Just for Fun

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December 23, 2022 · 6:32 PM

Of Marathons and Brick Walls

That title fairly describes my life over the past few months. Anyone who’s published a book will know what I mean by marathon. But is mine published yet? Nope. That’s where the brick wall comes into the story.

Back in the summer, my publishing platform, Smashwords, merged with Draft 2 Digital (D2D). The books would eventually be migrated, they said. But I took the opportunity to apply the things I’ve learned over the past years to my already-published books, trimming and tweaking what are still essentially the same stories, with every word counting. Three of the four were done. Or so I thought. They are successfully released as e-books, but the paperback has been a huge headache.

D2D now offers the option of paperback books, which Smashwords didn’t have, and I was relieved to have that format again. Their claims were that they could simply apply the e-book file to a paperback version, and would create a full book cover from the e-book cover I provided, or I could upload a full cover myself. I chose the latter because the former was simply taking the main colour of the front cover and slapping it on the back and spine. With some tweaking to my inside document, I gave the okay for an e-book release and ordered paperback proof copies.

Oh. My. Goodness. Everything that could be wrong with a book printing was there: No gutter margin adjustments (“gutter” refers to the inside margin at the spine of the book; you should be able to read the entire line without breaking the book spine!); the spine of my design was partially wrapped to the front cover; the cover colouring was way off; the size of the actual book was too large (not the standard size which I’ve always chosen); there were orphans and widows all over the place (those refer to “abandoned” text, such as “Dear John” on the bottom of a page with the rest of the letter on the next page, or a single line at the end of a chapter on an otherwise blank page); centred elements were NOT; the divider images, clear on every other printing I’ve ever had, are fuzzy. The list goes on. Brick walls.

What it all means is that, as much as I’d worked toward a pre-Christmas release, it will now likely turn into a Valentine’s Day release. I will have to reformat not one, but five books for their paperback versions. Picture five brick walls to surmount that you weren’t planning to face at all. It was work that I had hoped D2D’s claims would relieve me of. But I guess the old adage is still true:

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

For a few days, I was in shock at the poor quality of printing (and the first proof book took weeks to arrive), and I wondered why I was putting myself through this. I seriously thought about just throwing in the towel on writing. But I know myself; I’ll give myself a few days, and then I’ll be spit-fire again. And then D2D will be getting comprehensive feedback on their paperback program (in all other ways so far, I’m satisfied with their service and tools). After that, before I can move on to the next story, I’ll be working for months getting re-releases and my new release ready for paperbacks.

In all this time, I’ve heard that real life has gone on outside of my library (where I write). I had a craft stand at our annual local Christmas market, which meant weeks of preparing when I wasn’t writing. Someone usually cleans our house (me), does our shopping (me), and cooks our meals (me). I’m also part of the decoration trio in our church, which has meant regular stage design changes and creating elements for that – some as simple as wire figures, some as complex as giant wheat stalks.

And I’ve heard the rumour that Christmas is coming! Somehow, with all the editing, graphics, publishing and not publishing lately, I’ve not gotten into the season’s mood yet. But now that the Christmas goal has been ripped away, I’ve allowed myself time. Time to breathe. Time to think about and write something other than manuscripts and blurbs and bios. It’s not that I’ve forgotten this blog, and it’s not as if I’ve had no ideas for it – I’ve had dozens; I’ve just had no time to pursue them, and if you’re like me and don’t write them down as they come, the ideas flit away like startled sparrows. So, I’ll start writing them down – and when I need a break from the editing marathon, I’ll investigate those ideas, and start sharing them with you! Thank you for hanging in there in my long silence!

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Virtual Tour: Vintage Switzerland

I’ve been preparing my manuscripts for new releases through a new publisher, and making crafts for our church’s annual craft sale; in the latter process, I’ve discovered a wealth of images through Pinterest (nothing new to me in itself). How many of you used to collect stamps, or postcards, or specific objects? For me, the new method is Pinterest. You can find stamps on any topic, and rare ones; you can find coins, bank notes, and just about anything you used to collect physically, now available at a click with historic backgrounds and full details you could never have fit into an album.

But today, I’d like to focus on Vintage travel posters, specifically for Switzerland. So far, I have nearly 350 in my collection, and it’s likely a drop in the bucket of what was produced; every region advertised itself to attract tourists or travellers, and it’s fascinating to see what they highlighted, how they did so, what their perspective was, and how the people dressed (if they’re shown – in Switzerland, at least, a big focus is on the Alps). Did you know that the word “homesick” in English came from Switzerland? The Swiss merchants that travelled abroad in the 17th century took the word with them; when they spoke of “Heimweh”, however, they weren’t referring to people, or their home, or even their town, but of the mountains. They missed the Alps when they were away… and I can understand why. I think it must run in the veins of every Swiss-born person; when my husband and his mother speak of the mountains, it’s a foreign language to me (even though I’m fluent in Swiss German!).

