Anthony’s Hopkins shoes.

Yes, I know…I was wrong.

From the first episode, I was hooked. I love how creeped out I get while watching it–yet I can no longer sit through most horror films. The episodes are beautifully shot–even the most gruesome images are like these works of art–his suits are impeccable, the entire cast is amazing and the scripts are so intelligent, so clever. Perhaps that’s why NBC couldn’t handle Hannibal? It’s just too clever and intelligent… I mean, other shows that have as huge of a fan base as Hannibal stick around, even with lousy ratings. And Hannibal‘s ratings weren’t dismal. The critics loved Hannibal–it was the thinking man (or woman’s) type of show.

I guess that is the crux of the problem.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 06.33.02My former homeland celebrates ignorance and mediocrity these days. Shows like Hannibal don’t connect with people who would drool over Real Housewives of Atlanta or whatever other reality hell is now currently America’s favourite show.

So now I sit here wondering…what can possibly fill the void left by Hannibal once Season Three ends? I already watch Gotham. I never miss an episode of Game of Thrones. Maybe I will start binge-watching the reboot of Battlestar Galactica again. It’s filled many a dull evening.

But I don’t think anything will sustain me quite like Hannibal…it truly did feed my fear. I hope Bryan Fuller succeeds in finding a new home for the show. Until then, I have seasons 1 and 2 on DVD (yes, I still watch DVDs on my Blu-Ray player) so I can at least binge-watch those if the summer rains return to Stockholm.

But Hannibal will be like the one who got away. Or the bad boy who stalked off into the sunset…though in a perfectly cut suit and probably looking for something (or someone) to pair with fava beans and Chianti or Sangiovese.

Project Runway – My Guilty Pleasure

Project Runway – My Guilty Pleasure

I am not what you’d call a fashion conscious kind of guy. Okay, I did have a bit of a flirtation back in the mid 2000’s with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that taught me a few things, and upped my wardrobe quality a bit, but that was pretty much it until I stumbled across Project Runway.

Project Runway 1

It probably says something about me (though I’m not sure what) that at one time my two favorite television shows were Project Runway and Ice Road Truckers. (Ice Road Truckers is probably a whole other blog.)

I cannot tell you why I find Project Runway so riveting. I had no clue who Michael Kors was. Had never heard of Tim Gunn. Heidi Klum? Oh yeah, I knew about her. I am a guy after all.Heidi Klum

 

But at some point around season 3 I fell into watching this. It took a few more seasons to get my wife hooked on it. Now we salivate at the approach of each season, and set aside time each week to approve or dis young fashion designers fabric choices and sewing skills.

My fascination with this show may have something to do with my grandmother, a well known seamstress in our small town, who’s sewing machine occupied a prominent place in her dining room (which was never actually used for dining.) Her wedding gowns, mink stoles, and hat designs were legend and she was always working on something.

Now I haven’t touched a sewing machine in years, but I will admit (during our tight money times) to turning out an impressive collection of Barbie clothing for my daughter made from fabric scraps scrounged from my grandmother.

In any case, Project Runway season 14 starts August 6th. A glass of wine, some popcorn, and the remote await. Another season where the designers can “Make it work!”

Yeah, I’ll be there.

Steve

Connected at the hip.

Connected at the hip.

I got an email the other day from my pedometer.

Fitbit email
Okay, the thing hangs on my belt, and came with a wireless USB connector that I plugged into my computer. Now every time I get anywhere near my computer, important data streams from my hip down the internet tubes. Important data that when extensively analyzed reports back to me that I sit at my computer way too much and don’t walk enough.

My Zip

My Zip

Hey, I walk all the way to the kitchen for cookies. That should count for something.

Anyway, my relationship with my Fitbit Zip has been uncomplicated so far. It tells me to walk more, and I ignore it. A pretty good relationship, right?

But now things are getting complicated. The thing has become . . . needy.

Or has it?

Is it just being sly?

In order to get it new batteries, I need to get up and go to the store. I’d need to walk, which is what it’s been wanting all along.

So I ask myself: What happens if I don’t get it batteries?

Will our relationship die? Can’t things just go on just the way they were?

If I get it batteries, will it demand something else?

Long walks on the beach? Heaven forbid, a gym membership?

I need to think. I need a cookie. But I’d have to get up and walk to the kitchen.

I think it’s winning.

Steve

50 Very Pale Shades

50 Very Pale Shades

So, I rented 50 Shades of Grey On Demand. I needed to see what they’d done with the book. I read the first book, and got halfway through the second. Without joining the chorus of negativity, I have to say it just wasn’t for me. I never warmed to the character of Christian Grey. The controlling type man never does it for me. I like my Alphas with a good sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at themselves.

I found the movie rather tame, all things considered. The hottest moment for me was the first kiss in the elevator.

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It kind of meandered along a rather thin storyline around the contract, which didn’t hold my interest the whole way through. I liked the way they ended it, nice dramatic moment there (no spoilers, I promise). After all the hype, they set themselves an impossible task. Whatever they did with the movie, it couldn’t possibly meet all the expectations raised.

On a sidenote, loved the soundtrack.

I saw a rumor that they were thinking of putting Sylvia Day’s Crossfire Series on the big screen. Now those I would line up to see. Did you see the movie? Thoughts?

 

SarahSig