Category Archives: Musings

A New Year

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to leave 2021 behind me! On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I sit down and review the last year, and talk about what we’d like to see or do in the following; this year, when we reviewed the last 12 months, we had to say, “what did we experience unrelated to health issues?” and we were hard-pressed to come up with anything substantial: Holidays were a non-topic, as my husband was in and out of the hospital, sometimes emergency, with complications that delayed his chemotherapy; finally, that got started – which meant that either he had little energy for taking day trips, or we couldn’t go because he had appointments. If anyone has had it themselves or has a family member who’s had cancer, you’ll know the “routine” – if you can even call it that.

In the midst of all that, with my energy and focus on him, or on communicating with friends and family, everything else seemed to fall to the back burner, including regular blog posts. In the past few months, if I wrote at all, I worked on my next novel; I finished the final draft in mid-December! Then I immediately did a straight read-through and began the work of fine-tuning and editing. I have Beta readers for feedback, but because I’m an Indie publisher, I do all of the nitty-gritty myself, the work of graphics, formatting, editing, and a long list of to-dos that could fill a book by themselves. Those are what I’m tackling next – after the feedback is in and incorporated where needed.

Now that chemotherapy is behind us (his last ended on Christmas Day!), we’re still not out of the woods but at least we can see the skies through the thinning trees. Also in December, I had my 2nd Covid vaccination and have noticed a marked drop in the long-term symptoms that had been slowing me way down, some days stopping me altogether, since March 2020. The end of those two issues gives me more hope for the coming year! It also means that we can look forward. Last year, it was impossible to plan; at the worst times, we couldn’t even plan an hour ahead. Of course, Covid complicates things, with travel restrictions or threats of lockdowns, but I think we’re all used to that by now.

Have you made any holiday plans for the coming year? If we could fly anywhere, without Covid complications at the airport or crossing borders, ideally we would love to go back to Scotland, where I used to live and where we met back in the day! But we live in one of the other most beautiful patches on Earth, so we’re hoping to take the Grand Tour route of Switzerland this year instead. In the past, we’ve often rented a motorhome for holidays, whether in New Zealand, Norway or Scotland, so perhaps we’ll do that here, too. Every plan is qualified these days with a maybe, perhaps, or we’ll see.

My hope for this blog in the coming year is that I can take control of time and energy once again and begin posting regularly. I have a few ideas, so keep an eye on this space!

8 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

Seasonal Changes: Advent’s Coming!

Life and all that jazz have been happening at a full stop here this past month: My husband, whose immune system is weakened by chemotherapy at the moment, caught the flu at work, and was down for nearly 2 weeks; though I managed to avoid it a week, it finally caught up with me and within a few days had dropped into my lungs (it’s not Covid-19 – I already know what that feels like!). So this month, I’ve been out of action except for coughing and sleepless nights. Ergo, no blogging. I haven’t had enough brainpower to think about any topic for more than a few minutes. I’m now on the mend, with a vaccination cure for bronchitis on the go. Now that I slowly have more energy returning, I’ve come out of that “zone” – that tunnel vision that focuses only on the most elemental priorities, like health – and realized that October is nearly over. Advent is on the way! [I know that, for Americans at least, Thanksgiving is in focus before Advent, though we don’t have that as a traditional festive day here.]

The last few days have been Indian summer here, so we’ve been getting ready for winter and seasonal changes. I’m taking advantage of the sunny balcony to spray paint crafts. I’m starting to think about advent calendars, stocking stuffers, and Samichlaussäckli. I’ve gone through my crafts inventory for the annual Christmas market, where I sell things, and I’ve planned the annual baking day with a friend to make things for our families as well as for selling at the market.

I’ve talked about how minimalistic most Swiss households are decorated, so I won’t have much preparation where that’s concerned. But one thing I do begin to prepare now is the advent calendar. Our advent calendar the past few years has been a decorative ribbon strung along a wall, with small Christmas stockings hung with numbered wooden clothes pegs. I’ve made the stockings (pictured below), and they can double as silverware holders on a decorative table at Christmas – that’s assuming we can have guests around that time, Covid notwithstanding. I’ve also made matching wine slip-coasters (shown) and matching wine charms to go with each glass’s stocking.

It’s getting harder to find good advent gifts; we have everything we need. Larger gifts go under the tree or in a larger stocking, but what are small gifts – about the size of a lip balm? Somehow, every year, I manage to find 12 each that are practical or fun: mini toiletry items, erasers, pens, fun magnets or post-its, small liqueurs for my husband (though this year, that’s a no-go due to chemo), rings or earrings, sampler perfumes or aftershaves and, of course, one individually-wrapped chocolate in each (something like Ferrero Rocher or Raffaello– something that won’t leak, like Mon Cheri).

