Category Archives: Musings

Life in the Slow Lane: Spring Cleaning, Glass Jars and Lockdown

Two Wolves, QuarantineIt’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted a blog – my deepest apologies! It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes life takes over a bit too much to think straight. Just like for everyone else on the planet, life as we knew it has come to a grinding halt, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just different, and it takes some adjusting time. For me, that’s meant recovering energy from a mild case of Covid-19 – it mainly just wiped out our energy for about a month, giving me achy joints; in the meantime, I’ve been getting used to having my husband at home 24/7 as he works from home. It means we get to have lunch together, but it also means that I’ve spent more time in the kitchen than usual. Even with all the adjustments, I could get used to it all and enjoy it! The introvert in me is fine not having a loaded agenda; I’ve had more time to write, to do a bit of “urban” (read “indoor potted plants“) gardening (mainly kitchen herbs), and tackle a bit of spring cleaning.

When you slow down, you tend to notice things in more detail; you might think of old friends that you haven’t contacted in a while, and you pick up the phone to call, Skype, Zoom or message. You notice things around your own home that, as busy as life usually is, you’ve overlooked or ignored as a non-priority.

But now there’s time. Time to look around, time to observe, time to do something that hasn’t been a priority before. You know what I mean… you’ve walked past something in your home that’s out of its place a dozen times or a dozen weeks without putting it where it goes. Those little nick-nacks and thingamabobs that go somewhere else; a book that you’ve been intending to read and have dusted off a time or two in the meantime; that glass jar that came out of the dishwasher a week or two ago that you’ve intended to use… you get the gist.

Spring Cleaning

Speaking of glass jars, I’ve always held on to large ones or unusual ones, thinking I’d put them to use someday. Well, that day has arrived: About a month ago, I started battling those horrid little kitchen moths; likely arriving in a package of dates or a package of Asian noodles (where they’ve been found thus far), they kept appearing every time I thought I’d finally dealt with them. So I did a bit of research, and ended up emptying and taking the cupboards apart! Every glass jar I could find now has something in it – dried beans, rice, spices, flour, grated coconut, etc. Any other time, I would be able to go out and buy large jars; but in this time of lockdown, the only source I’ve had is our local grocery store – and even they have such selves cordoned off… only things that are necessary have been for sale (so I’ve bought them anyway – yes, I ignored the restriction, which was there to keep one from buying things at a grocery store that other shops, forcibly closed, might sell you – but I would have bought them in the same store, anyway. Maybe they took the hint, because last week they started selling 2-5 litre Fido canning jars, and I’ve stocked up “legally” now!). It’s been good – I now know what I’ve got in the pantry. I have TONS of spices (which I use), at least 7 varieties of rice (yes, they are all necessary!), and a good collection of dehydrated foods (all homemade). My husband’s a happy camper, as I’ve made our kitchen decorative shelves into a veritable candy store, with snacks galore: dehydrated snacks like watermelon, bananas and candied ginger; dates, figs, nuts. The glass jars look nice, and you can see how much you have, take what you want without leaving an open package (a neon sign for crawlies), and have something healthy within sight when you get a snack craving. Yes, it took moths to get my kitchen more decorative.

I’m curious: What have you been doing around your house during lockdown that you might not otherwise have undertaken? Please comment below!

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The Time We’ve Been Given

Gandalf

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March 18, 2020 · 10:00 AM

The Quandry of Quarantine

T Rex Wahing Hands

There’s been a lot of talk about the Corona Virus; in fact, that seems to be the only topic in the news right now; and while I rarely go onto social media sites, I was curious about what’s circulating there, and so I went on yesterday. While I agree that misinformation and scare-mongering are never helpful (and those both seem to abound in social media, like a wildfire virus) I disagree with people’s faulty conclusion that there must, therefore, be no danger of coming into contact with the disease or with the disease itself.

My husband and I have been cautious, we’ve been washing our hands and keeping a distance between ourselves and others, but the fact is, we all come in contact with things that have been in contact with others every day: The coins you use, the door handles you turn, the shopping cart you push, the food packages stocked onto the shelves in the store by someone else. And despite all our precautions, we have been infected. We are now under self-imposed quarantine for two weeks.

Quarantine will be a topic for a lot of people; in Italy currently, that “lot” is 16 million or more. So what do you do with two weeks within your own walls? Nowadays, I can shop online – I can order groceries delivered to our door from local shops (if they’re not under lock-down, too); I can have electronics delivered overnight – faster than if I had to go to a shop (if the postman can still get out). But I think the most deciding factor in making it through quarantine well is on the level of mental health; however, some people are better-equipped for isolation than others. Indoor hobbies play a huge role in helping people pass the time. Those who have no hobbies, perhaps because they think they have no time for such things, will suddenly find themselves with LOTS of time on their hands. People like my husband, who have to move and exercise or they go a bit stir-crazy, will need to figure out creative ways of doing so within the confines placed on them. Even if you aren’t there yet, it may be helpful to figure out ways to make time pass meaningfully, because like it or not, Corona is in our lives for a while yet, and it will shape our societies, economics and personal constructs for some time to come.

