Category Archives: Articles

Cutting My Nails

I know that’s an odd title, but it will make sense in a minute!

You know the feeling when you have a big project looming; it might be a household chore, such as cleaning the cellar, or a work project that just needs undivided time. If you’re like me, you think about it long before it actually happens; but there comes that moment when you make the decision to tackle it. Perhaps to do so, you need to make a purchase (like clear plastic boxes to help you organize the cellar), or something needs to happen before the project begins, but once you’ve done that something, it will happen.

Nail Art Inspiration

What my nails looked like until yesterday. Photo credit: Instagram 8715

Well, that’s where cutting my nails comes in: I have very hard nails; cutting and filing them takes about an hour, and usually, I can’t be bothered so I let them grow, keeping them oval-shaped as they go. I enjoy doing nail art, so I’ve been experimenting (this photo was my inspiration when I painted my [longer] nails last week, and it came out looking exactly like the image, minus the cool ring!). But long nails also kill my keyboards – I’ve at length (no pun intended) resorted to keyboard letter stickers; as long as the keys still work, other people can find their way around my keyboards. Even at that, when writing a novel, I go through a keyboard a year (e.g. the letters stop working).

 

Lately, I’ve been working on short stories, and doing a bit of “spring cleaning” in my writing files – projects half done (what I call my “PHDs”),  ideas that want fleshing out, etc. and so I haven’t had to cut my nails. But now I’m getting ready to tuck into my next novel – this time science fiction. And so, today, I cut my fingernails. For me, it’s an act that means I’m serious about this project; in my mind, it moves from “hobby” to “profession” by that simple act.

Maybe there’s a project you want to work on, but something’s keeping you from digging into it. I write this to encourage you to go for it! Take that step, whatever it is, that’s between you and getting down to brass tacks about your goal. Cut your nails; clean off your writing desk to eliminate distractions; buy those boxes if you need them; simplify life; get rid of the clutter that keeps you from your goal. Then enjoy that sweet moment when you reach that goal, or begin a new chapter in your life, figuratively or (as in my case) literally.

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Finding Time

Lately, I’ve been thinking about time; how much we have in a day, how fast it passes, and that days never seem to be long enough. In dwelling on time, is it a waste of time? Is productivity only what our hands produce, or does it include, in our perception, what our minds ruminate on? Obviously, the trail led me to idioms about time.

What idioms or phrases do you use to describe your day? I use one phrase about four times a week, as I write it in my journal to describe my day in a nutshell before I go into details: “Hit the Ground Running” (I just write HTGR). I’m grateful for the days I don’t use it… those days are like a secret stash of chocolate to be enjoyed (if you knew my husband, you’d know that’s a matter of self-preservation – but don’t tell him. Hoi, Schätzli). The phrase, etymologically speaking, came into use in the late 19th century, but really, well, hit the ground running during World War 2: It became a popular way of describing deployment from ships or parachuting into combat. Later it moved to a figurative sense; some days, I use it both literally and figuratively.

'Here's my plan,you hit the ground running.'

Here is a collection of idioms about using one’s time. Let me know if you use any of them regularly. If you know of any others, please share it in the comments below!

A day late and a dollar short

Against the clock

A good time

A hard time

A laugh a minute

A matter of time

A mile a minute

A month of Sundays

Around the clock

As honest as the day is long

A whale of a time

Beat the clock

Behind the times

Better late than never

Bide one’s time

By degrees

Call it a day/night

Call time (on something)

Carry the day

Catch someone at a bad time

Clock in, clock out

Crack of dawn

Crunch time

Day in the sun

Day to day

Dog Days

Donkey’s years

Don’t know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon

Do time

Dwell on the past

Eleventh hour

Feast today, famine tomorrow

Five o’clock shadow

For the time being

From now on

From time to time

Have one’s moments

Have time on one’s side

Here today, gone tomorrow

High time

Hit the big time

One day, he hoped to hit the big time.

Hour of need

In an instant / In the blink of an eye

In the interim

In the long run

In the right (wrong) place at the right (wrong) time

In this day and age

Just in the nick

Kill time

Like clockwork

Like there’s no tomorrow

Long time no see

Make my day

Make time

Not in a million years

No time like the present

No time to lose

Now and then

Now or never

Once in a blue moon

Once upon a time

Only time will tell

Pressed for time

Serve time

Shelf life

Sooner or later

Stand the test of time

Stuck in a time warp

Take one day at a time

The moment of truth

The ship has sailed

The time is ripe

The time of one’s life

Time for a change

Time flies

Time heals all wounds

Time is money

Time is of the essence

Time off for good behaviour

Too much time on one’s hands

Turn back the hands of time

Until hell freezes over

Waste of time

Wasting time

When the moon turns to blood

Year in, year out

Time_Well_Wasted

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Pareidolia

You’ve probably all heard of the “freeze, flight or fright” instinct (also known as the acute stress response, or hyperarousal) we all react with when facing a danger; it’s what our bodies automatically do to protect us. Pareidolia is related to that; it’s the name for something every human on the planet has probably experienced at some point in their lives: The tendency to interpret a shape or combination of objects as a recognizable entity or face. if we can recognize something as a friend or foe, our bodies can respond appropriately.

