Category Archives: Musings

The Kintsugi of Life

I’m back!  My “loop” was successful, and I’m now back at home recovering, sans thyroid.  At the moment (due to the wound, bandage & internal bits & bobs), it feels like something’s strangling me constantly, but I try to ignore it…!  The hospital stay was mercifully short with a nice roommate and great care by the hospital personnel.  Now, I’m living on soup, testing the waters with vocal exercises, and resting my throat when it needs it – but need to challenge it as soon as the swelling goes down so that I don’t lose my vocal range.

When I let my friends and family on Facebook know what’s been happening, someone made a comment about the scar (hoping that it wouldn’t be visible long, for my sake); but I must confess that that aspect of the whole procedure was and is my least concern.  For me, scars mean that I’m alive; they mean that my body is healing itself.  They are a part of my history and have been elemental in making me who I am.

The Japanese have a wonderful philosophy about the topic of scars:  Kintsukuroi (meaning “golden repair”) is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery using lacquer resin mixed with gold or silver.  They believe that when an object has been broken or suffered damage, it carries great meaning and history; its brokenness, when mended, makes it more beautiful.  The cracks represent events that took place in the history of the pottery and make it more unique by their very existence.  (Click here for a short but poignant video on the topic.)

In the western world, there is a shameful abundance of waste; if something gets broken, most people just throw it away.  But what if we were to adopt the Japanese mentality?  Chances are, we’d begin to look at the world around us through different lenses.  We would then begin to see the people around us from a different perspective.  Our modern media culture has become fixated on perfection (what they deem perfect changes over time; at the moment that standard tends toward the inane, the plastic, the uniform, and the anorexic, to put it bluntly); but this perspective can often blind people to the beauty of the unique and the diverse.

We should never be ashamed of our uniqueness; never be ashamed of grey hair, scars, or unique body features that make you who you are.  Eating right, exercising and treating ourselves with TLC are all that’s wanted; beyond that, we are what we are, warts and all.  We are all pieces of Kintsugi in the making, fearfully and wonderfully made.  Cracks just let your light shine through…

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Loops of Life

Roller Coaster Loops

Everyone’s got them; no one necessarily wants them:  Those moments in life when things go topsy-turvy and send us into tailspins.  I call them “loops of life” – like a loop on a roller coaster… they come up fast; you may dread the thought of it more than the actual experience warrants; and it’s over before you know it.

Life has thrown me a loop lately, and as it has affected, and will likely affect, my rhythm of posting blogs here for the next couple weeks, I’d like to thank you in advance for a bit of patience.

In the summer, I found a growth in my neck; I knew it was the thyroid gland, as I’d had one in the same spot 30 years ago; by the time life got back into swing here after the summer holidays, it had grown further; long story short, they found three large, benign masses which have completely consumed my thyroid gland – miraculously, however, they seem to have taken over its function and are working perfectly fine.  But it’s getting harder to speak, swallow, breathe, etc.  So, in 10 days I’ll get to check into a luxury hotel, aka the hospital, and undergo a 4-hour surgery; the surgeon will take her time, especially as I’m a singer and the vocal cords / nerves are extremely important to me, as you can imagine!

Since beginning this process, I’ve heard from so many people who are having (or have had) the same problem; it’s comforting to know I’m by no means alone in this, and others have come through it well and whole.  I may not post regularly for the next fortnight or so – but keep your eyes open!

Before the surgery, we’re going away for a much needed week’s holiday in Lugano, and are looking forward to it!  Our cats are looking forward to being spoilt by a live-in flat sitter, too, so it’s a win-win!

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Feeding the Right Wolf

Two Wolves

There’s an old Native American proverb about two wolves:  One is a black wolf, and the other, white.  The black wolf is everything that is bad, and the white one is everything that is good.  These wolves are constantly at battle inside each one of us:  Which wolf wins?  The one you feed.

This story has truth at its core, and we can apply this principle to any area of our lives:  Thoughts; diet; exercise; writing; speech; relationships; habits, and anything else you can think of.  Another adage comes to mind:  “Garbage in, garbage out” – what we feed ourselves (any part of our trinity, whether mind, body or spirit) is what will come out of us.  There are all kinds of sayings around this truth – roots and fruits, and all that.