We might tend to think of tourism as a modern thing; but Grand Tours began in the 17th Century, when wealthy young men, and sometimes women, would embark from the UK on a European tour. At the beginning, Switzerland was a sleepy backwater in some ways – there were few, if any, hotels – if a traveller arrived in a town seeking accommodation for themselves, their servants, postillions and horses, they were often invited to stay in the home of the local politician, who likely had the largest house… But the Swiss soon caught up with the trend, and tourism became a vital source of income, especially for small settlements in the mountainous regions.

The three images below are, from left to right, from 1897, 1865, and likely the early 19th century. The house shown in the Zinal ad is typical of Wallis (Valais in French): It is built on stilts with round, flat stones between the pillar and house base; we chatted with an elderly man when we were on holidays in the region and asked him about it; it is a way to keep rats and mice out of the houses. It also means that the back, and sometimes even the front, is only accessible by ladder.

The 1865 poster is about a tour organized by Thomas Cook, a well-known name in the British travel industry even today; Cook took his first tour group of around 485 people on an 11-mile train trip from Leicester station to Loughborough, in 1841. Soon, he began to expand his scope, and by the 1860s, that included Switzerland.

The Spiez poster below shows the castle and lake; The Zürich poster shows a view over Lake Zürich from atop the Uetliberg mountain, the summit of which is called Uto Kulm. To see a live-cam panorama from that vantage point, just click here. The Mürren poster is a view typical of every Alpine pasture, even today.

The next 3 images are firmly in the Alps: The glacier shown in the first image is the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps, covering around 80 square kilometres (31 m2), with a length of ~23 km (14 miles) with a maximum thickness of ~1 km of ice. As with most glaciers in the world, it is retreating. Gotthard (officially the Saint-Gotthard Massif) is an impressive region connecting north and south Switzerland between Uri and Ticino, German- and Italian-speaking cantons, respectively. It has long been a major axis of Europe, with a road across, a vehicle tunnel through (built 1980), a cargo and transport train tunnel (opened 1882), and now a passenger- and vehicle-transport train tunnel which opened in 2016 and is the world’s longest railway tunnel and the deepest traffic tunnel, as well as the first flat low-level tunnel through the Alps. The 3rd poster highlights the Lötschberg, a massif with a train transport tunnel linking the north and south of Switzerland through the Berne and Valais routes. We often take this route when going to Valais or Ticino on holidays; the train is an open, continuous carriage, meaning you drive on, sit in your car, and watch the tunnel fly past.

The next 3 posters highlight something nearly ubiquitous in Switzerland: Lakes. They’re everywhere. We even share Lake Constance with Germany and Austria, and Lake Geneva with France. From border to border, we have over 100 main lakes and countless smaller ones (in an area what easily fits within the state of Maine, US, to give you a size comparison). The first poster is encouraging locals to explore, commemorating the 650th anniversary of the formation of the core of Switzerland. The second shows Lake Lugano from the perspective of Monte Bre, with the city of Lugano along the shore. It’s a perspective I know well, as the family had a holiday home on the flanks of Monte Bre until last year. San Salvatore is the mountain peak shown. The third poster is of the Vierwaldstättersee (“Lake of the four forested settlments”): This is the most complex lake in Switzerland, and not only for its names: In English it’s known as Lake Lucerne, although that is just one arm of the sprawl. Sections are Lake Lucerne, Lake Urner, Lake Kussnacht, Chrüztrichter and Lake Alpnacher. The many-armed lake is shared by the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden (originally one canton known as Unterwalden) and Lucerne. Signs of settlements found by archaeologists go back to at least 3,000 BC. To see this lake through live-cams, just click here. The site is in German, but just click on the view you’d like to explore.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour! And perhaps you’ll come to Switzerland one day to see it for yourself!

