Category Archives: Musings

POV

POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process.  Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.

Mark Twain - History's Ink is Fluid PrejudiceRecently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley.  The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity.  PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.

When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene.  For example:  I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome.  The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship.  The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead.  The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently.  The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome:  The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself.  This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong.  By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.

POV - Screenshot Marvel's Avenger'sIn this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.

If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”).  Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc.  Keep writing!

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Grammarly Musings

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Spell checker in action

I’ve been editing, tweaking, editing, and tweaking this week; not to mention editing.  Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of tools, such as Scrivener, but have found that, for me, the best combination is MS Word and my brain.

One of the tools I’ve also been using recently is a new one for me:  The Grammarly app in Word.  I’m of a mixed opinion about it.  Do any of you use this app with your manuscript?  If so, what is your experience/impression?

So far, the app is batting less than 1 out of 10; in other words, of 10 “critical errors” that it points out, only 1 of them is legitimate.  I’d say the average is more like 1 out of 15 or 18.  There is also a version of this app, which requires a monthly or yearly subscription, that will expand its range of editing suggestions; but before I go that route I want to know that the app actually works in the free version.  So far, it’s more static than editing aid.

Now to be fair, my manuscript is not the average; it’s got words like en queue (the hairstyle of men in the 18th century), and odd terminology to do with nautical actions or environments.  But some of the errors that it points out, such as those to do with commas, are actually correct (e.g. pointing out the second comma of a parenthetical phrase as out of place).  Most of the time the suggestions that it makes are just downright wrong in the context; it proves that language is a fluid concept, and nearly impossible to intelligently simulate in a computer program.  It also means that we are far better off becoming fluent in grammar rather than relying on ANY program to correct our writing!

Having said that, I still appreciate it because it forces me to think through a decision, whether that be sentence structure, punctuation, or phrasing.  Sometimes it sends me in search of confirmation for a grammatical assumption I’ve made; rarely am I surprised by what I find, but it nevertheless helps to solidify the right way of writing something in my mind.  For the most part, I have the app turned off (a great function – the only reason I still use it!), just running it through sections at a time as my other editing nears an end.

Are there any programs or apps that you use for editing?  If so, what is your experience?  Please share in the comments below!

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In Other Words – Make Every Word Count!

I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about.  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:

One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes.  Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly.  Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was.  Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”.  While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it.  That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long.  If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.

Mark Twain - Very, Damn

Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:

…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…

…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…

…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…

…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…

…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…

…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…

Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise.  Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing.  Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight.  Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death!  Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”.  If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene.  Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call.  It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.

Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood.  A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills.  If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement.  That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript.  Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t.  So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

Interconnectivity

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Interconnectivity

This weekend I led a singing workshop; at the time I was focused on the instrument as such, and the amazing, complex expressions the voice can produce.  I covered topics like anatomy, and the psychology of singing, as well as techniques and choices – the “paint palette” a singer can learn and use to produce a desired impact on the listener, painting an image before the mind’s eye through the choice of vocal colour and tone.  For me, the truest sense of interconnectivity in the context of vocals is that they are an expression not only of an individual’s anatomical uniqueness but also the personality, and even the spiritual condition.  I believe that we are created in the image of God – that is, a trinity:  We are body, soul, and spirit; and as such, when one area is facing challenges it will affect the other two areas, as well as the expression of the voice, tone, attitude and even the extent of the performer’s control over their vocals at any given moment.  [I also touch on this topic in my article about layering.]

Afterwards, the writer’s side of my brain kicked in and I began thinking of such things in terms of character development.  As I build a character’s profile, something must challenge that character or they’ll come across as flat and lifeless.  If a character had a traumatic experience with water as a child, they may have to face their fears through swimming across a lake, or getting into a rickety boat; if they’ve been abandoned by a parent, they may need to recognise a paralysing fear that keeps them from committing to relationships, and their arc may have primarily to do with overcoming that fear or not – it may be a side issue, but it will still add depth and humanity to the character.