Each one of us has a daily routine; it may vary greatly from person to person, but it’s there.  We all probably have habits we’d like to break; they could be things that are time- or energy-wasters, or habits like smoking or overeating.  I’d like to focus on the habits of writers.

Creativity, like caffeine, is a legal addictive substance; an addiction is formed from repeated applications (i.e. habit).  If we feed the right wolves, we will reach our goals, whatever they are, but if we feed the wrong wolves, we won’t – it’s that simple.  For some, it’s finishing the first chapter; for others, it’s publishing; for others, it might be collecting enough poems, artwork, or other creative forms until there’s enough for release (art show, cookbook, anthology, etc.).

Each creative expression has its own unique pair of wolves.  One common black wolf is what I would name “NEDs” – Negative Energy Drains.  It can be expressed through negative talk about yourself or your writing (whether its source is internal from a lack of self-confidence, or external from unsupportive environments or relationships), or a pressure placed on yourself (again, internal or external) to complete a goal based on unrealistic expectations.  Another common black wolf is “Ambiguity”:  As long as we don’t know what concrete steps to take to reach a goal, it’s difficult to move forward; as long as we allow ambiguity to feed, it will paralyze us.

In this scenario, the white wolves would be named PEFs (Positive Energy Feeds) and Preciseness.  Those might simply manifest themselves as speaking positively to yourself every time NED tries to speak or putting up positive post-its of where you’re going with your goals.  For the second wolf, define the steps needed – set yourself an appointment for the purpose of researching the steps, and finding concrete resources to help you reach your goals, then take one step at a time.  Keep that appointment.

Which wolf do you feed?

TwoWolves-black-white

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2o Things Creative People Understand

Chances are, if you’re following along with my musings, you’re like me – a creative type.  We’re an eccentric bunch, some more than others.  Personally, I’m also a pragmatist; the motto of my current book, and one that makes a lot of sense, is “it is what it is” – it’s what we make out of our circumstances that sets us apart or makes us a success or a failure.

But the creative side of me doesn’t know how to slow down; I’ve constantly got a dozen projects on the go, whether a book manuscript, a craft project, or a to-do list a mile long.  I’m constantly asking “why” (which used to drive my mother up the wall, I’m sure), and, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), I don’t take things at face-value, but want to know for myself if it’s true or not – an invaluable trait, as far as I’m concerned, with so much crap and pseudo-news floating around cyberspace.  I create in bursts, with times of “percolation” in between – shifting gears to another creative outlet.  I need a place I feel comfortable in, to create; when I’m focused on a task, I can ignore the door, the phone, and any other interruption for hours on end.  The downside of that is that I need to force myself to get up, move around, and get some exercise occasionally!  That’s where my time management apps come in.

I came across an article recently about the things creative people do; I could relate to many of the points, but not all of them; after all, there’s no box that can contain everyone from any particular group; one introvert is not like another, and all that.  I’d like to invite you to click on the image below, and take a look at the article – see if you can recognize yourself in some of the points!  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

creative-people

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How to Make a Positive Impact on the Climate

Most people know by now that our climate is changing; part of it is a natural cycle, but most of the recent changes are because of mankind’s carelessness and industrial advancements.  Intense storms, flooding, drought, fire, avalanches, landslides… and that’s all been within the past week.  Looked at as a whole, it might be overwhelming; people know changes need to be made, but what can one person do?  Quite a lot, actually – and if everyone begins changing certain habits to a greener alternative, the impact will be felt.  For your sake and mine, I’ve pulled together a list of things we can do:

Climate Changes

1. Get involved

Vote for green policies, support green campaigns and organisations, and get the word out to your friends and family about what they can do to become greener.