So to help, I thought I’d give a few suggestions of what to do on a rainy day, or as in our case, quarantine:

  • Learn something. YouTube abounds with interesting videos on every topic under the sun. Here are a few of my favourite channels:
  • For entertainment, YouTube offers films, comedy (try “Dry Bar Comedy“), talk shows (e.g. Good Mythical Morning)
  • Do a puzzle. Either a physical one or a virtual puzzle.
  • Play an instrument – you might have enough time to polish your abilities.
  • Learn a new craft, or dust off one you already know how to do. Find an outlet for your results – often, a goal will help focus your efforts… either as a gift for a friend, or as a donation to a charity or cause (e.g. hats for cancer patients, or toys for animal shelters). I have an endless supply of ideas for crafts, so I’m all set. 😉
  • Read a good book. If you need ideas, check out this link! 🙂 Books that I like to read depend on my mood; I like anything by Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and Stephenie Meyer; the Descended series by Dana Pratola, and anything by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R Tolkien.
  • Watch a good film. Whether a DVD or something through an online source, there are hundreds of good possibilities out there.
  • Connect with people. That may sound odd as a suggestion for time spent in quarantine, but people are a phone number away. We have one friend here who is also in isolation, and she knows no one else in Switzerland yet; so we are on the phone daily right now, as a way for her to connect with someone outside of her four walls. We’ve called friends to make sure they’re okay (if need be, I can go out, as I have a supply of face masks). If you have other people in your home, play a game together.

I hope you never face quarantine, but if it happens, decide ahead of time to view it as an opportunity dropped into your lap; you’ll be better able to cope with it if you have a positive outlook on it, and you’ll be more equipped to take the bull by the horns and find a way to come out the other side a better person!

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Filed under Articles, Cartoon, Humor, Links to External Articles, Musings

How to be Eco-Friendlier in 2020

First of all, Happy New Year! If you’ve made resolutions, take steps to keep them. One of my resolves this year is to be more eco-friendly in our household than we already are. One step I plan to take is making unpaper towels – if you don’t know what that is, read on!

We Swiss are very environmentally conscious; there’s a caricature, not far off the mark, that goes like this: When a Swiss has a tea, they then put the tea leaves in the compost, the string in the cloth collection, the tag in the cardboard collection, the staple in the metal collection, and the bag in the paper collection. We’re not that extreme – we drink tea without bags! [On a side note to tea bags: A news article recently highlighted a shocking find: One tea bag in a cup of hot water can produce BILLIONS of microparticles of plastic. No joke. I’ve started taking the teas we have and making my own loose-tea mix… I’ll buy loose tea from now on.]

But seriously, the amount of waste one produces in a year is horrendous. How each country deals with their own waste would probably shock you, too; many don’t burn it, or even bury it; they export it… to Asia, to Africa – whoever has the best price. How they deal with your rubbish is then out of your government’s hands – they’ve just flipped the problem onto someone else. How much of that rubbish ends up blown or dumped into the ocean. I don’t want to know, honestly – it would probably sicken me. Switzerland, as far as I have been able to find out, doesn’t practice export; we have incinerators that turn the rubbish into steam energy.

So the best solution is to begin solving the problem at home. Any movement that is successful starts with the individual – starts with changing the mindset of a culture one person at a time. I keep my eyes open for innovative ways to be more eco-friendly; I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, using most plastic (including magazine wraps, product packaging, plastic rings, produce nets, etc.), and everything else; my Pinterest boards will give you inspiration if you’re looking for ways to upcycle creatively. But if you’re not into crafts, there are still a lot of ways to become more environmentally friendly, and here are a few:

  • Plastic wrap replacements: Beeswax-infused cloth
  • Unpaper-Towels: Cloth towels in the kitchen – reusable, washable, no waste!
  • Drinking Straws: Purchase metal straws; they usually come with a small scrub brush, and are easy to clean. I keep a microfiber cloth on my drying rack to set smaller things on to dry. If you google metal drinking straws, you can either find a shop near you that sells them, or you can buy them online; just keep in mind shipping waste if online-shopping.
  • Cloth Napkins / Serviettes instead of paper napkins.
  • Water Conservation: Take shorter showers, turning off the water stream when you’re soaping or shampooing; turn off the sink water in between actually using it. If washing a lot of dishes, either fill your dishwasher space-efficiently and to capacity, or use a larger bowl, etc. to reuse soapy water in the sink; when it’s dirty, dump it and allow the bowl to refill as you wash more dishes. Fill your clothes washing machine to capacity – never wash only a few items at a time! I have a machine that tells me if a load is too heavy for a particular setting; I can choose anywhere between 3 and 9 kilos, and it will conserve water by the settings I choose.
  • Cleaning Chemicals: Either purchase refillable, natural cleaning liquids (remember, it all goes into the water canals) or make your own from vinegar and water and baking soda, adding lemon juice or a few drops of lemon essential oils for that clean aroma.
  • Room-to-Room Guide to a Zero Waste Home
  • Junk Mail: If you get unwanted mail, mark it “cancel” and “return to sender”. Just recycling it doesn’t solve the main issue, which is the flood of destroyed trees… Send the message to the perpetrators that it is unwanted.