If we are walking in a dark forest at night and hear a twig snap, our heart races and adrenaline pumps through our veins; if we then recognize a shadowy silhouette as a bunny rather than a wolf, our body relaxes and we’ll laugh to ourselves for being silly (until we realize that bunnies should be asleep at night, and so this one must either be a were-rabbit or a zombie, but I digress). However, if the shadowy shape turns out to be a wolf, we’ll run. This is an example of the acute stress response; but Pareidolia is when we make wolves out of shoes and trousers hanging over a chair in a dark bedroom. The monsters in the closet that turn out to be a woollen jumper. The house that always seems to be smiling because of the arrangement of windows and doors.

Pareidolia is the rife playground in the imagination of many creative occupations such as cartoonists and CGI designers, and like anything else, if you focus on something, you’ll begin to see it everywhere. Once you’ve seen a smiling face in the headlights and bumper of a particular car model, it’s hard to unsee it.

So, just to put a smile on your face and on the face of an electric plug, here are a few pictures of pareidolia, gathered from Google (if you recognize one as yours, just let me know and I’ll give you the credit due!!). Some are a bit more challenging to see, like the yoda on the pig’s forehead or the downward-looking profile in the elephant’s ear, but once you’ve seen them, you’ll know! If you’ve got any examples of pareidolia, please share them in the comments below! 🙂

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The Long and Short of it

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you know I’ve written a few novels; the recent sale was a great success!

I’ve been working on something that will not only help me market those novels to a wider audience, but it’s also giving me good experience in another genre: Short stories. Just like a novel, a short has a setting, a character, character arc, conflict and resolution – just in a much more compact and simpler landscape, so to speak. You can’t afford to flesh out an ensemble of characters or have a slow-burn leading up to the time-bomb or ticking clock of conflict. I’ve been trying my hand at various lengths, from flash fiction of 6 words, or exactly 53 words long, to short stories up to 7,500 words. They all have their own challenges.

Until recently, I’d been taking a distance-learning course on the topic of short fiction, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t worth the money – and was refunded; I’ve taken a course through the same institute before, so I’ll be glad to continue looking at their options since they were helpful in resolving the issue. While the premise of the course was a good one, I am a quick and independent learner, and I’d learned enough through online research to have all the principles – it’s just about putting them into practice.

I won’t be sharing any of the stories here, because I’ll be using them to enter writing competitions, and one of the frequent prerequisites is that a story has never been released online or elsewhere. But I’ll share a cartoon with you that kind of reflects the life of a writer: Writing, re-drafting, hoping others will appreciate it, and eventually releasing the story into the wider world…

Writer vs Reader

If you’re a writer, keep at it! Hopefully you live in an area where you can join a writers’ group, or at least find other writers that can encourage you and give you feedback; if, like me, you’re on your own and living in a country that speaks another language than the one you write in, then keep at it – find your encouragers online, or within your family or circle of local friends.

If you’re interested in finding out how to write short stories, here are a few recommendations:

James Scott Bell’s “How to Write Short Stories

How to Analyze Short Stories

Short Story Tips: 10 Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing

Keep writing!

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Columbus’s Egg

1200px-columbus_breaking_the_egg'_(christopher_columbus)_by_william_hogarth

Columbus Breaking the Egg, by William Hogarth, 1752

At the end of December, I began a new training course in crafting short stories; this has renewed my interest in finding good writing prompts. By focusing on something, you usually begin to see things related to it everywhere you go. For instance, if you’re doing a puzzle and focus on the edges, you’ll begin to see them right under your nose where they’d been all along – you just hadn’t seen them before because you’d been focused on a specific colour or a particular section.

My brain is usually on rapid-fire mode; in any given second, dozens of topics flash through my thoughts. Reaching into this stream and pulling out one particular topic to focus on can lead to interesting, related issues, and Columbus’s Egg is one of the results.