2. Be energy efficient

Switch off lights; change light bulbs to compact fluorescents or LEDs; wash clothes in cold or warm (not hot) water, and only when the load is full; hang dry your clothes when you can; keep your thermostat at minimum temperatures, and layer your clothes if you’re cool, or take off layers if you’re hot – don’t freeze your house in the summer, or heat it to the tropics in the winter.  Look for energy-efficient labels when buying new appliances.  If you’re thinking of moving, consider moving closer to your workplace, or closer to your usual shops – wherever you can to lower fuel consumption or allow alternative transport such as bike or bus.

3. Choose renewable power

Ask your utility company to switch your account to clean, renewable power, such as from wind farms, solar power, or earth-heat sources. If it doesn’t offer this option yet, ask it to.  The next time you need to buy an appliance, look for the greener brand.

4. Eat wisely

Buy organic and locally grown foods. Avoid processed items. Grow some of your own food. And eat low on the food chain — at least one meat-free meal a day if you’re not already vegetarian — since 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy production.

5. Trim your waste

Garbage buried in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Keep stuff out of landfills by composting kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, and recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass, and donating things like clothes to charity shops. Let store managers and manufacturers know you want products with minimal or recyclable packaging.  If you do crafts or know anyone who does, upcycle.

6. Let polluters pay

Carbon taxes make polluting activities more expensive and green solutions more affordable, allowing energy-efficient businesses and households to save money. If your local government doesn’t have a carbon tax yet, ask your politicians to implement one.

7. Fly less

Air travel leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. Before you book your next airline ticket, consider greener options such as buses or trains, or try vacationing closer to home. You can also stay in touch with people by videoconferencing, which saves time as well as travel and accommodation costs.

8. Green your commute

Transportation causes greenhouse gas emissions, so walk, cycle or take transit whenever you can. You’ll save money and get into better shape! If you can’t go car-free, try carpooling or car sharing, and use the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle possible.

9.  Buy Less

Whether electronic items, or reusable grocery bags, you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying wisely, less often, and energy efficient.  Buy local or organic foods when possible; look for fair trade products, which not only give a better wage to the people producing the good but also tend to have cost-efficient transport; buy essentials in bulk to reduce plastic wrapping.  Recycle or upcycle that wrapping.  Use what you buy – don’t let foods go off, or buy any item around the house unless you need it and will use it. Buy products when possible that are sourced from sustainable programs – wood, paper, etc.  Don’t upgrade your cell phone until you must; that little gadget leaves a huge carbon footprint; and when you do upgrade your phone, make sure you recycle it. For every 1 million smartphones recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

10.  Unplug

Believe it or not, you may be spending more money on electricity to power devices when off than when on. Televisions, stereo equipment, computers, battery chargers and a host of other gadgets and appliances consume more energy when seemingly switched off, so unplug them instead.

11:  Shop Online

If you can’t buy something locally, or bike or walk to the shop, consider online shopping.  This is a catch-22, as local shops need your support; but if you have to drive further to find something, look for it online.  According to one study, in-store shoppers gave off slightly fewer carbon dioxide emissions than online shoppers at distances shorter than 8.6 miles. For longer distances, online shoppers’ footprints remained relatively stable, while brick-and-mortar shoppers’ emissions skyrocketed, up to 451.4 grams of carbon dioxide per transaction (when travelling more than 62 miles).  One UK study showed the average consumer would have to purchase 24 items at the market to make the trip equal to the carbon footprint of just one item ordered online.

12.  Carbon Footprint Awareness

What is your carbon footprint?  How many slaves do you use?  Become aware of what your past habits have done, and it will influence your future choices.  Here are a few links to help you figure out how you are impacting the environment:

How big is your environmental footprint?  Check out this Footprint Calculator

 How many slaves work for you?  Take this survey to find out.

Additional Information:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/top-10-ways-you-can-stop-climate-change/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/10-solutions-for-climate-change/

http://mashable.com/2014/05/15/climate-change-impact/#ILorIHWGeaqw

 

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History Undusted: Loch Eriboll, Scotland

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Loch Eriboll and region.  Click to enlarge.