In the midst of all that, as my energy returns, I’ve been sculpting the ending of my current manuscript (science fiction). That takes a level of mental focus that has been fleeting this month, so I try to catch it when I can and have the grace with my health situation not to stress when I can’t. When I can’t write, I at least have the energy to do something crafty.

While writing this, my curiosity has been building, so now come the questions to you!

Do you have an Advent calendar? If so, what’s it like? Do you have gifts, or simply opening doors with an image hiding behind them? If you have one with gifts, did you make it yourself or buy a store-bought themed calendar? Did you grow up with a culture of Advent calendars where you live/lived as a child? I did not, so I’ve thoroughly embraced the Swiss tradition, adding my own twist of stockings (which are not common here, though the idea is catching on slowly).

I’d love to read your answers in the comments below!

Happy preparation for the coming seasons!

10 Comments

Filed under Articles, Cartoon, Family History, Musings

Imagination is a Superpower

I’ve taught English as a foreign language for adults for years, from the age of 13 up until Covid put such gatherings on hold. I would often use some kind of exercise that allowed students to think outside of their normal lives, to stretch their vocabulary and to practice speaking and forming sentences outside of their comfort zone. I once had a nursing student, meeting as a semi-private student with another fellow nurse, who categorically refused to do any exercises requiring a make-believe scenario; she called herself a “realist”. Despite reasoning with her, or her friend asking her to participate so that she could learn more, she refused. I found it frustrating as a teacher, but I found it tragic as a writer and creative thinker.

Thinking outside of the box and thinking creatively stretches our brains in extraordinary ways; it promotes creative problem solving, allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment, and can help us view a situation from several different angles. By thinking into fictitious scenarios, we learn something about ourselves along the way – those things that make us tick, our strengths, or our weaknesses.

For years, I’ve collected interesting writing prompts whenever I’ve come across them; it’s going down the proverbial rabbit hole to follow leads on the internet, but because I’ve collected them willy-nilly, I can’t tell you exactly where they originated – it’s a common problem with online research, and as often as I can, I try to give proper credit to images that I use if they’re not my own; the people out there who offer their creative perspectives, photography talents, or Photoshop skills deserve credit where credit’s due. But it’s one reason that I don’t often share such prompts here, for those of you following who are also writers. Another reason is that there are enough sites out there stuffed to the gills with prompts. What I would like to do today is share an exercise in imagination.

Albert Einstein quotes run rampant on the internet; without a reference book to know what he actually said, I feel that many of them fall into this category:

Having said that, sometimes you can gather the essence of what he probably said by reading “diagonally” through the supposed quotes, and one such sentiment is that Einstein said something like, “Imagination is more important that knowledge; knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world.” Mark Twain once wrote*, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” [* Excerpt from his Complete Works] (By the by, if you’d like more Mark Twain wit, I wrote an article about his views on Switzerland, and the German language – just click here.)

So here’s something to exercise your imagination with:

You have the choice between flight and invisibility; which do you choose and why? What will you do with this superpower?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments below!

13 Comments

Filed under Articles, Humor, Images, Musings, Quotes, Research, Writing Exercise, Writing Prompt

The Nature of Time, or the Time of Nature

Did you know that, as animals get bigger, their pulse rates slow down and their lifetimes lengthen? This means that, from hamster to elephant, each gets around 1 billion heartbeats, though the hamster only lives around 3 years, while the elephant lives for 70; because the elephant’s mass is enormous, their pulse (30 beats per minute) is far lower than the hamster’s (450 bpm). For more information on this, please click here.

This phenomena makes for an interesting juxtaposition when other creatures cross our paths; because each creature has a different metabolic rate, time is relative: A mosquito has plenty of time to move out of our hand’s way because her faster metabolic rate makes our movements seem slow motion; by contrast, if a redwood tree or a yew tree, each of which can live hundreds or even thousands of years, could tell us how it perceives us, perhaps our lives would seem like a blip in time by comparison.

Slow motion filming is becoming not only more popular on platforms such as YouTube, with channels like The Slow Mo Guys, Smarter Every Day, and How Ridiculous, to name a few, but it’s also becoming more accessible as the cameras and their capabilities improve and they come down in price. Even more accessible is time-lapse photography, which has become so prevalent in our media that we might not even recognize that what we see in a few seconds took days of one shot per hour to set up.

