Search and Rescue K9 Units

By N. M. Cedeño

 

 

A representative of the Travis County Texas Search and Rescue K9 unit was kind enough to come and speak to Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter this summer. She provided a wealth of information for crime writers on the workings of Search and Rescue K9 Units.

Most Search and Rescue group members are unpaid volunteers. The volunteers go through training and must pass a fitness test in order to qualify to join the team. Dog handlers train their dogs to participate in the searches following training guidelines. There are three different kinds of S & R dogs: live find, trailing, and human remains detection (HRD). Searches may be categorized as wilderness, urban, or disaster. Police in cars or on foot handle most urban searches. Dogs are mostly used for wilderness and disaster searches.

The human remains detection (HRD) dogs are not referred to as cadaver dogs anymore. HRD dogs must be able to identify hundreds of odors that come from decaying human remains and be able to differentiate those smells from those of decaying animals. Training the dogs to identify these odors requires the handler to obtain appropriate materials for training exercises. These materials may be donated to the trainer by dental surgeons, midwives, and other doctors or organizations with access to amputated or removed body parts. Places such as the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, also known as the Body Farm, at Texas State University’s Freeman Ranch, will allow dog handlers to use the facility for training only once a year. The dogs can identify these smells even when underground or mixed with other smells.

My dog, Petra, who is not a S&R dog. Picture by N. M. Cedeño.

Trailing dogs are usually on leashes and are following a scent trail looking for a missing person. These dogs are used when authorities know exactly where the missing person was last seen, giving them a starting point for using the dogs. The dogs are given a sample carrying the missing person’s scent to smell, such clothing the person wore recently. Then the dog is told to find that specific scent. Each person’s individual scent is distinctive, created by soaps, sprays, detergents, shampoos, conditioners, and their own skin particles. Relatives in the same home who use the same products may have similar scents. The dogs are trained to distinguish between the missing person and close relatives.

Live find, or live search, dogs are trained to find a person in a large area of land. They can be made to work in a grid pattern or can be sent to search an area independently, off leash. The dogs are fitted with GPS trackers so that the area they search can be followed and mapped. These dogs love their game of search and find so much that they will not stop unless their handler forces them to rest. Live search dogs are trained to find the missing person’s scent as it drifts in the wind. If the dog is working independently and locates the subject, the dog can be trained to either stay with the subject and bark, or run back and forth between the searchers and the subject, leading the searchers to the missing person.

Research has shown that lost people tend to follow specific patterns depending on their age, mental state, and what they were doing when they got lost. Search and Rescue operations will begin their search for a missing person based on what the research says the person is most likely to do. For example, small children, ages 1 to 3, tend to walk in circles. When they get tired, they lay down and go to sleep where they are. Children ages 3 to 6 get scared when it gets dark, find a protected area, and curl up in a ball.  Hunters who think they know the area in which they are lost tend to keep walking, reasoning that if they keep walking, they will find their way back.

If a missing person stays still in one place, their scent will build up around them like a puddle or pool. When the wind blows the scent pool, it will be stronger, allowing a dog to find and follow the scent more easily. If the person keeps moving, the scent will be harder for the dog to follow, a small scattered trail, rather than a concentrated pool. This is why it is important to stop moving if you know that someone is looking for you. A search dog will find you faster if you stop moving.

Finally, if an area has been thoroughly searched by Search and Rescue and the missing person is not found, the search ends with the missing person declared “R.O.W.,” rest of world. The searchers know the missing person isn’t in the search area, therefore, he or she must be somewhere else, out in the rest of the world.

*****

N. M. Cedeño was born in Houston, grew up in the Dallas Metroplex, once lived in Amarillo, and currently lives near Austin, Texas. She writes mystery short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her mysteries vary from traditional, to romantic suspense, to science fiction. She is working on the second novel in her Bad Vibes Removal Services Series.

Just Google It?