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Filed under Articles, Etymology, Family History, History, Links to External Articles, Nature, Snapshots in History, Virtual Tours

History Undusted: Spiez Town, Church & Castle

Let’s take a virtual tour of a beautiful little castle on Lake Thun, here in Switzerland: Spiez Castle is a grand but pocket-sized edifice that sits on a spit of land jutting out into the lake, with the town of Spiez surrounding it. The area has several substantial bronze- and iron-age settlement sites, which shows that the area has been rich in natural resources and populated since time immemorial. The town and its church were first mentioned around AD 762, when Bishop Heddo of Strasbourg disposed of the church and tithes in his will. In AD 933, the King of Burgundy, Rudolph II, had Spiez castle built, and soon the Freiherr of Strättligen settled there. [Freiherr was a rank of nobility within Germanic-speaking areas that would have roughly translated to the English rank of baron.] Sections of the current shield walls and tower were built in the 12th century, and though the town was originally located within the castle walls, by the 13th century it had outgrown the walled enclosures. The small church, which is on the castle grounds, is one of the twelve Lake Thun churches mentioned in the Strättliger Chronicle [a Swiss dynastic and national history of the rulers of Bebenberg and Strättligen and their lands and churches – all within canton Bern, covering from AD 1100 through 1464].

The castle changed hands numerous times, whether through political manoeuvring or through dynastic extinction. Last week, my article touched on the French invasion of Switzerland; After that 1798 French invasion and the creation of the Helvetic Republic, the von Erlach family lost the rights to hold the lands as well as their jurisdiction over the village, but retained ownership of the castle until 1875. In the church is a panel in Latin about the titles of the baron von Erlach and of (who I assume was) his wife, Johanna Graffenried (from another noble family in Berne), with the family crest (see the images below).

This past summer, my husband and I toured the castle and the church; it was an awe-inspiring feeling to know that we were walking where people have walked for well over a thousand years; where nobility and peasants, servants and pilgrims have stood, walked, talked, lived and passed. Here are a few impressions of the castle, church and the views we enjoyed, and I hope you enjoy, too.

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History Undusted: The Age of Revolutions

This past summer, my husband and I rented a motorhome and travelled around Switzerland; we tend to prefer nature or museums to overly-touristy attractions. One of the places we visited was Spiez Castle. Before I tell you about that, however, a little historical backdrop is necessary, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Everyone’s heard of the French Revolution, which began in May 1789: It was a struggle to become free from the heavy yoke of an elitist monarchical regime, quasi out of the frying pan and into the fire of the Reign of Terror – during which many of the original rebels, in a twist of morbid irony, also had their heads removed by Monsieur Guillotine; it ended in November 1799 with the abolition of the Ancien Régime and the creation of constitutional monarchy (not far from where they started) and the French Consulate (which lasted nearly 5 years until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in May 1804).

But what many people might not know is that the French Revolution was internationally both influenced and influential. Modern “small world” effects are not modern at all; even in ancient times, people had international news: Travelling merchants and traders, messengers, signal towers (such as those the Romans used along the British frontiers), and even smoke signals, all conveyed news. When the French Revolution began, there was already a growing political dissent spreading throughout Western Europe; the English “coffeehouse culture” enabled men to gather in small groups and discuss business and politics; this concept travelled to America, and the discontent culminated in the American Revolution, starting in April of 1775. The French people watched and learned. The British government naturally became wary – they were losing the American colonies to the Revolutionary War, which they finally lost in September 1783. The Americans were supported during that time by France and Spain (the two main long-term enemies of Britain), so the British were hemmed in by threats to their own social order from both the east and the west, and they had well-founded fears of the discontent sparking revolt in the dry tinder of their own oppressed ranks.

And now we come to Switzerland: To understand the Swiss backstory in a nutshell, which does no justice to a history that began in the Palaeolithic Age or further back, let me sum it up: The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance between independent small states, starting on 1 August 1291 with the “Rütlischwur”(an oath of allegiance between the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden), which date is considered by the Swiss to be the birth of the nation (though history is more complicated). As the French Revolution was beginning to wind down, Napoleon Bonaparte, then a French general, pressed the French Directory (the then-current French governing committee) to invade Switzerland. The atmosphere within the Old Swiss Confederacy was tense, fearing that the French Revolution would spill over with or without direct French military involvement. At the invitation of a French-speaking faction in Vaud (then part of Canton Berne), 12,000 French troops invaded through Vaud on 28 January 1798, and for the next four months, battles were waged between the French and the Swiss “Loyal Legions”. It ended in May with the swift collapse of the Swiss Old Confederacy.  

The Battle of Neuenegg, 1798 – Graphics Collection, Central Library, Zürich

However, the French Directory needed a solid neighbour, a buffer zone along their eastern borders, not a loosely associated collection of small states; they tried to steer toward a re-establishment of national unity with a Paris-drawn constitution, but on April 1798, Swiss cantonal leaders proclaimed the Helvetic Republic, with new legal structures that abolished feudal rights within individual cantons in favour of a national unity. A few battles later, and coalition armies waging war in and around Switzerland against France, eventually left Switzerland as a sovereign, neutral nation; it has remained so ever since, despite two world wars.