Here are a few visuals to add food for thought; as with all things reduced to a j-peg, some of these make sense, while others don’t. Take them with a grain of salt, and be inspired to try helpful ideas out in your own home:

Eco-Friendly Tips to Save CashGlass vs PlasticGreen Your HouseHow Long Until It's GoneJunk MailPlastic BagsPlastic Spoons, ProcessReduce your wasteSingle Use SwapsTrees Saved

Turtles and Plastic Bags

Please let me know in the comments below what you do to be more eco-friendly and conserve the environment!  Have a great 2020 – and let’s make it one step closer to caring for the planet and the animals we share it with!

 

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A Crafty Life & All That Jazz

I can’t believe how fast the month has flown by!  Life took over – more like, it grabbed me by the neck and took me for a wild ride – and writing took a back seat; it sat back there, observing, taking notes, and waiting for the first opportunity to grab the wheel again.

Dilbert -Head will explode

Meetings, challenges and dealing with the messy bits that make up a full life took most of my time this past month. English classes; singing students; somewhere in there also comes housework and grocery shopping. Our church held a bazaar, and I was counted on by the organizers to bring a variety of crafts (I have a bit of a reputation). I spent two days baking with a friend; I spent nearly two weeks organizing and supplementing my crafts to sell, including deciding on prices for each (and we all know how easy that is…). I had dozens of Scherenschnitte (some in frames, some without); plarn (= plastic yarn, made from upcycled plastic bags) purses and baskets (including two baskets made out of an old air mattress); each plarn bag, including glazed cardboard buttons, has a unique tag recording how much time was spent, and what materials each is made of. I also had beaded bookmarks, wine charms, tin embossed Christmas ornaments, a bowl full of surprise gift bags, and three kinds of cookies (Spitzbuben, Bretzeli, and savoury cheese cookies). The crafts also required props – tags, packaging cards, a hanging display rod, and a display bowl and wine glass (both paper-maché), etc. etc. Whew. You can see why it took me two weeks! I now have a few special orders that were sold at the bazaar which I need to make and get sent off in time for Christmas.

Somewhere in that busyness, someone moved in with us; she’ll be with us for at least the next three months, and I’ve been helping her deal with the official business of moving (deregistering from Zürich, registering here in our town, etc.), and also settling in as far as finding her way around the town, public transport, and our home.

All the while, in the back seat, writing has been breathing down my neck; but it’s not the only thing, and it hasn’t been the loudest by a long shot. I have responsibilities in our church that require phone calls, organisational meetings, organising people who have lives of their own, too, leading the church services (two per Sunday morning) at least once a month, and sometimes getting things pushed uphill – empathies for Sisyphus.

I have dozens of ideas to share with you; it comes down to eking enough time to do a topic justice. But life is slowing down a bit more once again, so I look forward to letting writing climb back into the front seat! I’ve started working again on my next novel, and keeping an eye out for a topic that wants undusting. Keep your eyes open – I’m back!

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The Long and Short

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I last posted, for which I apologize. Sometimes life just takes over, and my mind gets going in several different directions; when that happens, it’s hard to focus on writing a blog that’s worth its content, and I don’t want to post just to post. It needs a purpose.

In my post about cutting my nails, I told you that I’m getting down to serious writing. It’s been an interesting process, as I’m actually writing two manuscripts at the moment – one from the perspective of the heroine, and the other, the villain. But as any villain will tell you, they are the hero of their own story; I started writing from the second POV to develop the character and decipher the plot ins and outs through that back door, so to speak – if I don’t have a clear grasp on the villain and their motives, this particular plotline won’t work.

But in the meantime, life has intruded (so rude of it) several times; I’m involved in leadership teams in our church, so that’s taken quite a bit of time in this phase of our growth; my husband and I also went away to the Alps for a long weekend this past week, and while it was enjoyable, I didn’t sleep much – and I didn’t have my laptop with me to work when I couldn’t sleep. [Sleep is a whole other kettle of fish; I’ll just say that I don’t sleep horizontally, as it’s too painful.] So, to pass the time, I watched stars or wrote short stories.

I started writing short stories several years ago – just as a hobby, really; but this year, I decided to take it to the next level – competitions, and looking into anthologies. My mother has been sending me helpful links in the latter category, and in the former, I have a whole list of month-by-month due dates that I could target. If I miss the deadline for a particular competition, I can still write a short using their criteria, for practice as well as having something ready the next time.

Part of my writing “time” has been spent trying to figure out a way around the monopoly that is Amazon. Basically, that’s been nothing but frustration. I used to be able to order paperback books through CreateSpace, at author’s cost, and have them shipped to Switzerland. They no longer ship here, because apparently, we’re now behind Timbuktu. Authors in other countries can buy author copies; basically, anywhere except Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and “some regions in Germany”. That’s a quote from a reply to my enquiry. How does one region of Germany differ from any other, I ask (rhetorically)? There is no longer a Berlin Wall – or does Amazon not realize this yet? If I could shoot Amazon to the moon, I would do it in a heartbeat. Any suggestions? I wonder if they sell rocket fuel?

Rocket in the Moon's Eye

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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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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