Louie Schwartzberg is considered the pioneer in time-lapse cinematography, and you’ve seen his work, though you might not realize it: If you’ve ever watched, for example, the logo clip of Warner Brothers Studios at the beginning of a film, you’ve seen his time-lapse rolling clouds. At the moment, Netflix is showing “Fantastic Fungi”, a film about, well, Fungi, and Schwartzberg is the genius behind the film. It’s a fascinating look into the time of nature, as well as the nature of time.

To watch a fascinating behind-the-scenes video about Fantastic Fungi, with interviews from the cinematographer, please click here. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: IMDB, “Fantastic Fungi”

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Musings, Nature, Science & Technology

Life & All that Jazz: Musical Chairs

Have you ever played musical chairs? If yes, you know that feeling: Everything’s going along, the music’s playing, and suddenly it stops – you have to change your plans immediately or you’re too late and out of the game.

In a way, this describes the past few months for me: If you’ve read my past few posts, you’ll know that my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer in March. Life had been running relatively smoothly up until that moment, the music purring right along. Then screech, it stopped, he had surgery in April, and a piece of colon had to leave the game. The music had started again: After six weeks of him recovering and us thinking things were on track for a smooth ride, screech, the music stopped and we had to take immediate counter-action. He was in and out of hospital with infections, problems with the stoma, ups and downs, changes of plans several times (sometimes several times in 24 hours), and the stoma (thankfully) finally had to leave the game. Every time he was in hospital, because of Covid regulations, I was the only one allowed to visit him, which meant that every other day I took an hour’s trek there, maximum one hour’s visit, and another hour to reach home again. For three weeks, the music played along as he healed from surgery and began to regain weight bit by bit (he’d lost around 12 kgs. by then, not one of which was “extra weight”, I might add). Then the chemo started; we had everyone and their friends praying, worldwide, that there would be no dire side effects, and into the third round, that’s exactly what’s been happening – basically nothing! Nothing negative, I should say; all he’s really felt is a bit “blah” on the third day in, and a bit of tingling in his fingertips, and that’s it! PTL!

In all of that, I was holding the fort here; trying to keep friends and family updated, keeping the house clean and making sure we had food in the cupboard in case my husband got his appetite back, and then cooking whatever he felt like eating at the time. We had three weeks of holidays (here in Switzerland, we’d refer to them as UHU [Ums Huus Uma] Ferien, meaning “around the house holidays”; in English, one term is staycation): We took day-trips out as my husband had energy for: We took a day trip on Lake Zurich, with lunch on the lake; we had a picnic at a local bird sanctuary park that has mainly storks and ducklings; we took driving tours, went to a pocket-sized zoo, and then, as his energy returned, he started going on small (for him) hikes, then longer ones, as well as longer bike rides, building his energy and his appetite again.

As his energy improved, mine took a breather! I’m sure all of you can relate – at some point in your life, when a pressure is removed, your adrenaline subsides and you suddenly start feeling like you’re deflating. I’ve had several Covid flare-ups in the past few weeks, which hasn’t helped (I had a mild case of Covid-19 back in March 2020, and after months of bone-deep exhaustion, it started tapering off, with flare-up days happening less frequently now, but still rearing up occasionally). So far, vaccination has been a questionable option for me because of other health considerations; but more research is required – if it will eliminate flare-ups and the other long-term symptoms, I might just get it over and done.

All of this may help explain why I’ve been silent here for a month. I don’t like it – I’ve been having withdrawals; but when I haven’t had the energy to dive into an interesting topic for this blog, I’ve tried to work on my current novel’s manuscript (though on flare-up days, I can kiss any creative endeavour goodbye!). Now that life is starting to settle into some semblance of a routine once more, I hope to meet with you here more often again!

In the meantime, take care, and stay healthy! I will see you very soon, so keep your eye on the blog!

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

Psychology Undusted: Third Places

Several years ago, I wrote about this topic; but viewed from today’s perspective, I thought it might be worth ruminating on, so here’ goes:

Everyone has three places they spend time in: The first place is the home; the second is either school or the workplace; and the third is a place that feels comfortable – a home away from home, or a place we can unwind. The third place varies from person to person; it might be your local hairdresser’s, a pub, Starbucks, a small café, a favourite park bench, a nearby spot out in nature, or a library or museum. Companies like Starbucks have capitalized on people’s need for an environment of comfort; they have couches and armchairs and free Wi-Fi, and don’t make you feel like you need to drink up and move on. Your third place might even be virtual – Facebook and other social media sites where you like to “hang out” and connect with friends. It might be your local community centre; such places are crucial to a neighbourhood, whether or not we realize it, because they facilitate a sense of group identity. When a local crisis arises, they have been the places people gather to distribute clothing or food to those hit; meeting others, encouraging them, helping and being able to contribute to the greater good are all important to our sense of humanity; we all want to feel useful and needed in some way.