The original thought that I plucked from the stream this morning was, “How do you actually spell Kobayashi Maru?” (I know, right? I’m sure you had exactly that thought as soon as your feet hit the ground this morning; it’s just that my “morning” began this afternoon as I wrote through the night and got to bed at 9:30 this morning…) By looking it up, I came across the apocryphal story about Columbus:

The story goes that Christopher Columbus, while attending a dinner, was confronted with Spanish scoffers who said that, had he not been the first to discover the Americas, someone else would have done so. He made no answer but asked a servant to bring him an egg (presumably a boiled one). He then challenged everyone present: They must try to get an egg to stand on its end, with nothing to support it in that position. Everyone tried and failed; when it was Columbus’s turn, he tapped the tip of the egg on the table, and the crushed, flat end made the egg remain upright. the moral was that a solution is obvious to everyone, but only once it has been found by someone else.

brunelleschi's dome, duomo of florence

the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral

The story is recorded in Girolamo Benzoni’s History of the New World, published in 1565, as he related it to Columbus, but it is likely apocryphal as the same anecdote was circulating 15 years previously about the architect of the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence, Italy.

My original thought’s term, Kobayashi Maru, is a term that any Trekkie will be familiar with: It was a no-win scenario designed to test Star Fleet cadets’ characters in the face of certain defeat. The term has gone beyond Star Trek and is used in business to illustrate the importance of changing the rules of the game in order to win, i.e. re-evaluating the foundation of a particular business scenario.

There are other such related terms, such as the Gordian KnotCatch-22, and the Archimedean point. All of these concepts are about thinking outside the box, which is exactly what I try to do as a writer.  If you’re also a writer, catch those thoughts – write them down, and let them foment into something interesting! Keep writing!

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Filed under Articles, Etymology, History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Prompt

History Undusted: New Year’s Day

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year VintageOn such a day more than any other time of the year, one tends to think of time. Time has been personified through Father Time for centuries, with the New Year usually being a baby. But what we assume is a universal start of a new year actually isn’t. By the Julian calendar, today is 19 December 2018; by the Gregorian, 1 January 2019.

Perhaps it would help to review the Julian and the Gregorian calendars:

The Julian calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC as a reformation of the Roman calendar, which had months of 29 or 31 days (except February, which must have confused even the contemporaries of the system – it had 28 days or 23 or 24 some years). The Julian calendar has been gradually increasing in discrepancy to the Gregorian calendar, which means that currently, it is 13 days behind. It is still used today by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, and the North African Berbers.

The Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582. The corrections spaced leap years to a set rule, making the average year 365.2425 days long. The rule is that every year exactly divisible by 4 is a leap year except those exactly divisible by 100; of the years divisible by 100, if it is exactly divisible by 400, it is a leap year. For example, the year 2000 was exactly divisible by 400, so it was a leap year; 1900 was not, so it wasn’t a leap year (it is exactly divisible by 100 but not 400).

Even though the Gregorian calendar is the only one most westerners have grown up using, it is not the only calendar in use – not by a long shot. There are many religion-related calendars, so some people grow up with 2 calendars (Ethiopian Coptics, Hebrews, and Chinese, to name a few). Added to the confusion is the civil interpretation of the leap year day of 29 February: If you were born on 29 February, in China your birthday in common years would be 28 February but in Hong Kong, it would be 1 March.

When the Gregorian calendar was introduced, imagine the confusion it must have led to (as it was not implemented everywhere at once): Pope Gregory XIII had no authority beyond the Catholic Church and the Papal States of the time, yet he was proposing changes to the civil calendar; this required adoption by the governing rulers of every individual country to have legal effect. It meant that, for the countries which adopted it, they had to have dual dates for clarity with neighbouring states and for their own people who were still adjusting to the fact that they’d just lost nearly 2 weeks. Other countries made a gradual transition, which must have confused things even more; for instance, Scotland adopted 1 January as the beginning of their New Year (previously, around 25 March) in 1600 (making 1599 a very short year), but didn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752, whereas the rest of the United Kingdom made both switches in 1752, meaning that for 152 years, Scotland’s dates were out of sync with their neighbouring countries.

So the next time you wish someone a Happy New Year, remember the privilege of sharing a mutual understanding of the same date with that friend. Even in our global village, it’s not something we can take for granted!

New Year 2019

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The strange story of the friendship between Hitler and a Jewish little girl.

Here’s an amazing piece of history that deserved to be undusted!