By N. M. Cedeño

 

What kinds of questions do you ask the internet to answer for you? I, like many adults who came of age before widespread usage of the internet, have learned to search the internet for answers to a variety of simple questions. We routinely ask Google or other search engines to spell words, find quotes, discover who that actor in that movie was, get driving directions, and find recipes. For these simple tasks, asking the internet has become a habit. We’ve even learned to check the internet for directions for easy projects around the house. Having an expert at the tips of your fingers is fabulous.

And yet, many of us still don’t automatically check the internet for information when we can. Perhaps this is because computers haven’t always been our place to go for answers. We grew up having to do research in books, having to consult the dictionary for spellings, and checking encyclopedias for basic knowledge questions. Consequently, despite knowing we have the internet at our disposal, we don’t always remember to go to it.

For instance, one time a small bird came into my house via the front door. It had been perching on the Christmas wreath when the door was opened inward. The bird took flight upward into a two story entryway and found itself upstairs. Although we chased the bird around the room from one perch to another and scared the bird poo out of it, we weren’t even remotely close to catching it. Finally, my husband looked at me, perplexed after another failed attempt to trap the bird, and said, “How do you get a bird out of a house?”

Then, something clicked in my head, and I said, “I don’t know. Google it!”

For some reason, until my husband phrased the problem as a straight-forward question, checking the internet for the answer hadn’t occurred to either of us. Once we realized that we had access to an answer, we asked, and the internet answered. To remove a bird, darken the room and get a blanket. The bird will settle in one place because, not being nocturnal, it doesn’t see well enough to fly at night. Once the bird stops moving, it’s relatively easy to walk up to it in the dark, toss a blanket over it, gather it up, and release it outside the house. This worked like a charm the first time we tried it.

Another time, I found an old recipe, possibly written by my grandmother, but originally intended for someone other than me. The recipe described a simple method for making wine from grapes, but it included a word that I assumed was Czech, a language spoken by my grandparents. While I could guess the meaning of the word based on context, I wanted to verify it. However, it was late in the evening, and I didn’t want to bother my then 97-year-old grandmother with the question. Of course, one of my kids said, “Mom, just google it.”

The word on the recipe paper was spelled “qvasit” or “quast,” neither of which produced a reasonable meaning in translating programs. Realizing based on family history that the recipe’s writer probably spoke Czech, but never had to write it, I tried varying the spelling, but still couldn’t find the word. Finally, I took the word I guessed for the English translation and asked Google to translate it to Czech. This worked. The word “ferment” in English is “kvasit” in Czech. Since it ended up taking a lot longer to find an online answer, it probably would have been easier to ask a speaker of Czech. Maybe I didn’t remember to check the internet since my brain had already identified a quicker or easier route. Or maybe I didn’t think of it because I don’t routinely translate words online.

How about you? Are there things you forget you can look up online?

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N.M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

My Brother versus the Honey Bees

By N. M. Cedeño

Photo courtesy of a neighbor. Beehive in the wall of my brother’s house.

What would you do if you discovered honey bees had moved into a wall of your house? My brother, who lives near Dallas, Texas, had this issue recently. Here is what to do.

In the thermal image bee activity is purple. Red is hive.

First, you call a beekeeper. The beekeeper will come to your home and takes thermal images of the area of wall where the hive is believed to be located. In my brother’s case, the hive was between the floors of his home. The bees had found a hole to enter between where the brick-covered ground floor ended and the HardiPlank covered upper story began. Based the on the thermal images, the beekeeper estimated 3 cubic feet of hive had been built between the exterior wall of the house and the floor joists supporting the second floor. The bees were under the floor of the upstairs master bedroom!

Next, you send notice to all your neighbors warning them to stay indoors and keep their pets indoors at the date and time of the removal. The beekeeper, in a piece of masterful understatement, said this is necessary because the bees will become “defensive” when he starts to remove the hive. And, 60,000 to 70,000 “defensive” honey bees are not to be trifled with. The extraction cannot be done during the workday. Instead, in order to remove as many bees as possible, the bees have to be removed around dusk as foraging bees return to the hive.