Thinking about that topic now through Covid-coloured glasses, at some point we’ve all lost our third places through lockdowns; the rules that govern social interaction have changed drastically, and it has effected the psychological health of both individuals and communities alike. While some of you may have been able to return to business as usual more or less, other regions have had multiple lockdowns; in either case, the subtle changes have made third places less inviting: Regulations about masks, needing to make reservations in restaurants that are half-empty, filling out contact tracing forms, etc. Perhaps your favourite haunt didn’t survive the financial strain of months of forced closure, or it closed because the owner passed away. More than missing that physical place, many people have suffered because of social distancing: Not being able to meet up with friends, spend time in good company, and, in the advent of mass home-office work, even the absence of spontaneous encounters with co-workers around the break room. Having a drink together over Skype or Zoom just isn’t the same; the spontaneity is missing. Those people who thrive on physical contact, such as a hug or a pat on the back, have suffered deeply on a psychological level whether they realize it or not.

Some positive effects have also come from lockdown: Many people have intentionally invested more into their local community; we’ve shopped locally or supported the local restaurants by ordering delivery or take-away more often than we normally would have, or bought from local farm shops (we’re blessed with an abundance of those in our area); by working at home, carbon emissions have been reduced by thousands of daily commuters (usually only one per car) not being on the road. Our holiday budgets have taken a breather. We’ve wasted less money on impulse-shopping. More and more people have felt the growing need to be off-grid and self-sufficient for future times of crisis, and the tiny home and homesteading movements are booming. More people are planting gardens, or they’re spending more time with their family.

Pre-pandemic habits made it easier to compartmentalize life: We had the home and the workplace in separate physical locations, which made it easier to leave the stress of one behind when returning to the other and, depending on your home or work environment, the relief of change might have been a subtle but necessary transition for your mental health. The potential emotional or mental strain that happened when those two places merged, at the same time losing our third place possibilities through lockdown, is not to be glossed over. The thing about the third place is that it’s also a responsibility-free zone; there are no expectations or obligations placed on us there; that kind of environment also inspires productivity and creativity, and many people have lamented becoming more “lazy” or “lackadaisical” in their habits over the past year; why get dressed up if you don’t have to go to work or be seen in public? Maybe you’ve grown comfortable in your “junk around the house” attire, or not wearing make-up or not shaving. The old adage of “Fine feathers make fine birds” is true: If you want to feel creative, dress for it; if you want to mean business in your schedule, dress for it. Even if you’re alone at home. Then, the transition to being seen by friends and strangers again might not be so daunting.

Returning to those third places may not be as easy at it sounds; we may never perceive such places the same ol’ way again. While some people can’t wait to get out and mingle, many of us have become cautious around groups of strangers – will they observe healthy social distancing and hygiene rules? Will they stay home if they’re sick? One thing I will never miss is someone giving me the Swiss three-kisses-to-the-cheeks greeting and then telling me they forgot to mention it – they have a cold. I’ve been far less sick in the last year, because of social distancing, than ever before*! I’ve been relieved to know that people are not wiping their noses on their hands and then offering it to me in greeting; hand disinfectants are ubiquitous now, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

[* I was recently chatting with my doctor about that topic, and she said that serious cases of influenza and pneumonia are already beginning to increase, even though it’s summer here; the suspicion in the medical community is that, because we’ve been disinfected and protected from fighting the minor cold viruses throughout the year, they’ve learned to hit aggressively if they get the chance. So talk to your doctor, or educate yourself through serious medical websites, about how you can support or encourage a healthy immune system.]

Today, while we were out for a day trip on the Lake of Zurich, I noticed that while many people have the typical pale blue medical masks, a variety of colours are becoming more common; they’ve at length become a fashion accessory. You can buy cloth masks in shops everywhere here now, or sew your own like I do. Back when this all started in 2020, many people scoffed at the idea of wearing a mask in public, and now it’s so engrained in us that we stare if someone forgot to put theirs on (here, they are required inside any building as well as when using public transport). Despite the hygienic regulations, things are slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy here; restaurants are open again (though masks can only be removed while you’re seated at your table); street cafés are popular because, as of right now, masks are not required outdoors (though that may change again now that the dangers of infection through aerosols are better understood and greater than previously assessed); and third places are becoming available again. People are cautious – and frankly, they have reason to be (I say this from the perspective of one who has long-term Covid symptoms that flare up every 3-4 weeks), but they’re starting to emerge from their hibernation, and that’s a good thing.