RANDOM Times •

We all know that Adolf Hitler was responsible for sending six million Jews to their deaths. Her name was Rosa Bernile Nienau and she was a little girl of Jewish origin in Germany in the 1930s. After this premise, you could imagine her end in a gas chamber of Auschwitz or another Nazi camp. Instead Rosa has a friend who preserves her from any racial persecution, a friend with a high-sounding name: Adolf Hitler.
This incredible photograph shows the smiling Nazi leader embracing the young Jewish girl, who referred to him as ‘Uncle Hitler’ and became known as his ‘sweetheart’ at his Alpine retreat.
Personally inscribed by Hitler, this photograph was taken in the summer of 1933 at the Berghof just six years before the outbreak of the Second World War!
The photo, taken by Hitler’s official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, is signed by Hitler in dark blue ink which says:…

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‘Tis the Season (Already)!

I can hardly believe it’s November already – where did this year go?  It’s moving so fast that I have started preparing for Christmas already. Now, I know that for most Americans it may come as a shock that I’ve waited so long – don’t you lot start in August? 😉

I was discussing the cultural differences of Christmas traditions with a Swiss neighbour recently, and I mentioned the fact that I have an aversion to the opulence of the average American household’s decorations. If an American came to Switzerland during Christmas, they’d probably think that the Swiss forgot to decorate! Outside lights (minimal and usually non-blinking, as not to disturb the neighbourhood), tree (minimally decorated, and in most households, it’s set up on Christmas Eve), advent wreath, advent calendar, done. Maybe a front door wreath, but not usually.  Maybe a nativity set, but not always.

Most of our decorations are made by yours truly; with the exception of a wedding-year ceramic ornament, all other ornaments are either embossed tin, or crochet, or paper mache, though we do have a small set of glass ornaments, too. Our presents are not wrapped but put into reversible cloth gift bags that I made a few years ago because I disliked the waste of wrapping paper. And we’ve used the same silk tree for about 15 years; I didn’t like the environmental waste of chopping down a live tree for a couple weeks’ enjoyment, just to toss it out again. It looks like the real thing and is storable.

I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, and this past week I had a creative streak; our church will be having a creche display, and they asked me if I could have some items to sell when visitors come. I made dozens of tin ornaments, and have on hand a few dozen plarn bags to sell as well.

Besides such preparations, I’ve begun planning for our family Christmas dinner, which will be here this year, as requested by my nieces (they stay overnight, and take over the upper floor for a party). A few years ago, on a whim, I decided to make a traditional American Christmas dinner with turkey & co. (I would have gone for British, but couldn’t get a goose at the butcher’s or find Christmas crackers), and they wanted that once again. The first time I prepared it, I ordered the largest turkey I could get, which was 3 kg. (~6.5 lbs.); for 15 people, that was WAY too much!! But try as I might, I couldn’t find instructions anywhere online for such a small bird on American sites; the lowest end of their cooking time graphs started at 8-12 lbs. [An interesting note: IKEA had to make American dining tables much larger than they sell in Europe, and it’s mainly due to the load of food served at their holidays, including the size of the turkey; in fact, they had to supersize everything for America, from drinking glasses to chairs to sofas…]

I managed to get the turkey cooked in time, and I made notes for the next round. But in that process, I recognized many cultural differences between what I grew up with in America, and what I am used to, having lived in Europe for over 30 years: The simpler approach to the season of Christmas, not only in decorations but in the whole materialistic aspect. Here, it’s not about the biggest, the brightest, the loudest, or the most; it’s about family, friends, taking time with loved ones, and eating a nice meal that won’t break the bank or the scales! Our Christmas decorations and lights fit into 2 boxes; my mother recently told me about helping one woman decorate her home for Christmas; she had an entire walk-in closet filled with hundreds of decorative pillows, and her basement was lined with shelves for nothing but her seasonal decorations… mercy me – that woman’s collection could decorate dozens of Swiss homes.  If that’s what makes someone enjoy Christmas, then so be it; but it’s not for me!

Some people dislike the fact that Christmas decorations and sale items have already appeared in stores here, but I don’t mind it this early – I can get my shopping done before the first of December (including advent calendar gifts, and Samichlaussäckli fillings [6 December]), and leave the last-minute panic up to others. If you haven’t begun preparations for the season, you might think about how you want to celebrate Christmas, and perhaps find ways to avoid stress or trying to keep up with the Joneses.  In the meantime, I’ll share a few ideas for upcycling crafts and decorations – make it yourself and save money, spare the environment and natural resources, and enjoy the satisfaction of doing something with your hands! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest boards.