Putting the honeycomb in a frame.

On the day of the extraction, the beekeeper arrives and goes to work removing the bees and their home. For my brother, this meant the HardiPlank and plywood exterior wall on his house by the hive was removed, exposing the insulation. Insulation was removed to reveal a massive bee hive. The beekeeper went up and down a ladder for several hours, carefully cutting down panels of hive and inserting them into hive boxes that he brought with him, cutting the honeycomb to fit as needed. (For the enormous hive in my brother’s wall, a single box was not sufficient.) As he accomplished the removal, the beekeeper searched for the queen. Her capture was vital to the process. If he could find her, her colony would follow her.

If you are a normal person, you hide safely out of the way while the bees are extracted, allowing the beekeeper in his white protective suit to handle the matter. My brother, on the other hand, constructed a protected space for himself on his lawn: mosquito netting over a framework under which he placed a chair, so that he could sit and observe the beekeeper as he worked, with tens of thousands of angry bees buzzing around him.

The beekeeper working and my brother in his “safe” space. Picture from the neighbor.

Then, you, um, get a pizza delivered. As the hours went by, my brother in his netting safety cage, became hungry. So of course, he ordered a pizza to be delivered. But, how could he retrieve the pizza without endangering himself or the delivery person? Well, the hive was on the front of his home. He would see the driver arrive. It would be a simple matter for the beekeeper to walk over and accept the pizza, bring it to my brother, and slip it under the netting. The beekeeper agreed. So when the driver arrived, he stayed in his car, and the beekeeper asked him to lower the window just enough to slide the pizza out. This process worked as planned. Neither the delivery driver nor my brother was stung.

I suspect that the pizza delivery driver had never delivered to a fully suited beekeeper before. Hopefully, he wasn’t traumatized by the experience. My brother says he tipped the driver generously and shared the pizza with the beekeeper.

Honey comb in a bag. Picture by my brother.

Hours later, the bee hive is finally completely removed from the wall, and you get to taste the honey. The beekeeper supplied my brother with a chunk of honeycomb in a plastic bag. My brother reported that the honey tasted good. The next day, my brother received more news from the beekeeper. The hive had contained two queens, a mother queen and a new successor queen who had just emerged. The hive would have split with about half the bees swarming to follow the exiting queen, possibly within a matter of hours, if the beekeeper had not removed the hive when he did. With two queens and approximately 70,000 bees, the beekeeper was hoping to get two producing hives from the original one. A few days later, the beekeeper brought my brother two jars of honey.

Finally, the hole in the side of your house has to remain open for two days to allow bees from other hives to raid what is left behind. The raiding bees perform the final cleaning process, extracting any remaining honey. After two days, my brother got to repair and repaint his home. He planned to caulk very well to ensure no new bees move in.

***

N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her debut novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Mustang Grapes and Dewberries

By N. M. Cedeño

 

In the second week of March, the Bradford pear trees in my backyard burst into bloom, displaying a profusion of tiny white flowers. Within a few days, rain and wind caused the white flower petals to “snow” down from the tree, covering my patio in a layer of white. Following the flowers, came the tree’s budding leaves. And, what does the first burst of green bring to my mind? Jelly!

Signs of spring are my cues to start checking vines in the green belt by my house. I blame my father for this habit.  He learned to appreciate nature’s wild bounty in the form of dewberries and mustang grapes in his youth. Decades later, my parents moved to my maternal grandparents’ property in the piney woods north of Houston to be caretakers for my grandparents. There, the forest’s abundant supply of berries and grapes each spring and summer provided my father with a hobby: jelly making.