Loch Eriboll is a sea loch along the northern coast of Scotland, roughly 16 km (10 mi) long.  It’s been used (probably as long as inhabitants were in the area) as a safe anchor from the stormy seas off of Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth.  Bronze Age remains can be found in the area, including the souterrain I wrote about recently.  There’s also a well-preserved wheelhouse on a hillside above the western shore, and on the small peninsula jutting out into the loch you’ll find the ruins of a small scale lime industry that developed there in the 19th century.  The shores around the area are fascinating, as the geological composition is a conglomeration of an amazing variety, split along the eastern shore of the loch by the Moine Thrust.  Even along the roads, you’ll find chunks of pink metamorphic rocks glittering with mica. 

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Loch Eriboll, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler. Click to enlarge.

In 1945, thirty-three German U-boats surrendered in the deep loch, ending the Battle of the Atlantic.  Eilean Choraidh, the largest island in the loch, was used as target practice for aerial bombing due to its size and resemblance to the shape of a ship.  Along the western hills, you can see words written with stones near the settlement of Laid:  They are the names of warships, such as the Hood and Amethyst, arranged there by the sailors of those ships. 

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Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag Beach, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler.  Click to enlarge.

Not far from Loch Eriboll, on the way to Durness, is a treasure:  Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag is a beach of vertical walls of stones layered in colours ranging from black to pink.  When the tide is out the beach is endless, and when it’s in, climb the rocks!  The beach was created as the Ice Age sheets began to melt, pushing the walls of rocks upward as the island actually rose, no longer being held down by the massive weight of ice. 

On a clear day, you can see the southern-most Orkney Isles, and the waters around the coast are still busy highways for ships of all sizes.

My husband and I were on holiday in Scotland in 2012, and we spent several days in this area so that I could do research for The Cardinal; both the souterrain and the above-mentioned beach play a role in the story.

Originally Posted on History Undusted,

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Basque Musings

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I just returned from a long weekend away with my husband in Bilbao, Spain.  I say that with trepidation, as, according to many Basque people, it is not Spain, but Basque Country.  There are some who are content to remain part of Spain and France, and others who want independence, so when in Basque Country, say it the Basque way.

As a lover of history, linguistics and just about everything else except strenuous exercise, I can say that it was a great weekend (even though a lot of exercise snuck in)!  Great weather, great food, great architecture, confusing languages, and interesting sites all round.  Here are some highlights:

Guggenheim Museum:  The building itself is well worth the visit!  The architect, Frank Gehry, literally designed the building on one of his free-form doodles. With only one straight wall that I could see, I can imagine that he was doodling when the phone rang and made his hand jerk, causing the straight line…  it’s an engineering feat, to say the least.  Just outside the Guggenheim are several sculptures, notably a giant dog made of flowering plants; it was intended to be a temporary display, but the people of Bilbao fell in love with it, and it’s now a permanent landmark.  There’s also one for us odd arachnophiles out there, a giant spider.  Two sculptures look like they’d float away, even though they weigh tons:  “Tulips”, and a tower of balls.

The weather was perfect, so we took a “Bilboat” tour down the waterway; it gave us the chance to see areas of the city which are usually far from the tourist route; areas that are in the throes of rejuvenation and restoration.

Pintxos:  You can’t go to Basque Country and eat in a usual restaurant!  You need to go (what my husband and I dubbed) “Pintxopping” – like pub crawling but for a Pintxos (“Pinchos”) dinner.  They are similar to Spanish tapas but far more elaborate; 5-6 will make a meal.  12 Euro will get you 6 Pintxos and a pint of beer.  Any Pintxos bar worth their salt will spread out a wide variety of the treats along the length of their bar, and diners choose a selection of hot and cold delicacies.  Bars pride themselves on signature creations; one bar we ate at had a mound of crab meat baked under a layer of squid-ink-tinted cheese, in the shape of a regional mountain.  Most are served atop toasted slices of Baguettes, though there are also many on skewers, or served as spring rolls.  If you’re now hungry, sorry about that – but you can find recipes all over Pinterest.