Whatever weaknesses or challenges I decide on for a given character will guide the story to some extent; they will also influence their attitudes, responses and reactions in connecting with other characters.  These things will in turn influence the way they dress (rebellious, reserved, bold, fearful, quirky to keep people at a distance, etc.), the way they might walk or talk, or certain quirks like mannerisms or ways of speaking.  I might go through a list of a hundred related items (if they’re the main character, especially) to narrow down who the character is, even though most of it might not make it into the final cut.  The more I understand my character, the more consistent their responses, dialogues and actions will be throughout the story.

I just thought I’d share these thought processes with you, in the hopes that they can inspire you in your own characters’ developments.  Give them challenges, and find ways they can overcome (or be temporarily overwhelmed) in the midst of other more pressing issues, and (if you’ve chosen the path of hero-success over hero-failure) still find a way for them to triumph in the end.

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Imagination vs Knowledge

Some say that imagination is more important than knowledge; to a certain extent, that may be true because imagination leads to new discoveries, inventions, and revelations.  But knowledge is often the basis for such discoveries; that which has been passed down by others who’ve researched, discovered, identified and recorded are the foundational stones upon which things are often built, whether in science, technology, or life in general.

beware-of-the-half-truth-wrong-halfIn this day and age, however, sometimes imagination overtakes knowledge (or simply ignores it).  An informed mind is a powerful tool; an uninformed mind can be a dangerous weapon.  This is true whether writing non-fiction, fiction, or passing on something on social media.  We should beware of the half truths – we may have gotten hold of the wrong half.

It’s now more important than ever to test the veracity of reports and even images; anyone can make an ass out of an angel, so to speak, with photoshop, et al.  How much misinformation is spread by simple carelessness or wilful misdirection (that includes, unfortunately, mainstream news media)?  Or by assuming that since something is from a trusted friend it must be true?  How often have you gotten upset by an article you’ve seen and commented on it, or passed it on, allowing it to form an opinion in your subconscious at the very least, and in your active thoughts at worst, only to find out later that it was a false report, a hoax, or sloppy journalism?

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As you probably know, I love to learn; I have a steel trap of a mind for little bits of trivia, like the fact that certain microbes concentrate and disperse (read “poop”) gold, or that all living creatures, including you and I, emit visible light (probably a byproduct of biochemical reactions).  As a writer of fiction that comes in handy; I can extrapolate knowledge and use it as a plot detail or a character quirk; but when I’m writing a blog, e.g. about a historical detail, I want to make sure I get it right.  A case in point was an article I wrote in 2014 about post-mortem photography in the Victorian period; it was by far the most popular post to date on that blog and continues to generate interest.  In particular, two points from the article were addressed, researched, and edited/corrected either in the article itself or in the comments and discussion that ensued.  Mistakes happen, but when I catch them, I will do my best to correct them!

For writers, it is important to cross-reference anything you find online, especially if you’re basing something significant on it such as character development, location, or plot.  Assumptions can also get you into trouble; I know that Geneva is part of Switzerland, but in writing 18th-century fiction, I need to be aware of the fact that it was merely an ally of the Swiss Confederacy from the 16th century, but only became part of Switzerland in 1814.  Any reference I have to it in my trilogy needs to reflect that fact.

I recently read a collection of short stories on Kindle, and on nearly every single Kindle page there were mistakes (that adds up to a lot of mistakes per manuscript page!):  Missing words that the authors assumed were there, typos, commas 2 or 3 words off-position, stray quotation marks, and countless words they assumed were the correct ones but obviously were not (e.g. catwalk instead of rampart for a castle).  This is where imagination overtook the writer, and knowledge gave way to ignorance…  I have understanding for one or two such errors in a manuscript of that length, but none whatsoever for several per page; that simply smacks of laziness and poor-to-no editing, and it boils down to an unintentional slap in the face to any reader who’s taken the time to read their story.