Mustang grapes by the gallon, picture by N. M. Cedeño

Each April, he would harvest gallons of dewberries from the property with the help of visiting children and grandchildren. Each July, the mustang grapes would ripen all at once. They had to be picked immediately or they would be eaten by birds. The mustang grape harvest typically lasted only one day.

After each harvest, my father would make dozens of jars of jelly with occasional help from my mother, my family, and my siblings’ families. The jars would be labeled with the date and contents and distributed to the family with instructions to return the empty jars.

For several years, my family enjoyed this process each spring and summer. We would make sure to visit my grandparent’s property during April and July. During those years, thanks to my parents’ presence, my grandfather died peacefully at home as per his wishes. When it became clear that my grandmother shouldn’t remain on the property, my parents moved her to the city, and her property was sold. My grandmother died about a year later. With the loss of my grandparents, came the secondary loss of the abundant dewberries and Mustang grapes that had thrived on their property.

Dewberries in a colander, picture by N. M. Cedeño

So, each spring as I walk my dog, I search the wild spaces around my home, keeping my eyes peeled for telltale signs of nature’s bounty. A few weeks ago, I found white flowers popping out on dewberry vines. As of last week, tiny green berries had formed where the flowers once were. The dewberries I’ve seen so far are disappointingly few in number. They are also surrounded by poison ivy. Picking them would require gloves, boots, hats, and insect repellent.

Dewberries, native wild blackberries, are typically much smaller than the large, plump blackberries available in grocery stores. So why go through the trouble, risking poison ivy and chigger bites, to get them each spring? We pick them because their flavor is so much better than the grocery store variety. As with grocery store tomatoes and peaches, blackberries have been bred to be larger, juicier, and prettier, but somewhere along the way, the taste got lost. Additionally, when I pick dewberries, I remember my grandparents, and I remember the fun we all had, siblings and cousins working together, picking berries.

Improvised dewberry picking tool: duct tape on a spaghetti ladle, Cedeño Family picture

In July, as I walk my dog, I will scan the trees for mustang grape vines. Unlike dewberries, mustang grapes straight off the vine don’t make the best eating. Their skin is thick, and downright leathery compared to other grapes. Their seeds are large. We pick mustang grapes because they make great jelly. I’m happy to have found an extremely large vine covered with small, unripe grapes in the flood plain by my neighborhood. When the grapes ripen in July, I hope to beat the birds (and the neighbor who also harvests them) and collect the ripe, purple-black grapes.

My kids will help me, and, hopefully, my father will join the fun. Then, of course, we will make some jelly.

***

N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Background Research Fun: Marketing Via Sensory Input

By N. M. Cedeño

 

 

 

 

Did you ever go into a grocery store and smell cooking bacon as you passed by the area where bacon was for sale? Or step into the baked goods sections and inhale the aroma of baking bread? Did you know that many grocery stores purposely “pipe in” those scents in the hopes of making you buy more than you need? Why would they do that? Because it works.

Fun fact: a research study found that the scent of baking in a grocery store increased the sale of baked goods three-fold. Certain food scents have been shown to not only cause people to overeat, but also to over-shop. Those employees cooking and handing out samples in the aisles of the grocery store are doing their job even if you don’t taste a sample. Just the smell of food cooking is enough to inspire people to buy more food.

Some of my favorite scents, picture by N. M. Cedeno

Scientists have discovered that the sense of smell has a strong impact on memory, consequently certain smells can evoke certain memories and emotions. The “Proustian memory effect” explains how childhood memories linked to scents last a lifetime. So when you walk into an apartment complex lobby and smell cookies baking, and suddenly feel safe, comfortable, and at home, there’s a reason for that. Similarly, real estate agents recommend staging a house for sale with the scent of cinnamon in the air.

But scent isn’t the only way that businesses try to manipulate people into buying, renting, or choosing a service. Sound plays a part as well. From the gentle sound of flowing water in a fountain at a spa or massage clinic to the music selected to play in a store, the sounds you hear in a business are frequently selected to set a particular mood or inspire a particular emotion. Researchers have even done studies to try and find the right combination of scent and music to increase impulse buying in stores.