Language:  The Basque language (Euskara) is a language isolate – in other words, it is unrelated to any other known language. Within language families, one could interpret this or that word based on a known relative language, e.g. between English street and German strasse.  But looking at a road sign in Bilbao, you would have NO clue as to which word is the street name, and which is the word for street, road or path.  Unless you know Basque, you would have no chance of interpreting anything – even if the context is known. An example sentence from the article on Wikipedia illustrates that point:  “Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit” means “Martin buys the newspapers for me”.  It is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe,  with every other language that might have existed in relation to it having gone extinct, so there’s no way to decipher it based on a comparative method, linguistically.  It may have been related to the Aquitanian language, which was spoken in the region before the Roman Republic’s conquest in the Pyrenees region, but the exact origins are unknown.  It’s a fascinating study, if you’re interested!

One of the images above was taken on my flight home; the Alps were in fine form, and the weather great for flying; Matterhorn can be seen in the centre. I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour, and I would recommend that you get yourself a pintxo or two to tide you over until your next meal…

 

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Google is a Verb

Recently I was chatting with a few friends, and the topic of finding information came up; I was surprised that it hadn’t even occurred to them that they could find such information online.  Time and again, I meet such people.  It is a modern phenomenon that we have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips; Google has become so ubiquitous with searches that it’s made it into dictionaries as a verb, and yet it seems that some people have still not realised its potential.

Granted, there is a lot of static out there:  Misinformation (whether intentional or unintentional), nonsense, and useless clutter (someone’s grandkid’s cousin’s uncle’s birthday party, or videos that need massive editing before they’re much use but they’re online nonetheless).  But if you know how to search, there’s a world of information out there to be had; you need to use discernment, and – especially if using the information as a basis for an article, or in writing a novel – you need to get cross-references and confirmation.  But I’ve found that the people I’ve talked to on this topic can’t seem to get past the static and therefore seem to have difficulty in viewing cyberspace as a serious information source.

The downside of so much ready knowledge with easy access is that people no longer need to memorise or learn information themselves – they can just grab their phone and look it up.  The upside of it is that, if people make proper use of it, they can learn so much more than previous generations ever even had access to.  The photo below, gone viral, is of a school class sitting in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”; while it appears that they are bored and inattentive to what is around them, they’re actually using the museum’s app to learn more about the photo and the painter as part of a school assignment.  Notice that they’re interacting with each other, and even helping each other.  Hopefully part of the assignment was also to study the painting with their eyes.

Teens using museum app

I do a LOT of research online; for some of my books, I’ve done odd searches which I’m certain mess with the algorithms of Google & co.  I’ve searched for the average size of a human corpse and the distinctions between a coffin, casket and cist (I started getting ads for funeral services after that); how to throw a kris dagger vs. a regular dagger; tide tables; sunrises, sunsets and moon phases in the 9th, 18th and 21st centuries; native flowers to Britain in the Georgian period; medicine at sea; the effects of various soil compositions on a corpse and artefacts, postmortem forensics, and dozens of other bizarre topics.  In my free time, I do a wide variety of crafts and cooking, and so my Pinterest pins multiply like rabbits in the dark!  Just click on my gravatar link to have a peek through my cupboards there.

If you put your mind to learning how to do anything, you can find instructions for it somewhere online.  A few weeks ago, I wanted to reupholster our office chairs (they are the kind that has a hard plastic frame at the back and underside of the seat).  I found a Youtube video that showed how to take them apart, and within an hour I had the first chair dismantled, reupholstered and reconstructed.  As Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is mere tenacity.”  I find that, in talking with friends, they often don’t know how to begin searching, and I think that’s the key:  They don’t try because they don’t know how to start, and so they can’t learn how to do it – learning by trial and error.  Failure is merely success in progress, but the point is that progress requires action… movement.

For writers, cyberspace is worth its weight in gold; no library could hold the amount of information available to us at our fingertips; no university could teach the wide range of topics available online; no video library could contain the staggering amount of documentaries, DIY instruction videos, and step-by-step how-tos.

What was the most recent thing you searched for online?  Was your search successful?  How much time did it take you to find what you were looking for?  Please describe it briefly in a comment below!

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