Knowledge without imagination is like a rusted hinge; imagination is the oil that makes the knowledge come to life, and the writer is the door handle that opens the door to new worlds, new ideas, new discoveries, and inventions. It sounds noble, doesn’t it?  But did you realize that many of the electronic gadgets we take for granted today were at one time birthed in the imaginations of men like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek?  It inspired countless children who went on to become astronauts, scientists, and engineers, who made those science-fiction inventions become reality and discovered distant worlds (now known as exoplanets).  I’m waiting with bated breath for the transporter to replace airline security queues…

Those hinges are necessary, as is the oil, so that the door handle can do its job and get out of the way, allowing the world beyond to unfold.

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Filed under Articles, History, History Undusted, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Research, Science & Technology

A Little Light Reading… Not

I will admit that I have quite odd tastes in reading, especially for a woman; I tend toward history, nautical, and obscure or long-forgotten books.  In writing my current manuscript, which is Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy, I’ve read more than a fair share of military history books, specifically covering the 18th century of the Royal Navy.  Once, on a research trip to London, I searched out a bookstore that specializes in military and transport books, even reputed to have remainders; I don’t think they’d seen a woman in the shop in years (who’d entered intentionally) by the looks I got; one of the men even said, “The beauty shop’s two doors down, love.”  When I asked if they had the out-of-print autobiography by William Spavens, a unique lower deck view of the 18th century navy, they froze as if they hadn’t heard me correctly.  The question must have been laced with catnip, because after that I had the entire shop of men eating out of my hand, and I spent nearly two hours in there being helped to the finest pick of naval history books (including the autobiography I was after!).  Sadly, the last time I was there the shop was gone, but I’ve since found the largest used book shop in London, Skoob, which is highly dangerous for a bibliophile with a private library…!

A few of the books I’ve read in the course of research for Asunder are fairly gory, like Medicine Under Sail (I’d bet my bottom dollar that the screen writers for “Master and Commander“, with Russell Crowe, read that book as they wrote the script) and “Poxed & Scurvied” – the story of sickness and health at sea, while others have been like reading a thriller, such as “The Seven Years War” by Rupert Furneaux  or “A Sailor of King George” by Captain Frederick Hoffman.

I devour history books like other people devour pulp fiction; but especially during the first draft of the book, I had to continually keep in mind that I was writing historical fiction, not a history book; the details that I included had to serve the plot and character development, and not visa versa.  Only a fraction of what I learned has gone into the book; but those rich details give salt to the waves, creaks to the ship, and whip to the rope (I’ve also spent hours aboard the Cutty Sark “filling in the blanks” of a docked ship, so to speak, but that’s another story).  I could have peppered the dialogue with so much naval slang you wouldn’t have been able to swing a cat (naval slang, by the way), but if readers were to get ripped out of the story trying to figure things out, then I would have missed the mark.

So, the next time you sit down for a little light reading, you might want to consider one of the books linked above; then again, if you don’t want gory dreams, rather go with “The Price of Freedom“, or “Redemption“, or “The Cardinal, Part One or Part Two“…  and enjoy!

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One of my library posters

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New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions-3It’s that time of the year again, when people talk about “New Year’s Resolutions”, as if the turning of the yearly calendar will somehow magically give them the impetus to make changes.  Rarely does it work that way, however.

A work colleague of my husband once upon a time trained to be a competitive  cyclist, and he said that once one makes the decision to give up in a race – for whatever reason – it makes it all the more difficult to persevere thereafter… once resolve caves, winning it back is harder work than ever before.  The same can be said of life, and resolutions.  If our daily goals don’t match our long-term goals, those long-term goals will never be reached; if we give up or cave in, we’ll find daily excuses why we can’t reach for the goal “yet”, and we’ll have a growing sense of guilt that makes us less willing to face the challenge.

Resolutions at the beginning of the year are usually related to a desire to better oneself; but resolve is something that’s built on a day-to-day basis, and should be a process.  If you set a mental goal – such as going to the gym twice a week  – which is not in agreement with your heart’s desires, then it won’t happen; our mind and heart need to get aligned in order for us to reach any target.