Innumerable tricks are used to appeal visually to consumers, and not just in the advertisements, product arrangement, and signage. How about that fish tank in your dentist’s office? It’s there because many people find watching fish swim to be relaxing, helping ease the anxiety of patients awaiting procedures and making them more comfortable while they wait. Colors used in décor can be used to make a business seem more cheerful or calm or serious. A particular shade of pink paint has been used in jails for years because it is thought to reduce aggressive behaviors, although the research is inconclusive. Casinos have long applied methods of using décor and layout to manipulate people into gambling more.

Many businesses set out to create an atmosphere to send certain messages. Banks want to project security, professionalism, and respectability. Spas want to create an atmosphere of relaxation. Expensive car dealerships and casinos want create an atmosphere of wealth and luxury and to inspire risk-taking and impulsiveness in customers. Grocery stores want people hungry to buy more food. Upscale boutiques want to project a feeling of exclusivity. All of these places are going to try to send those messages via the sensory input that the customers receive as they approach and walk into the business. Savvy businesses will appeal to as many of your senses as they can.

So, the next time you walk into a business, pause and let your senses take in your surroundings. What do you smell? What colors do you see? What emotions are the scents and color scheme inspiring? Listen to the music. Is it upbeat? Or calming? Are there other sounds in the background that might have been selected to set the mood? How about the lighting? Is it soft or bright? What sensory input has been added to “enhance” your experience? Is the business trying to manipulate you into impulse buying or buying more than you need? Or are they simply trying to get you to relax before your regular dental exam or massage therapy? Not all sensory-based manipulation is bad, but an awareness of it can be very useful.

This blog contains some of the fascinating background research I came across for my Bad Vibes Removal Services series. In the series, the Bad Vibes Removal Services business has a list of available services that includes an emotional atmosphere interior redesign. Some of that redesign involves using the techniques discussed above. Because the books are fictional, paranormal mysteries, the Bad Vibes company services also include cleansing the built-up negative emotional energy from spaces and getting rid of ghosts.

 

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N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her debut novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017). Visit her at www.nmcedeno.com.

          

Ghost Stories

 

By Noreen Cedeño

 

 

Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? Ghost stories have a long history, going back as far as we have written records. In the Bible, 1 Samuel 28 records the story of King Saul seeking the ghost of the dead Samuel. In the 1st century A.D., Roman statesman Pliny the Younger recorded a ghost story in his letters. In 856 A.D. the first story of a poltergeist was recorded in Germany. Throughout history ghost stories have been recorded and told all over the world from ancient castles, to the White House, to ships at sea, to battlefields in Gallipoli and Iwo Jima.

Bad Vibes Ghosts drawn by N. M. Cedeno

Generally, ghost stories fall into three categories. First are ghosts who seem to be moving through a space they belonged to in life. These ghosts are experienced by a viewer via the senses (seen, heard, smelled, felt) and are considered to be restless spirits, people who died too young, unexpectedly, traumatically, or with unfinished business. The next type are echoes of intense scenes, such as groups of soldiers marching into battle or a crowd fleeing a fire. Last are poltergeists, ghosts who move or damage things or injure people.

American culture is rife with ghost stories in literature, video media, and in daily life. Many cities and towns have ghost tours available for the curious. Certain older hotels offer haunted rooms. A walk around any historical town square will reveal business owners with ghost stories to share. The stories of hauntings range from the scary to the simply odd. For an odd example, one hotel has a story of a haunted bathroom stall: people glance and see feet under the door, but no one is there. Television shows involving searching for ghosts are popular as are books of ghost stories collected from different countries, regions, states, and cities.