2 Comments

Filed under Articles, Links to External Articles, Musings, Psychology Undusted

Life & All that Jazz: Peace in the Storm

It’s been a few weeks since I posted; right after my last post, our lives got turned upside down, so I wanted to take a moment to explain what’s been going on, and why I haven’t been present recently:

At the end of March, my husband had to find a new general doctor, as his former doctor retired; because of the full check-up, they found a tumour in his colon. It turned out to be malignant. Since that moment, everything has been moving either lightening-speed or at a snail’s pace, with nothing in between… He had a round of radiation therapy, and then surgery, after which he was in the hospital for several days; now he’s at home, and what should have been a 6-week period with a stoma will now be much shorter, as he needs to have that reconstructed before any chemotherapy can begin…we’ll know more after a consultation in a week, so this week is an emotional and mental limbo. Through it all, we are at peace; we have dozens of people around the world praying for us, and we know that our lives are in God’s hands. Our lives are always in God’s loving hands; often, we humans think we have things in our control, but that’s an illusion. The healthiest person in the world could get hit by a train tomorrow. There are no guarantees of a long, healthy life on this earth; that’s why it’s important to know where you’re going after you leave your mortal frame behind. If you haven’t thought about that, I’d encourage you to do so. Most westerners are taught that death is an uncomfortable topic, and so most people avoid it; in other cultures, death is considered a part of life’s cycle, which is closer to reality than ignoring the topic as if that would make it go away. My husband and I are Christians, so for us, mortal death is just a one-way ticket home, so to speak. Death is something we don’t have to fear – not that we’re eager for it to come, but I think you understand what I mean. Our hope rests in Someone greater than us who has our very best interests at His heart; it doesn’t rest with doctors, though we can trust God to guide their hands, decisions, discernment and actions. Even if your life philosophy doesn’t agree with mine, I’d encourage you to consider my perspective.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in this kind of situation, but I find that for me, while normal energy is going elsewhere, I still need to keep my hands and my mind busy. While keeping one part of my mind on my husband and where he’s at in the flat, or if he needs something, or if I can entice him to eat something, the other part of my mind is too distracted to focus too much on creative writing. I don’t ever want to post a blog just to post something; if it’s not something I’m interested in personally – if it doesn’t grab my own attention, or if it’s not from my heart – I won’t post. Quality over quantity has always been my guiding motto. So instead, I’ve been cleaning – in German, we would say entschlacken, or decluttering. Our library is now nine grocery bags slimmer of books; we still have over a thousand, but these are books we read, or antiques, or first editions, or hardbacks. What I could find on Kindle got physically eliminated if it didn’t fall into those 4 categories. Besides decluttering, I crochet – right now, I’m making small toys for a Christmas gift campaign that our church participates in each year; we package up 200 boxes with toiletries, school supplies, warm hats and scarves, and toys. It gives me a goal to reach before December and keeps my hands busy.

Hopefully, in the coming week, I’ll find the creative juices to take you on our next virtual tour. In the meantime, stay healthy, stay safe, and be the best version of you.

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

The Limbo of 2020

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been more or less in a state of limbo for several months: COVID-19* has thrown a spanner in most people’s schedules. Events postponed. Then cancelled. Then re-scheduled. Then cancelled again. And again. Or maybe in a few weeks? Not likely, but things still need to be decided, planned as-if, and prepared for. But it’s challenging to work toward a goal that’s too fluid to pin down; is it happening or not? Will it be worth all the effort to prepare, or will that all come to nothing? [*Shouldn’t we now be calling it COVID-20? I think 2020 deserves to be known as the year of COVID more than 2019 when most of us had never even heard about it last year.]

One event I am planning for (maybe) is our semi-annual Christmas craft fair at our church. I usually provide a variety of options, and this year is no different; but now that I’ve found out it’s actually happening (as far as we can tell at the moment), I’ve been scrambling to make various-sized face masks and mask mates (button/ cloth extensions to relieve pressure from the ears) in time for the last November weekend. Part of my mind – that part a bit gun-shy from on/off plans – has wondered what I’ll do with so many masks if we don’t end up having the fair! But I can’t let that stop me from preparing for it, anyway.

My husband and I are both active in the leadership of our church; he is an elder, while I am in the team that organises / produces the church services. By “producing” in this context, in normal times it would simply mean coordinating the various teams beforehand to make sure everything runs smoothly on the Sunday; but with Corona, it now also means that – at least for now (as in March/April for a while) – it is once again restricted to livestream. But for how long? Or will we soon be back at full capacity? And how long will that last? Our quarterly planning sessions have become an exercise in limbo… in how many ways we can say “maybe”. The production side of such an event has taken on another quality: We are responsible for ensuring that the security measures are followed; we have also shifted from service leaders to producers of a video. It’s a learning curve, as there are a lot of considerations to plan for that were not necessary in a live service.