So I say, rather than making a resolution, become resolved.  Take baby steps to reach a goal; those steps might be to go on a walk once a week, or to take the stairs instead of the lift, or to purchase an exercise bike and put it somewhere in your home that’s a motivating place (e.g. near a window with a nice view), and then resolve to build up your stamina gradually with an initial time limit, stretching it as you feel you want to rise to the challenge.  If your goal is to write more, then decide on a specific amount, and take those baby steps – make space in your schedule, or learn how to utilize “limbo” moments toward your goal; carry a notebook and pen, and use them.  If your goal is to appreciate those around you more, then begin to focus on the positives, not the negatives; learn to compliment more and criticize less.

Whatever you want to see change in your life, go for it!  If you fail today, pick yourself back up, dust off your knees, and try again tomorrow.  Anything worth reaching is worth the effort, and every new day is full of opportunities.

Have a wonderful year, and may you look back on 2017 with satisfaction, knowing you’ve grown in positive ways!

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A Blast from the Past: 1906

Living in the Cyber Age, it’s easy to forget that personal computers only came into existence for the mass market in 1981 (and even then, didn’t become common household items until the early 1990s), with the launch of the IBM Personal Computer (they coined that term, and the shortened “PC”).  We got our first personal computer in 1993, and it had the astounding RAM of 256 MB!

As far as telephones went, I grew up with several:  My grandparents’ farm had a box phone on the wall, with the separate ear piece; then they modernized to a heavy black beast of a rotary phone – the kind you could really slam down if the need arose; in fact, you had to be careful how you set it down when you weren’t upset, because it was so heavy that it might sound like a slam in the receiver!  My family had wireless land-line phones, but the signal was poor if you moved much farther away than a long cable would have allowed.   Remember the impatience of dialling a number on the rotary dial, especially if it contained nines or zeros?  And remember that curly cable that got tangled on itself from being over-stretched?  Cell phones didn’t really come into their own until the late 1990s as a mass-market item; kids today would find that hard to imagine, as they seem to think they’ll fall off the edge of the known universe and die if they leave the house without their cells.

Before Spotify, iTunes or MP3s, and even before CDs were common, cassette tapes and LP (long-play) records were all the rage.  Remember winding cassettes with a pencil?  Now that films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” have highlighted cassettes, this generation thinks they’re a novel gadget, and history begins to repeat itself with the labels of “retro” or “vintage” attached to make “old” sound “cool”!  We had an 8-track player in our car, with a cumbersome disc the size of an old Beta movie cassette case.  My father was always at the cutting edge of technology, and in the late 70s we had a laser disc player; the DVDs were the size of LP records (yet looked just like a CD or DVD of today), and we had films like “Logan’s Run” and “Heaven Can Wait”.  The technology didn’t catch on, so I’ve never known anyone else who had that contraption (an image below shows the size comparison to a modern DVD).  Another gadget we had was a set of picture frames hanging on our living room wall; they were filled with psychedelic lights that reacted to sounds, changing colours as you talked, sang, or watched television.  The topic of TVs is a whole other kettle of fish!  As the way of dinosaurs, cassettes and 8-tracks, CDs are nearly a thing of the past now, with digital clouds; even television stations will struggle to survive in the changing technology with on-demand digital providers becoming more popular.  Here are a few images to stir your nostalgia for stone-age technology:

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With so many changes happening just within a few decades, it’s easy to imagine that a century ago, things were even more different.  I wish I had statistics for Europe, but here are a few US stats for the year 1906 – 110 years ago.  Some of these items came in the form of a chain e-mail several years ago, and I didn’t forward it; even so, I’ve made new friends, I haven’t been hit by a meteorite, and I’ve been perfectly happy, despite the threats that come from breaking such a chain…