An etymological side note on the Latin name of the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland), Confoederatio Helvetica: Helvetia is the female personification of Switzerland, found on nearly every coin, much like Lady Liberty of America. The name derives from Helvetii, a Celtic tribe that inhabited the Swiss Plateau since before the Roman Era. The earliest reference of the name is dated to ca. 300 BC, written in Etruscan on a vessel from Mantua (located in Lombardy, Italy). By the time the Romans arrived, they were well-established tribes governed by noblemen; the Roman historians tended to refer to anyone not Roman as “barbarian”, which tends to skew modern understanding of the peoples they conquered; it was perhaps their way of justifying invasions against peaceful, intact civilisations. Naming no names, but R—– is repeating that same shameful tactic today; there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s easy to overlook the complexities of historical events or view them from only one nation’s side; after all, as Mark Twain once wrote, “The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” History’s angle is in the hands of those who wrote it – if they were Roman, everyone else was barbarian; if they were English, the Scottish / Irish / Indians were backwaters in need of a guiding stick, and so on.

So, now that you know a bit more about the history in and around Switzerland, I’ll highlight Spiez Castle next!

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Filed under Etymology, History, History Undusted, Military History, Quotes, Snapshots in History

Finally Back!

Hi everyone! As I mentioned in my last blog in June, I thought I’d solved the problem of accessing my blog; but after that, I was blocked out until 10 minutes ago! Finally, I got the help needed; until now, every time I’ve logged in and started to do anything, it would log me out again. I figured it was a clash between WordPress and some other app or program, but I couldn’t figure out the connections. Now it’s sorted, and I’ll know what to look for in the future if it happens again.

Since my last blog, life has hit a bump or two in the fast lane: We caught Covid a second time just before our summer holidays. Since that time, I’ve had frequent Covid migraines, which are a different monster than the usual species of migraines in that there’s nothing you can do about them – no medicine works. They start at the base of the skull and shoot into existence in a flash sometimes, and then they hang on for up to 24 hours. Not conducive to focus or creative writing, so I’ve used what time I can in my craft room to get things done toward a Christmas market at which I sell things every year.

At the same time we had Covid, we had a very sick senior cat that ended up needing surgery to remove a few impacted teeth; antibiotics and pain medicines both ended just in time to hand over cat-sitting without the extra complications before we headed out for much-needed holidays. She’s now doing better, though her diet is mostly soft food – which seems to suit her just fine.

Summer holidays this year were spent in our own back garden, so to speak, here in Switzerland. We rented a small motor home and spent most of our time in the French-speaking area for a week. After that, we’d planned to take day-trips out from home; we managed to get in one or two until my right knee decided to blow out; that took a few weeks to heal, so I was basically house-bound, but we’ve got a nice, large flat to be stuck in, if need be.

July and August flew by in a blur, and September is following suit. I’m hoping to get my next novel out before Christmas, but with the delays of migraines and life catching up to us after summer holidays, it’s been a challenge to block out the world and focus on graphics and all the technical bits and bobs that go along with launching a book.

Now that I can access my blog again, I’ll take you on a few virtual tours around Switzerland next!

I hope this finds all of you well!

Spiez Castle: View from an arrow slit in the tower

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History Undusted: William Caxton (the father of English as we know it today)

I’ve been trying to blog the last few weeks, but to do so, it helps to be logged in to WordPress – and it kept logging me out every time I switched to my site. I finally found the solution this morning, so here I am!

One thing I’ve been ruminating about is the etymology of everyday words; words come from somewhere, and I’ve always wondered what word(s) were used before a word came along. There are famous examples of invented words that never stuck, such as Lewis Carol’s “Jabberwocky“, but what I’m referring to are common words. What did they use before the word “egg” came along? The word itself comes from Old Norse, eggys, eggja, or egge, but before the common spelling was decided on, every English dialect in Britain had at least a couple different spellings of the word!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is sometimes credited with having created upwards of 1,700 words, but many of those were likely already in circulation – he simply wrote them down in his plays. Some words accredited to him are: dishearten; dislocate; auspicious; obscene; monumental; majestic; accommodation; amazement; dwindle; exposure; bloody; countless; courtship; impartial; gnarled; gloomy; generous; reliance; pious; inauspicious; bump; frugal; submerge; critic; lapse; laughable; lonely, suspicious, and many, many more.

