31 May, 2012

So Glad I'm not a Parent - My Nerves couldn't cope!

Police Academy is drawing to an end. Next week is fire arms, when we actually get to shoot tasers, pistols, and rifles. That's the fun part. Last night was a lot less light hearted. 

Our class was given by the School Resources Officer (SRO). As his title implies, he liaises between the police department and all the town schools, both public and private. And frankly, after hearing him, I'm thankful I don't have kids because I'd never have a peaceful moment. 

It's not just incidents like Columbine, although every school has a lockdown plan and annual drills. It's also technology. You may not know a lot about sexting, but every teenager( and probably a lot of preteens) does. Check out www.sextingpics.com - that's where the angry ex-friend/boyfriend/girlfriend posts the pictures, by area code, for everyone to see. Believe me, you don't want to find your daughter's picture on this site. And once it's up, it's there forever. 

Next on the worry list: pedophiles. It's terrifying how easily predators can find a child. The SRO took us from a pretty vanilla FaceBook page, one that listed only a screen name and a state, and demonstrated how, in a few simple steps, a predator can friend and identify a person if the page is not "locked down". And we all know how hard FaceBook makes it to secure your information. The predator doesn't even have to ask any leading questions like "where do you live" or "what school do you go to." All he has to ask is: what's your school mascot, go to Google and type in: high school mascot, [mascot], and the state from your child's FB page. Bingo, he's got a town and can keep narrowing down his search. We also learned the tricks predators use to make sure they're not chatting with a cop.

Did you know that iPhones (and many other smart phones) embed GPS information into photos taken with the phone? And that there is free downloadable software that can easily read that info from any web site where the photo is posted and bring up an image of the location where it was taken, i.e. your house? So from a picture of your cat or a flower in your yard, someone can find your house. Scared yet? 

In kindergarten, first and second grades, the SRO appears only as "Officer Friendly," but by fourth grade, he is teaching kids internet/phone safety. The dangers of sexting are addressed in 6th grade (including the impact it can have on the rest of your life), along with drugs, alcohol, and the other obvious dangers of being a teenager. This message is repeated in middle and high school. 

There are also programs for parents: what to look out for, how pedophiles "groom" their victims (scary stuff), and the tools available to safeguard against predators. 

I don't know if I'll use any of this information in a mystery any time soon, but I have lots of notes on the juvenile justice system, the differences between juvenile and adult law, rights and punishments, and anecdotes which may come in handy!

21 May, 2012

'Tis the Season

'Tis indeed the season for reunions.  I graduated from UNH (Durham) and received graduate degrees from BU and Rollins, but I've never been to a reunion at any of them.  Instead, every five years, I head my car north on the Merritt Parkway and attend my prep school reunion weekend.  


I think those were the most important, and definitely most formative, years in my life.  I know I've stayed closer to more of those classmates.  We shared not only Latin I, calculus, and hideously unflattering uniforms, but also teenaged angst, first loves, first broken hearts, acne, SAT scores, and everything else that went with being in high school.

I graduated from an all-girl school,  with 72 other girls,  in an intimate ceremony on a tradition-rich campus.

Four years after we graduated the school went coed and the our school was amalgamated into our "brother" school, moving to its campus.  We lost our campus, our chapel and many of our traditions - it's hard to move the 150-year-old tree seniors criss-crossed with daisies on graduation day.

Now 45 years (no comments, please) after graduating we return to a much larger, alien campus, our friendship still strong despite time, distance and circumstances.  

Going to a reunion is like slipping on your oldest flannel pjs: they're a little worn and faded, but they're familiar, comfortable and warm.  Maybe they don't fit the same as the day you bought them, but you adjust and feel good. 

Some returning alumnae are now retired, some have grandchildren, some are reinventing themselves into second and third careers, yet we still share bonds that go deeper than yearbook scribblings.  We fly in from London, California and elsewhere to spend three days reminiscing, swapping pictures and enjoying our time together - and discovering that we've all turned into our mothers!  We leave with new shared memories of the weekend and a determination to do it all again in five years.

 So, for all of you who don't go to reunions....why not? Try it, you might just like it.

And for those of you who do go back, what's the best part? Or your best memory?

14 May, 2012

Doggie Deliberations: Mystery Reader's Quiz

Do you write pets into your mysteries?  Do they play a significant part?  Are they modeled on your own pet?  See how much you know about other writer's literary characters.
1. These dogs are NOT huskies, although many people think they are.  What breed are Rowdy and Kimi, featured in Susan Conant's Holly Winter Mysteries?

   a)    German shepherds
   b)    Alaska malamutes
   c)     Irish Wolfhounds
   d)    Hungarian sheepdogs

2. These dogs, featured in Laurien Berenson's mysteries, were originally bred in Germany as hunting dogs.

   a)    Schnauzers
   b)    Dachshunds
   c)     Poodles
   d)    Weimaraners

3. Toby the Spaniel assisted which human detective?

   a)    Philip Marlowe
   b)    Lord Peter Wimsey
   c)     Sherlock Holmes
   d)    Hercule Poirot

4. What breed of dog does Columbo own?

   a)    Beagle
   b)    Blood hound
   c)     Dachshund
   d)    Basset hound

5. Bonus Points:  What is Columbo's dog's name?

   a)    Him
   b)    Dog
   c)     Max
   d)    Rex

6. What mystery featuring the dog Claudius is set in Roswell?

   a)    Please Don't Cry, Wolf
   b)    Howl with the Wolves
   c)     Lone Wolf
   d)    Wolf at the Door

7. Rachel Alexander and her dog Dash are both a Private Eye team and a Therapy dog team.  What unlikely breed is Dash?

   a)      Pitbull
   b)      Chihuahua
   c)       St. Bernard
   d)      Corgi

10 May, 2012

Mystery Musings: DUI is hazardous - and expensive!