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History Undusted: The Shilling

1 Shilling front

Numismatics is an interesting field, and in doing research for the Northing Trilogy, I wanted to know just what currencies would have been used at the time (1750s, England), and what the value of the currencies were:  How much could be purchased or earned?  Would a Stirling pound have made a pauper a land owner or not?  That brought me to the current book I’m reading, called “The Splendid Shilling” by James O’Donald Mays.  Here are a few bits and bobs:

The Shilling was a form of currency used in Britain up until the 1970s; even after that, the coins continued in circulation as smaller denominations (1 shilling was 5 p, and 2 shilling was 10p) until 1990, when it was demonetized.  I remember using them until they were phased out and replaced by the smaller coins of 5p and 10p values, and I kept a few for my coin collection.  One shilling coins were called “bobs”, and that led to programs such as “bob-a-job” fund raisers by the boyscouts, starting in 1914.  Two shillings were known as Florins, or “two-bob bits”.

1 Shillings reverseThe word shilling most likely comes from a Teutonic word, skel, to resound or ring, or from skel (also skil), meaning to divide.  The Anglo-Saxon poem “Widsith” tells us …”þær me Gotena cyninggodedohte; se me beag forgeaf, burgwarenafruma, on þam siexhund wæs smætes goldes, gescyred sceatta scillingrime...”  “There the king of the Goths granted me treasure: the king of the city gave me a torc made from pure gold coins, worth six hundred pence.”  Another translation says that the gold was an armlet, “scored” and reckoned in shilling.  The “scoring” may refer to an ancient payment method also known as “hack” – they would literally hack off a chunk of silver or gold jewellery to purchase goods, services and land, and the scoring may have been pre-scored gold to make it easier to break in even increments, or “divisions”.  From at least the times of the Saxons, shilling was an accounting term, a “benchmark” value to calculate the values of goods, livestock and property, but did not actually become a coin until the reign of Henry VII in the 1500s, then known as a testoon.  The testoon’s name and design were most likely inspired by the Duke of Milan’s testone.

 

Duke of Milan's Testone

Duke of Milan’s Testone

 

 

Henry VII Testoon

Henry VII Testoon

 

 

 

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, 15

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Square Eyes

word-500x392

How my brain looks at the moment…

 

I’ve been staring at the computer screen so much the past few weeks that everything else in life got put on the back burner (including this blog – my apologies!). I could afford to do this because my husband’s been away on his annual hiking & biking holidays, so I could focus on huge chunks of editing for (10-14) hours at a time. I’ve taken the stereotype of authors as hermits to the limits, I must say! And I enjoy it for the moment. With minimal appointments/classes/students during this period, I’ve gotten a LOT done: I’ve been updating/tweaking/editing the already-published novels because they needed to be uploaded again anyway (due to new releases, and broken links*).

This simple goal opened a pandora’s box of issues – like the fact that I’ve realised that I need to keep an active eye on Amazon; they manage to screw up things on a regular basis with links to books, links to my Author Page, and external links to my blog.  They don’t care that their mistakes cost me readers. And not just Amazon.com – but .de and co.uk… that translates to, ideally (heavy dose of sarcasm) checking 10 book links per website times 3… regularly. Obviously, I have nothing else to do with my time.

That’s one issue; another is something I’ve recently become aware of, and I think anyone publishing e-books using Word as a basis-format needs to be aware of: Start off your manuscript with a “nuclearized” version – NO formatting, and turning off all Word auto-corrects and auto-formats.  Word tends to add hidden bookmarks to help navigate through a manuscript; however, these can also mess up your final version if you’re sending it off as Word to be *converted by the end-publisher. That means, go to “Insert”, click “bookmark”, and unclick / re-click the “hidden bookmarks” checkbox. Anything beginning with _(gibberish) needs to be deleted. The bad news: each one has to be deleted individually (unless you pay for a tool like Kutools for Word)! I just did one of my e-books, and I had 280 superfluous bookmarks… Joy.

Once I get this all done, the next phase begins: Preparing all 5 e-book manuscripts for release on another website, Smashwords. They use what they affectionately call “the Meatgrinder” – a program that converts a nuked document into the various formats through which they distribute.  That means sifting through a 120-page PDF for grains of useful info in a vat of chafe – things I already know (like how to copy/paste!). They leave no stone unturned, but I still need to read through it and prepare my personalized list of editing/formatting points.

Every time I look at my to-do list at the moment, I take a few deep breaths. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however: When I start work on my next manuscript, it will be nuclearized from the get-go; putting pure practices into effect from the beginning will (hopefully) save me a lot of headaches later on when it comes time to publish again!

In a few days, I hope to emerge from the cave to become a modern, socializing human again – in the meantime, just gimme a cuppasoup and turn off the phone, please.

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