But long before William Shakespeare drew breath, there was another William that influenced English in profound ways, and yet his name is little known today: William Caxton. Born around 1420, he was a merchant, printer and the first English retailer of books; he introduced the printing press to England, set up in Westminster, 1476. Though he published many books, the first book he is known to have published is The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340s – 1400); that work alone is credited with influencing both the English language and literature, as it shows a clear correspondence between the rhythm of written English poetry and the cadence of spoken English. Chaucer is also known for having looted the French language, bringing into English such words as governance, paramour, difficult, dishonest, edifice, and ignorant, to name a few. Chaucer was aware of the wide variety of English dialects, which we would never recognize as English today, and he was anxious about the confusion of languages in Britain and that his work would be able to be comprehended in the future. In his poem, Troilus and Criseyde, he bids it a poignant but troubled farewell: “Go, litel bok . . . And for ther is so gret diversite In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge, So prey I God that non miswryte the [thee]. . . . That thow be understonde, God I biseche!”

However, because William Caxton chose to publish Chaucer’s work, we still have it to this day. Caxton was also the first to translate Aesop’s Fables into English (1484). Although he was not a great translator and sometimes simply used the French word “Englishified”, his translations were popular; because of that, he inadvertently helped promote Chancery* English as the standard English dialect throughout England. (*Chancery refers to the dialect used by the officials of Henry V’s government). Thanks to men like William Caxton and those who followed, refining and shaping the language we know today, we are able to enjoy a standard English spelling and grammar structure that is understood around the world; there are still regional and national dialect differences, but we can be understood wherever in the world English is used.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, one book I can highly recommend is Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (The Biography of a Language); it’s available in physical form, e-book, and audiobook.

William Caxton

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Filed under Etymology, Grammar, History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Lists, Poetry

Humanity Highlight: Redeeming Toxic Land with Lavender

I came across this story today, and wanted to share it: In the US, coal mining used to be big business; but with the move away from fossil fuels toward solar and other less destructive sources, companies have been in decline; before the mid-1970s, mining companies could just abandon the scarred land, but laws were passed that would require the companies to revitalise the wasteland; but if a company simply went bankrupt, the land sat barren, polluting the surrounding environment for decades, as rocks and minerals that had been buried forever were exposed to air and water, releasing their substances into groundwater and the air. Millions of acres of scarred land are the result.

Now, Appalachian Botanical Company in West Virginia has begun reclaiming the land in a beautiful way: Hiring ex-miners who’ve lost their jobs or other people who need a second chance just like the land, such as ex-drug addicts, they are now working in fields of flowers. Lavender is a hardy plant in the mint family that likes to grow in poor soil; it’s a perfect match for the rocky wastelands around coal mines. Every part of the plant is used: The flowers and upper stems are distilled down to make lavender essential oils that are then also used to make various creams and lotions, honey, salts, and hand sanitisers; when it’s done, they transform the biomass into compost to revitalise the land. The lower leaves are first removed, dipped in rooting powder, and planted to make the next harvest.

It’s an amazingly holistic approach to the problems: Creating jobs in the regions that have been hard-hit by economic downturns; revitalising the land through restoration – lavender will help prepare the land for other less hardy species to take root; and on a larger scale, it provides an example of what could be done with scarred land. To watch the Business Insider video, just click here. To check out the ABCo website and their products, click on the image below. Enjoy, and if you’d like to support what they’re doing, check out the pages on their websites, too.

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Humanity Highlight: Fighting Deforestation with Coconuts

I love coming across stories about individuals making a difference in the world; it shows that one person can really make a difference – not just the rich and famous, but the unknown and unsung heroes that have a vision, and do what they can with what they have until they have more to see their vision unfold.

Alhaji Siraj Bah is such a person: a young Sierra Leonean, he lost his adoptive family to a mudslide when he was 17. The mudslides are an increasing problem, as 70% of the Sierra Leonean forests have been chopped down for firewood; most families use small wood-burning cookers. But something else that everyone does is eat coconuts. Every day, tons of coconut husks are emptied in the street markets, and the sellers then have to pay to remove their biowaste. Alhaji worked on and found a solution to both problems: Turning the biowaste into biofuel briquettes – coconut coal which gives off less smoke and burns four times more efficiently than wood-based products. This idea is not original – there are many similar products on the market; but what I like about his story is that he refused to give up, looking for a solution to local problems, providing jobs, a free removal service, and offering a locally-grown waste-turned-fuel.

To see an interesting video from Business Insider on his story, just click here.

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Wordless: Followers

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May 4, 2022 · 2:58 PM