Most of us get in our cars, turn on the ignition and drive off with little or no thought beyond our destination. At least I did until last Tuesday night.

Did you know that if you're on the road, one in ten drivers around you is drunk? Kind of makes you stop and think, doesn't it? 

And what about that $45 bottle of wine you ordered with dinner?  According to our instructor, Any amount of alcohol will affect driving ability. Alcohol's effect is magnified by emotions, physical condition, use of prescription drugs or other types of drugs, some over-the-counter medications (muscle relaxants, pain killers, migraine pills) and some herbal supplements. 

Drunkenness in Connecticut is based on blood alcohol content (BAC), as follows:
  • Drivers under 21 with a BAC of .02 or higher. 
  • Any vehicle requiring a commercial driver license with a BAC of .04 percent or higher. 
  • All drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher. 
 Penalties differ from state to state, but here they are pretty harse: 
  • First Conviction: Either (a) up to six months in prison with a mandatory minimum of two days or (b) up to six months suspended with probation requiring 100 hours of community service PLUS a $500- $1,000 fine, PLUS license suspension of 45 days, followed by one year driving only a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock 
  • Second Conviction: Up to two years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 120 consecutive days and probation with 100 hours community service, a fine of $1,000- $4,000, license suspension for 45 days, followed by three years of driving only a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock 
  • Third and Subsequent Convictions: Up to three years in prison, with mandatory minimum of one year and probation with 100 hours community service, a $2,000- $8,000 fine and permanent evocation of your driver's license. (Eligible for reinstatement after six years. If reinstated, must drive only interlock-equipped vehicles for 10 years from date of reinstatement.) 
In addition to these penalties, the court can order a driver to participate in an alcohol education and treatment program. In all cases, the car will be towed and held for 48 hours -- even if it's a teenager driving and the only family car.  Good luck getting to work the next morning, Dad.

Total cost to driver: an estimated $18,000 just for the first conviction, mainly for the purchase, installation and monitoring of the interlock. 

That was one expensive bottle of wine! 

Fact:  Most times when a couple are stopped for DUI, the husband is driving drunk and the wife is sober.  Asked why she is not driving, she answers "well, he always does the driving and I thought he was okay."

On a lighter note, my  favourite tidbit of the night:the  bank robber who fled the scene and hid in an unmarked police car. True story.

05 May, 2012

Variations on a theme: Ham & Cheese

What's more American than a ham and cheese sandwich?  Unless it's French? Or contains turkey?

When we were little,  Mom would slap boiled ham, American cheese and French's mustard on Wonder bread and send us off to school.

A few years later, we moved to Europe where we discovered the Croque Monsieur  and its more feminine rendition, the Croque Madame.  The Monsieur was a sandwich made up of a grilled Gruyere cheese loaded with thin slices of ham and fried in clarified butter, and covered with Bechamel or Mornay (Bechamel with cheese) sauce. The Madame substituted turkey for the ham.  Strangely (at least to me) recent menus list the sandwiches as identical except for a fried egg topping the Madame.  When did that happen? It should be a Croque Monsieur à cheval (on horse back).

It you want to go Made-in-the-USA, you can stick with "The Hot Brown," an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Many Hot Browns also include ham with the turkey, and either pimentos or tomatoes over the sauce. 

None of these are exactly diet food, but if calories are really not a concern, go for broke with a Monte Cristo: turkey, ham and Swiss cheese on battered egg bread, and deep fried.  It's served dusted with powdered sugar and a side of strawberry jam.
Me, I'll stick with the Croque Monsieur. 

Croque Monsieur

3 Tbsp unsalted butter   
3 Tbsp all purpose flour   
1 1/2 cups whole milk, gently warmed   
1/2 tsp salt   
pinch of nutmeg   
4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese   
8 oz grated Gruyère cheese ( 1 1/2 cups)   
12  very thin slices  Black Forest Ham   
Dijon mustard   
8 slices thick-cut French sandwich loaf   
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature  

Make the sauce: In a small saucepan on low heat, melt butter until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a flat whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, stirring continuously, and cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in Parmigiano and 4 tbsp grated Gruyère. Set aside to cool. It should be very thick.

 Preheat oven to 375° Set aside 4 Tbsp of the grated gruyere. Place the bread slices on a rimmed sheet and bake for 5 minutes, turn and toast an additional 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven.

Butter one side of 4 slices and place, butter side DOWN back on the rimmed pan. Spread the top of those slices with mustard. Lay down three slices of ham on top of the mustard, then top each with a quarter of the remaining cheese. Cover with the remaining bread slices. Bake in oven 3-5 minutes until cheese starts to melt.

Turn on broiler.

Spread the sauce generously all of the top of each sandwich. Make sure to spread it out over the edges so they don't burn. Sprinkle to reserved Gruyere over the top of the Mornay sauce. Place this under the broiler until the cheese is nice and bubbly and everything is warmed through, roughly 4-6 minutes.

Serve with a tossed green salad and chilled white wine!