Most people know someone who claims to have encountered a ghost. If you bring up the topic of ghost stories, you can draw meetings off on a tangent and cause work to come to a standstill while people happily recount what they have seen, experienced, or been told. I knew someone who claimed to have seen a girl, ghostly white, standing in the walk-in closet of her college dorm room. Another person swore she’d seen books move themselves off a shelf, coming straight out and dropping to the ground without anyone touching them. Various family members have claimed to see ghosts as well.

Photo taken by my uncle. Some people see a ghost in the window.

In spite of the universal nature of the tales, ghost stories can be quite polarizing. Many people adamantly believe in ghosts, while others vehemently don’t. Those who don’t believe sometimes openly disparage those who do. While those who do believe shrug off the disbelievers, convinced of what they have seen or experienced. Then there are those in between, those who can’t take a strong position either way, open to belief but skeptical and open to other explanations also.

But no matter your opinion, people who claim to have seen ghosts have had an experience that affected them. I had a house guest who told me that a ghost stood over her bed in my guestroom and pulled the sheets off her. I found her, terrified, on a couch in my living room the next morning. I have no doubt that something scared her badly. The house was newly built, and I was the first occupant. However, others also saw a ghost in that bedroom in the ten years that I lived there. I never saw anything. Does that mean there was nothing there, or that I simply couldn’t see it? I have no idea, but I do recognize that the experience was very real for those who did see something.

Do you like ghost stories? Stories to terrify and mystify? I like to hear other people’s ghost stories and take the occasional ghost tour. I write ghost stories in my Bad Vibes Removal Services paranormal mystery series. I admit to trying to find holes in people’s stories or ways to debunk their tales. Every once in a while though, I hear a story that’s hard to discount and sends shivers up my spine. How about you? Do you like to read ghost stories? Have you experienced something yourself? Or heard any good tales?

*****

N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her debut novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

A Plantain is Not the Same Thing as a Banana: Merging Family Menus

by N. M. Cedeno

My husband got lucky in food when he married me. He didn’t have to adapt to a foreign flavor palette the way I did. When people create a new joint household, whether they like it or not, the foods they eat regularly will change depending on each family member’s culinary history. Recipes from each side of the family will get adopted, adapted, or eliminated from the household menu depending on how flexible the couple is and how palatable each finds the other’s food to be. While regional differences between couples can expose variations in traditional holiday meal dishes or recipe ingredients, cultural differences can introduce you to cooked critters you didn’t know anyone would eat.

Cultural differences can make the culinary learning curve particularly steep, a baptism by fire even. For instance, before I met my husband, I’d never had a plantain. Or seco de pollo. Or, ick, guatita. Or even weirder, cuy. If you can’t identify those items, they are traditional foods in Ecuador. My husband, on the other hand, had never had kolaches, homemade chocolate chip cookies, or Southern-style white gravy. I had to learn a lot about South American cooking. My husband, as far as I could tell, got off easy, since he’d lived in Texas for over ten years by the time we married and had been exposed to most of my cuisine.

Maduros with brown sugar

As I suspect happens in many cases, the first of my husband’s family’s dishes that got adopted in our household were the ones that I found the tastiest and that had the least ingredients. Consequently, plantain dishes were first. Plantains, despite looking like bananas, taste nothing like bananas. They must be cooked. You can eat them roasted, mashed, formed into balls, thin-cut as chips, thick-cut and fried as maduros, or fried, flattened, and refried as a tostones (also called patacones). It took me a while to learn to cook the variations.

On the next tier are foods that may take longer for the couple to adopt in their joint kitchen because they involve special techniques, or complicated recipes, or need adaptation from the original to work best in the household. Seco de pollo is one of those dishes in my house. Translated from Spanish, it sounds like it should be dry chicken. It’s not. It’s a chicken stew. It took me years before I attempted to make it because the recipe was complicated and included a few ingredients that I didn’t recognize. But, since I liked the dish, I made the effort to find the ingredients and to learn to cook it.