  • 18% of households in the US had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
  • 2 out of every 10 adults were illiterate; only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.
  • 90% of all doctors had NO college education; they rather attended “medical schools,” many of which were condemned by the press and the government as sub-standard.
  • A 3-minute call from Denver to New York City cost 11 dollars.
  • A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
  • Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California.
  • Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.
  • Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea hadn’t been invented yet.
  • Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores; pharmacists claimed that, “Heroin clears complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
  • More than 95% of all births in the US took place at home.
  • Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
  • Sugar cost 4 cents per pound; eggs were 14 cents for a dozen; coffee was 15 cents a pound.
  • The American flag had 45 stars: Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had not yet been admitted into the Union.
  • The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.
  • The average life expectancy was 47.
  • The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
  • The average wage in the US was 22 cents per hour.
  • The maximum speed limit for most cities was 10 mph.
  • The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
  • There was no official Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
  • There were about 230 reported murders in the entire US.
  • There were only 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.
  • With a mere 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st-most populous state.
  • The five leading causes of death in the US:
    1. Pneumonia and influenza
    2. Tuberculosis
    3. Diarrhea
    4. Heart Disease
    5. Stroke
  • The top news articles of the time:
    1. Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer, located the Magnetic North Pole.
    2. Ethiopia declared independent in a tripartite pact; the country was divided into British, French, and Italian spheres of influence.
    3. Finland was the first European country to give women the vote.
    4. President Roosevelt sailed to the Panama Canal Zone. It was the first time a U.S. president travelled outside the country while in office.
    5. Reginald Fessenden invented wireless telephony, a means for radio waves to carry signals a significant distance. On December 24, he made the first radio broadcast: a poetry reading, a violin solo, and a speech.
    6. In Economy, federal spending was $0.57 billion; unemployment was 1.7%, and the cost of a first-class stamp was 2 cents.
    7. On 18 April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit San Francisco, California, killing over 3,000. Though many have heard of the famous quake, a less-publicized 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador and Columbia earlier in the year, on 31 January, causing a tsunami.  On 16 August, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake in Valparaíso, Chile left approximately 20,000 dead, while on 18 September, a typhoon and tsunami killed an estimated 10,000 in Hong Kong.  The media all but ignored such events, making the San Fran earthquake the best-known, though it was the least of all these events in the loss of lives. [Note the warning about shooting looters, from the San Fran mayor, in the images below.]
    8. A few famous births in 1906: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 Feb.); Hans Asperger (18 Feb.); Lou Costello (6 March).

Below are a few ads and gadgets from 1906 (gleaned around Pinterest), for your amusement:

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Musings on Adapting

frog-serenityAs I write this, it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve just had a relatively peaceful 3-hour nap in my recliner (minus the minutes spent being walked on by one of our cats until she got settled, minus the minutes spent coughing).  “A nap at night?” I hear you ask.  Yep.  Due to the fact that I’ve been sick for nearly a month with another respiratory tract infection ranging from upper to lower, naps are all I get right now; 3 hours is actually good!  I’m very grateful for the comfortable recliner we were finally able to find this year here in Switzerland, because at the moment I can’t sleep horizontally (I start coughing if I try)!  I won’t go into the arm-long list of medicines/respirators I have to remember every day/night; it’s just that the best healer, rest, seems to elude me.  I try to look on the bright side, and so I am grateful that I can still breathe (mostly) on my own; I can still walk, think, talk and climb our stairs; I’m not dependent on someone else for my mobility; and though I have no sense of taste or smell at the moment (which makes my cooking an adventure for everyone else!), I can still hear and see and feel.  I’m not telling you all of this to garner sympathy – not at all!  If you’ve been around this blog for a bit, or have gone looking through my cupboards of past posts (make yourself at home!), you’ll know that this isn’t my first, nor is it likely my last, battle with health issues; some are minor, such as this, and some have been major.  But no matter how challenging it may be for me, I know that it’s nothing compared to the hurdles faced by those with chronic diseases, incapacitating disabilities, or bodies that formed incompletely (thus creating their own unique issues).

