Super Easy Cranberry Sauce!

Canned cranberries? Never!

Here's my very-tweakable recipe for cranberry sauce. Of course, it isn't really sauce, it's more of a gelatin salad. You won't rat me out, will you?

2 bags of cranberries.
2 large boxes of orange gelatin
4 cans of mandarin oranges
4 cups of water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla

variations: include one or more of the following: 2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped. 2 stalks of celery, sliced thin. 1 can of crushed pineapple, drained. Replace 1 cup of the water with 1 cup of sweet white wine. Add a shot of your favorite liquor: orange, pomegranate, cherry or cranberry would all be good. Add a cup of mini-marshmallows. Add a cup of pecan pieces.

In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, bring the cranberries, the water and the sugar to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the cranberries pop. Cook five minutes longer. Stir the gelatin into the cranberry mixture, sprinkling the gelatin slowly in while you stir to avoid lumps. Which is silly, I know, since the stuff is full of chunks of fruit. Somehow, a lump of gelatin in there just feels weird. You know what? I don't care if you want to throw the whole box of gelatin in and stir like mad, go ahead. Take your chances.

Stir in the vanilla. Let cool about half an hour.

Meanwhile, drain the oranges very well and put them into your mold or whatever pretty bowl you'll serve the sauce in. Now is the time to add any other tidbits you want to include. Pour the cranberry-gelatin mixture over the top, give this mess a good stir to distribute the fruit fairly evenly. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap IS touching the surface of the sauce (to avoid getting a gelatin skin on top. Blech.) and chill.

That's it. Easy and ever so variable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Customer Service Made Easy

Unless you're a hermit living in the remotest cave in the Rockies, you need customer service skills. You use them everywhere, from dealing with your children's teachers to actually waiting on customers. Many of us use those customer service skills every day as a part of our job, but pretty much everyone on the planet interacts with other human beings regularly. The things you do to treat your customers well and encourage their continued business are the same things that will make the rest of your life a little more smooth.

With that in mind, here are a few simple things to brush up on today.
  1. When your customer is talking, stop the background noise in your head and listen to them. Don't think of what you want to say next, don't think about what all you should be doing instead. Listen to your customer. If they are complaining, their first goal is to get someone to HEAR their complaint. That someone starts with you. Even if they are complaining about something that is in no way your fault, and which you have no power to remedy, their first need is to be heard. 
  2. Speak proper English. Unless you know your customer extremely well, don't use slang. Never use even the mildest profanities. Speak in complete sentences. The abbreviated sentence fragments we use when speaking with friends can come off sounding terse and disinterested to customers. Have you ever asked someone in the grocery store where to find an item? There is a big difference between, "Aisle 5." and "Oh, that's right down there in Aisle 5, about halfway down on the right side." The information relayed is almost identical, but the delivery is worlds apart.
  3. Listen for cues to how someone wishes to be addressed, and act accordingly. If your customer introduces himself as Dr. Robert Wonderful, don't shorten that to "Doc" or "Bob". Dr. Wonderful will do. And if they give you the courtesy of offering you a casual name to call them, "Oh, just call me Bob," then it works this way: thank him and address his as Bob. But if you introduce him to someone else, it's back to "Dr. Wonderful." He gets to give others permission to address him in a familiar fashion; that's not your place.
  4. Be sincere about whatever you're doing. If it's a light, friendly exchange, be sincerely friendly. If there is a problem to be solved, be sincerely helpful. And if you screwed up, be sincerely apologetic.
  5. Accept blame. This is a big one. Sit down and pay attention. Are you listening? Even accept blame if the true blame doesn't rest with you. OK, their expensive and gorgeous sweater, which said "Handwash only in cold and dry flat", shrank down 8 sizes in their dryer. This is clearly not your fault. It doesn't matter. Unless you are a police detective, pointing out the guilty party is not your job. You don't exactly have to admit fault, unless it truly is your fault, but you must be willing to let them unload on you and NOT tell them to read the dang label next time. "I am so sorry this happened! This must be so disappointing, because this color would look just great on you. Let me see what I can find out about this." Words that should never cross your lips when speaking to a customer: "It's not my fault." Even if it isn't your fault, you aren't allowed to say that.
  6. Imagine yourself in your customer's shoes. Empathy is key to delivering superior customer service. It doesn't matter what industry you're in. If your customer is grouchy, think about how you'd act in their situation. Whether it's their sick child in the doctor's office where you work, or the victim of a car accident being reported your agency, or just a customer who had to wait in line a long time to buy their pack of toilet paper, think about how you would feel. Here's a little trick: imagine how the situation must feel to the customer and then imagine that it's worse. The customer who had to wait 15 minutes in line to buy a pack of toilet paper? Imagine she has 6 kids at home and they all have the trots, hence the urgent need for lots of t.p. You can pretty much guarantee that for whatever problem a customer has that you know about, there are more that you don't know about. Show a little compassion.
  7. Put a lid on it. After you part with your customer, whether it's hanging up the phone, their departure from your office or them walking away from your checkout stand, Do. Not. React. If you hang up the phone with a big sigh, you run a serious risk of being heard. Roll your eyes when they walk away and you may not be able to unroll fast enough if they turn around to tell you one more thing. I promise, you do not want to get caught doing something like that. Put on your big girl panties and keep your reaction to yourself.
  8. Kill them with kindness. Think of it as a weird kind of fencing match with jabs and parries. The more obnoxious the customer behaves, the more you need to be professional and patient. First, you will more likely win them over by kindness than you could if you shout back. Second, it will gain you sympathy from other customers who are watching. Third, if you can maintain your composure, even if you can't make them happy, there is a good chance they will go away, feel like an ass and come back to repent. It doesn't always work, but it has the best chance of success of anything I've ever tried.
  9. Remember what you expect as a customer, and deliver at least that.  A cheerful Hello, a genuine Thank You... ordinary courtesy. 
  10. Be grateful for your customers. Without them, you don't have a job.