In the first wave, most people in general were supportive of governments’ restrictions such as lock-downs and closures of events (concerts, exhibitions, weekly food markets) and restaurants, pubs, etc. Many probably thought it would soon be over. But as the second wave hit Switzerland, and we became a “hot spot”, I think people have not only begun to feel tired of it all, but also are beginning to think in terms of long-term preparation and planning that needs to be done. The first wave brought on panic-hoarding of things like loo rolls (toilet paper) and canned foods; at least here, the second wave has been met with calm pragmatism. Facemasks were scoffed at back in spring; now, they’re becoming a fashion accessory and an accepted part of our collective psyche.

If you or someone you know has been affected by COVID, then you’ve learned that “recovery” is also a limbo concept: There are longer term effects that could not have been anticipated, such as heart problems, breathing problems, effects on the brain, exhaustion, hair loss, rashes, smell and taste disruptions, achy joints, brain fog, headaches, and even depression. This isn’t just a flu virus. I myself had a mild case back in March, and I still have achy joints, exhaustion, occasional headaches and brain fog. I have no desire to test the hypothesis of herd immunity; I think that’s been debunked by now, anyway… it’s possible to be re-infected, so that’s enough for me to err on the side of caution.

Eventually, we’ll emerge from the fog of 2020; in the meantime, we can choose how we approach the current events: Some will buck against being told to wear a mask and wash their hands and keep their distance; some will hunker down in a food-stuffed bunker; some may focus on the not-haves and become impatient and depressed; some may choose to find a new hobby or something to positively focus their mind on; and some will do all of the above at various phases along the way. I think it’s similar to the process of grief or loss: Denial, shock, anger, bargaining, mourning, acceptance, peace. Wherever you’re at, I think we’re in this thing for the long haul, so I hope you arrive at the positive phases soon.

With what energy I have (which, admittedly, is a lot less than pre-Corona), I will try to keep a positive outlook, and do what I can with the time given to me. I hope you are well, that you stay healthy, stay safe, and that you can find creative ways to approach the upcoming holiday seasons within the restrictions of our times.

To end this with a smile, take a look at a few fun face masks!

13 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings, Science & Technology

Bad with Numbers

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses; when one recognizes a strength, it usually has something to do with a favourite topic, and may even become a component in one’s professional life. When one identifies a weakness, they have two options: Work to improve that area, or accept the fact that they will never be more than minimally proficient in it; at that point, they will likely develop strategies to help them cope or navigate through life despite it.

Someone who is poor at math doesn’t become a mathematician unless they really want to; if they do, they’ll push through and turn that weakness into a strength. I’ll be the first to admit that I fall into that category – except I have NO desire to be a mathematician… that’s what calculators are for!

I’m not only bad with math, but bad with numbers, period. I can tell you what happened, how a historical event unfolded and who was involved, but don’t ask me to remember the dates or years of the event! Same goes with Bible verses – I can tell you the event, what led up to it, and who was involved and what resulted, but I can’t remember more of the actual reference than which book and, “it’s on the left-hand side of the pages.” My husband can confirm my weakness: When we’re playing a game that requires counting up points as we’re playing a turn, numbers randomly come out of my mouth as my mind is several steps ahead of my playing piece! It keeps him on his toes.

I recently thought about this topic when going through a few old files: I’m extremely organized, especially when it comes to things that I have tons of – like crafts supplies (anyone who does crafts will tell you it is actually not one but two hobbies: One is buying or collecting crafts supplies; the other is actually using them!). In crafts, I’ve learned to negotiate around too much calculation; measurements are one thing, but don’t ask me to compute an angle; I’m much more accurate when I wing it by sight with such things – that’s one of my coping strategies that pays off.  

I’m also meticulous with organizing “writing” bits & bobs – prompts, tips, lists, glossaries, etc. I’ve learned that I must be particularly organized with information that is reliant on numbers – like historical dates, chronologies, etc.

Having confessed as much, I’ve recognized a strength in all that: I’m someone who relates to things and events relationally – the whos, whats and hows, not the whens. I’m visually- and relationally- oriented. I can tell you what something looked like, or that the weather was cold when the outbreak of war X occurred, or that there were YZ people or nations or factions involved and why, but don’t ask me what years it took place. Add to that fact that in German, numbers are spoken in reverse (e.g. 27 is said as “seven and twenty”), which makes it even more complicated! But I’ve been relieved when I’m in a shop or at a doctor’s office and I see the employee writing down my telephone number in reverse as I dictate it (they’ll write the 7 first then move backwards for that 20)!