Two traditional Ecuadorean dishes that my husband likes were extremely outside my experience and tastes. In the melding of our family menus, these dishes got eliminated.  One was guatita, which is tripe in peanut sauce. Enough said about that. The other was cuy. Cuy got tossed because most Americans would consider eating cuy to be akin to eating your pet hamster or, well, your pet guinea pig. Cuy is, indeed, guinea pig. Any dish that I’d have to shop for in a pet store, I’m not cooking. Someone would send the SPCA after me.

{Guinea pig is a traditional food source for the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Andes Mountains. Since guinea pigs are an easily portable protein source, they were an ideal food for the environment. If you are wondering, they are roasted with the head still attached. I took this picture of cuy being cooked in Ecuador. Yes, it looks like a rat impaled on a stick.}

 

So, cohabitation forces a merging of disparate family culinary habits. What gets kept on the household menu and what gets eliminated can depend on a lot of factors. I’m sure you can all think of items that you were only served at the home of one set of grandparents (sauerkraut, anyone?). Those items didn’t make it into your parent’s family menu. What dishes did your parents toss? What items did you toss? What items did you adapt or argue over the “correct” recipe?

 

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N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Find her stories at www.nmcedeno.com or on her Amazon Author Page.

Wedding Receptions in the You-Tube Era

 Posted by N. M. Cedeño

 

 

What’s going on with wedding receptions these days?

My husband and I were apparently married in a bygone era, the pre-YouTube era. Consequently, our bridesmaids and groomsmen did not choreograph dances, put on a ballet, or produce a Broadway musical during our reception for the entertainment of our guests. I would never have asked them to do so. And, it wouldn’t have occurred to them.

Now, the newly engaged search YouTube for what’s “traditional” at wedding receptions. Because if it’s “traditional,” it must be on YouTube, right? And, if the newly engaged believe the videos online, then an important part of the reception is the “Introduction of the Bridal Party” who are called out by name and title by a DJ, as if he were introducing contestants on the Price is Right.

“Introducing the Mother of the Bride! Mary Smith, come on down!” yells the DJ as music booms loudly in the background.

The members of the bridal party then enter the room in pairs or individually, dancing into the room possibly with props, to the applause of the gathered guests. Sometimes, the entire wedding party then gets together and performs a choreographed dance number for the watching crowd. Based on YouTube, this is a required duty of the bridal party and an important part of entertaining the guests. The bridal party had better be ready to put on a show.

cakeclipnmc
My wedding cake

Not having been involved in any weddings recently, I had no idea that this practice had become so ubiquitous. Back when I got married, the bridesmaids went to showers, paid for a dress, showed up at the wedding, and posed for pictures. The maid of honor and best man had a few other duties as well: giving speeches and planning parties. So, when asked to be a bridesmaid recently, I said yes, not knowing that I would be receiving instructions on choosing an appropriate song for my grand entrance, selecting props and/or costume items, and, of course, choreographing my dance moves.

I have never aspired to be on Broadway or dance in musical theater. I have two left feet and no sense of rhythm. The ballroom dance class I took in college taught me quickly that my ability to see a dance step and then copy it was almost nonexistent. Imagine my shock when I received my instructions.

So of course, I told the bridal couple that my husband wasn’t willing to do any of that stuff. He’s a required member of the wedding party, so I threw him under the bus. The bride was surprised, but understanding. Having carefully studied YouTube, she hadn’t realized that bridal parties haven’t always danced into the reception. It never occurred to her that we didn’t know that entertaining the crowd with a dance routine was a duty of the bridal party.

In days past, I remember the bride and groom being introduced as they came to do their first dance. No one bothered to introduce the entire bridal party. Bridal parties didn’t do choreographed dances and post them online in the pre-YouTube era, that bygone era, before 2005.

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N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her debut novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Visit her at www.nmcedeno.com or find her books at her Amazon author page .