My point is this:  I’ve gotten adept at adapting.  I’ve learned over the years to have grace and patience with myself when things don’t go according to plan; when schedules get tossed out on their ears; when I can’t do things at my usual break-neck speed; when goals get deferred by circumstances beyond my control.  I’m not the kind of person who can just sit around doing nothing – even when my energy is rock-bottom, I’ll still find things to do.  When I don’t have the energy to write or even take care of household chores, at least I have the capacity to read, or listen to audio books while I do crafts (at the moment, I’m crocheting pencil toppers for Christmas boxes next year – I make them when I have time, so that by then I’ll have 100 or more).  If anyone knows any great audio books, please let me know!  I’ve had a new laptop for a few days now, just waiting to be set up; no matter how much I’d love to have the energy to tackle transferring data and programs, I’m realistic enough to wait.  The fact that I could get it is a reminder that I wore out the other one – i.e. I got a lot of writing done on that poor thing over the years that it served me well!  It’s also a reminder that my husband provides well, for which I am amazingly grateful… I don’t have to hold down a nine-to-five job regardless of my health!

Life is about adapting; it’s about change, seasons coming and going, and cycles.  Flexibility and attitudes make the path smoother or rockier, depending on which we choose.  I choose to be grateful, and I hope that I can encourage others to do likewise.

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Musings on Christmas Shopping

Recently there was a very black day; a Black Friday, to be precise.  The shocking images coming from America of people who (for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume are fairly sane otherwise) put aside every shred of human dignity to fight over an object they don’t really need just because it’s on sale (and which was most likely marked up in price beforehand…).  This, the very day after they spent time remembering everything they have to be thankful for.  Such behaviour is inconceivable to me.  What possesses people to stampede, trampling others for baubles and trinkets?  The introvert in me rather asks why anyone would want to go shopping on the busiest day in the year… heck, I even avoid shopping on normal Saturdays because of the weekend crowds!  That scourge of marketing tactics is making its way over to Europe as well, but what’s odd about the European version is that there is no “Thanksgiving Day” as it’s strictly an American holiday, so the Black Friday on the following day is completely artificial timing.

bulach-market

Bülach Christmas Market.  Credit: ZVV.ch

Personally, I much rather prefer staying home and enjoying a day of rest; it saves me money, time, stress and injury.  If I do any special shopping on the day, it is done online.  Besides, it’s around this time of the year that Christmas markets burst forth; nearly every town in Switzerland has its own market, some larger and more elaborate than others.  This past weekend, we went to one of our favourite local Christmas markets in a town called Bülach.  Vendors might be individuals, or groups such as youth groups, or mom-and-pop co-op businesses.  We tend to buy specialty items, such as gourmet cheeses, smoked meats, spices, honeys direct from the beekeepers, and homemade spiced oils.  Other items I like to look for are nice olive-wood spoons for the kitchen, or handcrafts that I don’t make myself (e.g. metal or glass crafts).  There’s also an Iranian vendor; I always pick up a kilogram of Persian rice (it’s got a basmati/smoky flavour) and an assortment of dried fruits from him.

Besides food items, we look for Christmas gifts for each other; that goes something like this:

 (Me to my husband):  “That’s a nice ring…” (Try it on; it fits).

(My husband) “Go away.”

“I’ll just walk on to the next booth.”

“Don’t look.” (He buys said ring, or something else besides, then joins me at the next booth.)

Along the way, we head toward the whisky shop and the conversation gets reversed – once he’s picked out a possible whisky he’d like to add to his collection, he leaves the shop, and I buy it plus stocking stuffer samplers (Schätzli, if you’re reading this, forget you saw that last sentence…).

In two weeks our own town will be having its market; it’s a time to get out, meet up with friends and neighbours, chat until it’s time to warm up with a glass of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) or hot chocolate, and find our favourite items, stocking up until the next year’s market days.  The walk home is crispy cold, topped off with a hot tea and a cat on the lap; life doesn’t get much better than that.

When you go to Christmas markets, or street markets at any time of the year, what do you look for?  What do you end up buying?  Does your town have a Christmas market?  What makes it special for you?  I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments below!

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