What are you good at? What are you bad at? The more we recognize such things about ourselves, the better we’ll be able to improve areas or to accept them with a dose of grace toward ourselves. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; find those people who could use help with your areas of strengths, and learn to accept help in your areas of weaknesses. Everyone wants to be useful and wanted, so our weaknesses give us the opportunity to encourage someone else to put their strengths to good use!

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

Preparedness

This article* will be longer than usual, but I think it’s an important topic to address. If you’re reading this, you’ve survived the first wave of Coronavirus, lockdown, and have been able to pay your electricity bill! Woohoo! But as the old adage goes, “History repeats itself”; as you can see from the images below, we’re not the first generation to deal with the affects of a pandemic. Such moments of crisis come in various forms: The Black Death, the Spanish Influenza, World Wars, the Great Depression, stock market crashes, slumps and recessions, and now the Coronavirus. Like any challenge, how you respond to it will determine how you come through it. The title, “Preparedness”, means “the state of being prepared”: It’s not about individual actions to accomplish something and check it off a list, but a long-term mentality to develop. The current times caught a lot of people off-guard, and some people and regions are still reeling.

In Britain at the turn of the last century, farming had been in decline because farmers couldn’t compete with the cheaper imported goods; they switched from grains to livestock, and two-thirds of British foods were coming from abroad. In the months before World War 2, the British government realized that, if the very real threat of a German blockade came about, the nation would be in danger of starving to death, so they petitioned people to plant vegetables instead of flowers in their gardens, and for farmers to dust off their equipment and begin planting crops again to feed the nation. They realized that self-sufficiency in a time of crisis is the best remedy for the essentials.

In the past decade or so, there has been a growing trend toward self-sufficiency through things like living off-grid, the tiny home movement, Earthships, living debt-free with minimal possessions and minimal environmental footprint, and growing one’s own organic, non-GMO foods in urban gardens – on rooftops, in vertical boxes, on balconies and on kitchen window sills, or simply moving back to the land and acquiring the skills to return to farming.

Do you know how to grow your own foods? How to get a plant from seed to harvest? I don’t. But we have the greatest tool of any generation: The internet. Such knowledge can be passed on to anyone and everyone via YouTube tutorials, Instructables & Wikihow, and whoever’s willing to roll up their sleeves and learn.

Per Person

Back in March, when Switzerland went into our first lockdown, a friend sent me a list of what the Swiss government recommends as emergency supplies for a week. This list is likely more focused on the scenario of a village being temporarily cut off by an avalanche or landslide, which is a very real threat in some areas here; it’s nevertheless a good starting point of things to think about to prepare for longer crises, such as Covid-19 has faced us with:

  • Water – 3 litres per person per day (extra for house pets, hygiene, etc.)
  • Fruit & vegetable juices
  • Rice, pasta
  • Oils and butters / lards
  • Powdered soups
  • Sugar, jams & honey
  • Bouillon, salt, pepper
  • Coffee, powdered chocolate, tea
  • Dehydrated fruits
  • Pulses (dried or canned)
  • Twice-baked breads, crackers
  • Chocolate
  • Condensed milk, UHT milk
  • Hard cheeses (can be frozen), sausages, dried meats, jerky
  • Special foods for infants and pets
  • Transistor radio, torch (flashlight) & extra batteries
  • Candles, matches, lighters
  • Gas canister for camping lights and / or grill
  • Soaps, loo rolls (toilet paper), hygiene articles
  • Extra prescription medicines, aspirins
  • Bandages, gauzes, salves, first-aid supplies
  • Facemasks, hand disinfectants, disposable gloves

That last item was certainly felt here if you didn’t have it: hand disinfectants went off the shelves fast, and when they returned, they were four times more expensive than before. We had some on hand, so we were able to bridge the gap in the empty shelves and can wait until the prices go back down.