Squeeee!!!! Another Happy-Dance Moment!

Yes, believe it or not, there is more good news! Paige Nolley has posted a review of the second book in my series, A Light in the Mountains.

I tried to find the words to describe my excitement this morning. The best example I can think of is, it's like a new hair style. Your friends, who love you, will always tell you how great it is. Do we ever know if they really REALLY like it? But if you get a new 'do and a lovely stranger walks up to you and asks you for the name of your stylist? That is validation!

To have a book reviewed so favorably by someone I don't know, who purchased the book and liked it well enough to want to tell other people about it.... Sweet Fancy MOSES! It's a thrill, I must say. Kind words from friends are appreciated and welcomed, but the good reviews you'll read on Amazon and Barnes & Noble were written by strangers. And that is validation of a sort unequaled in the other arenas of my life. Paige Nolley took the time to write a full review on her personal blog and I am humbled by her kind words. (**sniff**!!!). It was Paige's rating of the book on Goodreads that let me find her blog. One day I left a comment on one of her posts and after a handful of amazing emails, I feel like she is a friend.

I am grateful for and honored by Paige's consideration. Please go check out her post. Leave a comment. And read the rest of her writing. You'll become a fan!

Paige Nolley reviews A Light in the Mountains.

Book Review! Woo Hoo HOO!

I am beyond excited to tell you that Paige Nolley (a blogger who is also a writer, editor and intrepid spirit) has posted a review of my first novel. Her kind words made my heart beat a little faster. I think I whooped a few times in a fair approximation of a Rebel Yell, which is odd since I can only find Yankees in my family tree. I might have even leaked a little, it was that thrilling. :-)

Please stop over and visit her today, and leave a comment telling what an awesome blossom she is. Paige is also planning to interview me, so I'll keep you posted. 

With my deepest, heartfelt thanks, please click away now and go see 

Paige's review of A Gathering of Light.




No Ostriches, Please

The recent and very unexpected loss of a friend has reminded me of something extremely important. Knowledge. Preparedness. No, not preparing for the apocalypse, preparing for death. I know it isn't pleasant to talk about, but it is VITAL that you talk about it.

My parents' generation, and many people in my own generation, divide the household responsibilities in such a way that excludes one spouse (usually the wife) from knowing about the business end of their life. Husbands may have had the best intentions of "protecting" their wife, or maybe he simply regards the family finances, etc., as his job and not her worry. This is a terrible idea. A strong and chivalrous husband would do better to protect his wife by keeping her informed, in case anything should happen to him. The business-minded wife who has always handled the family finances must make sure to keep her husband aware. You never know when a bus with your name on it is going to come barreling at you. It can happen to anyone, at any age, at any point in life.
  • Know where your insurance policies, investment portfolios, birth certificates, pension plans, union membership information, bank accounts, deeds, social security numbers and titles are kept. All of them. Both spouses must know who your financial planner, accountant, insurance agent and personal banker are.
  • You may need to create a family finances chart. What payments are due on what day, how they are usually paid and from which account, as well as money coming in from where and going into what account. 
  • If your taxes are complicated due to investments or self-employment, be sure to keep a complete file on them and that your spouse knows where to find that file.
  • Keep a list (in a secure place!!!) of the log-ins and passwords you have for online banking, email and anything else that will need attention. Keep it up to date. 
  • It sounds simple, but make sure each of you knows some basic stuff. Our friend's widow doesn't know where the gas tank is on her car. I've been filling my own tank for a long time, but my mother never did. Does your Mom know who the family mechanic is? Does Dad know where Mom keeps the check book?
  • If you have children, make sure that both parents know the important things about them. Are they allergic to any medications? Who is the family physician? I know one gentleman who lost his wife suddenly and didn't know exactly where their daughter's preschool was. 
Losing a spouse is so stressful and disorienting. No amount of preparation can make the sadness and pain go away, but good communication and knowledge can limit the reeling confusion that may ensue. How difficult to have not only the crushing loss, but also terrible fear because you have no idea how to handle the daily tasks. 

Please. Have this talk with your parents today. Have this talk with each other today! Think of it like cross-training at your job. It would never do to have only one person in the office who could do certain things. No matter that it's their job and they are responsible for it on a daily basis. It is still crucial that someone else can fill in if there were an emergency. 






Election Day

Did you vote today?

Don't forget: if you don't vote, you are relinquishing your right to complain about anything the government does. That's the rule. Vote now or forever hold your peace. 

Hello? Can you hear me now?

Alright, everybody. Let's reach a consensus on this and make a ruling on cell phones:

If a call is dropped, who should call back? Should it be the person who placed the call first, or the person who received the call?

I vote for the one who received the call, on the theory that the caller should be smart enough to be calling from an area with good service, but you never know where the call-ee is. They should call back when they get good service. I think it's just annoying when someone keeps calling you and you're traveling in a spotty area.

What do you think?

Express Ticket to.... Where?

The headline reads, "Man Crushed by Giant Crucifix".

What does this mean? Was that a message from God?

And is getting killed by a falling crucifix an express ticket to heaven? Does that make you an instant martyr?

Or is it a clear indication that you are going to a place where you'll be very, very warm?