Consider How & What You Eat

Below are a few areas to think about when preparing for times of crisis; some of these points may be logical and daily practice for some of you, but others might not have had someone guiding them:

  • Go through your cupboards and make an inventory of what you have; move the oldest to the front, so that they’ll be used first.
  • Your food budget probably won’t allow you to buy supplies for months all at once, so learn to think ahead as you do your normal shopping: Look for foods you usually eat and buy them double, or in 3-for-2 sales packages. Stock up gradually, and as you cycle your consumption (oldest first), replace them when you can; this will give you buffer room in a time of shortage.
  • Make a list of what you usually like to eat: Cross off the following: restaurants, take-away, deliveries, pre-packaged meals, frozen dinners (they’ll be crossed off for you anyway, come next lockdown…). What do you have left? Those things crossed out will (should) be the first to go any time things are tight financially. Cooking at home is far more economical, healthy, and psychologically fulfilling.
  • Learn ways to store foods longer-term than fresh: Canning, dehydration, freezing, jerky, fruit leathers, etc. The principle of “oldest first” applies to these goods, too.
  • Don’t buy foods you don’t eat. If you’ve never eaten beans in your life, don’t hoard cans of them. Don’t buy things you’ll never use, and use the things you have. If you have foods you’re not sure how to prepare, find out – Pinterest, Google, and dozens of websites will guide you.

I have two dehydrators, and I use them frequently; there are some staples that I always have in dried form – onions, potatoes, dried fruits, tomatoes, etc. The flavour is amazing, and the nutrients are retained during the slow drying process. I store all my foods in bail lid or mason jars (click here to see why); it looks appealing, and I can see exactly what I’ve got. If you’ve never dehydrated, it might be something worth thinking about – if you don’t have space/budget for a dehydrator, there are instructions for doing so in your oven or outside if you live in a sunny, dry environment.

Build Your Resources

What would happen if, for whatever reason, the internet were to go dark, or your connection becomes unreliable? I’ve heard a joke that says Italians can’t speak if you make them sit on their hands, and I think the same could be said that nowadays, many people can’t think without Google or Wikipedia. So build your resources; start getting books on topics like emergency first-aid, foraging plants for your region (and do your local parks have walnut trees, apple trees, stinging nettles or edible greens?), gardening, household repairs, and even novels for a bit of an escape. And add a cookbook or two while you’re at it – e.g. the kinds that show you how to cook on a shoestring budget, how to prepare foraged foods, or how to preserve foods.

During the first wave of the Coronavirus, hospitals here were put onto “triage” mode – that means only patients were getting treated who had life-threatening issues. A broken arm isn’t life-threatening, so you may be stuck with one for weeks on end until your doctor has an opening. Would you know how to treat it in the meantime? A friend of ours here had to experience that first-hand, so be prepared just in case. Hopefully you’ll never need those skills or bandages, but to need them and not have them is worse.

Acquire Skills

It’s fairly inevitable that an economic depression is on the way, with so many businesses and individuals in some countries having survived on the “just now” principle – just enough revenue to pay the bills, with no buffer in the bank account (and many stores were operating on the same principle, which is one reason why shelves emptied so fast when supply lines broke down). Many people will be faced with unemployment; so use the time wisely by learning a new skill or honing a dusty one. The more you learn about a new skill, the more you’ll also learn about yourself. Someone who is motivated to learn something new has more self-confidence, will be more attractive for potential employers, or will even enable you to step out entrepreneurially. It will give you more job flexibility and more enjoyment. Not all skills have to do with monetary gain; some are for pure enjoyment, such as learning to play an instrument, which will bolster your mental health, enabling you to face things more squarely.

Think Outside the Box

What happens if the monetary system breaks down? Remember that adage about history? There have been times in recent history when a country’s currency had become less valuable than wallpaper – and people used their banknotes for that purpose. Banknotes have only been accepted as currency just over 300 years – a blip in history, really. So how were things traded before that? Sometimes with pieces of silver jewellery (called “hacksilver”), or gold, but often it was a matter of bartering – trading skill or service for service or skill: One neighbour might know how to do plumbing, and you might know how to upholster chairs. If you have marketable skills, consider tutoring online or via Skype or Zoom. Essential in this principle is getting outside your comfort zone and getting to know those you live cheek by jowl with. How many people, who live in an apartment building (block of flats) have no idea who their neighbour is, beyond their name?

True, in Corona times social distancing is important; but get to know the neighbours anyway: Talk to them in passing; perhaps even introduce yourself with a short note of introduction, telling them who you are, what you do, and your hopes that community can grow in your building. If you already know your neighbours, let them know that you’re willing to help out – offering help first makes it easier to ask when you need it, and makes them more eager to help in return.

I hope this helps; it’s easy to lose perspective in times of crisis, and the more prepared we are with the essentials, the faster we’ll be able to get our feet back under ourselves, and the more secure and less stressed we’ll be in the long run.

[*The original draft of this article was cleverly DELETED by WordPress’s new editing program in the blink of an eye, with NO draft backup, because they went and messed with a good thing again and completely changed their entire post layout function; apparently they have yet to learn the meaning of the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.]

3 Comments

Filed under Articles, History, Military History, Musings, Science & Technology