Category Archives: Research

The historical, geological, scientific & gadgety interests that inform and propel my writing.

The History of the Nativity & Christmas

nativity - by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)In 1223, in Greccio, Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi is accredited with creating the first Nativity Scene.  We tend to think of commercialism and materialism as a modern disease, but in fact, Francis created that display to be a visual reminder of what Christmas was all about, and to counter what he felt was a growing emphasis on secular materialism and gift-giving.  It was to be a day of celebration and worship of thanks to God for what he had inaugurated through the birth of the prophesied Messiah, Jesus.

When we think of a modern nativity scene, we think of a few elements as standard:  Shepherds, Jesus in a wooden manger of straw, three kings, angels, and cattle and donkeys and sheep.  In fact, the stable was more likely a cave or a small hand-dug dugout, a shelter for animals in cold weather or raids, and perhaps a place to store surplus grains or foodstuffs.  The manger was a feeding trough, much like modern feeding troughs found on small farms.  The shepherds “watching the flocks by night”  tells us that it was likely in spring or summer in that region; the day we celebrate as Christmas was adopted throughout Western Europe in the fourth century.  Imagine the scenario:  Rome had called for a census of the entire region, turning everything on its head as everyone was required to travel to their ancestral homes, including businessmen like Joseph, and innkeepers as well.  Hundreds of people descended en masse onto sleepy little villages unequipped with beds or food to cope with them all.  Perhaps Joseph had tried at several places in Bethlehem; perhaps there was only one Bed & Breakfast in the entire village; turned away, they headed back to the stable to get their donkey, and uh, “Wait!  The baby’s coming!”

The kings were actually Magi, likely a caste of scientists and astronomers, from the “east” – i.e. east of Israel, which could have made them Asian, Indian, Caucasian, or even African.  There were not three, but rather three gifts:  Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  In reality, their number might have been more like a small army:  They would not have travelled such a distance with the quantities of gifts fit not only for a king but representing their own importance, as well as the honour they wished to bestow on this new king, without protection!  The Bible records that King Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed by their presence and the reason for their journey (Matthew 2).  The three gifts offered by the Magi were very symbolic:  Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth.  It is one of the only metals that, when heated, loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but allows impurities to surface.  It is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement.  Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity.  It was familiar to most people in the ancient world, used in religious ceremonies.  Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter.  It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming:  His death, burial and resurrection.  It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth.  It was used medicinally as a painkiller (often dissolved in wine) which is the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23).  And note that the Magi did not show up at the manger in Bethlehem, but by the time they’d travelled that far and found Jesus, he was a child, and Mary and Joseph had set up house (Matthew 2:11).

ichthus

ICHTHYS

Let’s address one more historical topic:  Xmas.  Many people think it’s a modern attempt to “X” Christ from Christmas; but in fact, it is just the opposite, historically-speaking.  The X is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English translated as “Christ.” and such abbreviated references date back as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1021.  Even further back, ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) was an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” used by ancient Christians.  It is often placed within the symbol of a fish, as Jesus called his disciples to become “fishers of men.”  Ichthyology is the study of fish, reflecting the Greek connection for the use of the symbol.

Modern Nativity scenes represent a condensed version of a historical event (there is, after all, more historical evidence for Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection than many other events in history people accept as fact); so the next time you see one, think about the significance, the reason for its inception by St. Francis of Assisi in the first place, and the Reason for the season.

Merry Christmas!  Or, Merry Xmas!

Originally posted on History Undusted, December
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Cultural Oddities of Japan

I came across an article recently about a Japanese trend among single women to marry themselves.  It reminded me that there are a lot of oddities and quirks that come out of the Land of the Rising Sun; they even have a name for odd inventions:  “Chindogu”, meaning “‘un-useless’ or priceless tool”; I think that’s meant in irony, but one never knows, with Japan.  For the list below, believe me when I say that I’ve left off hundreds of REALLY bizarre items!  Here are a few of the less-weird ideas:

  • Soap-printing pens: 3D sculpting pens for bath time that make soap foam.
  • Sleeping dome head tent: Just like it sounds – a small tent to put your head in at night, so that your skin stays hydrated.
  • Salty potato ice cream
  • Ice-block noodle bowls
  • Hyperrealistic food bookmarks
  • Watermelon-shaped dumplings on a stick
  • Charcoal Face Wash
  • Smile Assessment Apps: Designed to assess a smile’s quality with facial recognition; used in hospitality industries such as airline flight attendants and customer service positions.  A symptom of this image-obsessed age.
  • Umbrellas with wheels: A “rolling cane umbrella” means you can drag it behind until needed…
  • Single weddings: “Me marrying myself” weddings are becoming popular among single women in Kyoto, Japan – complete with bridal pampering, the dress, the hair & make-up and photo album of memories, but without a groom necessary.
  • Eyedrop funnels
  • Karaoke, and “silent karaoke” (for those moments you don’t want to be heard belting out a tune)
  • Shoe umbrellas
  • Square watermelon: Makes them more space-efficient to ship
  • Umbrella necktie
  • Hearing enhancers: Basically, aluminium bowls strapped to the side of your head – in case hearing aids are too discreet for you.
  • Bubble wrap keychain – re-pop-able stress relief. This would be a good gag gift for a stocking stuffer or Advent calendar.
  • Baby Mop Suit: Let the baby clean the floor while they’re crawling around.  Very hygienic.
  • Half-body, or “hug” pillow: A torso-shaped pillow with arm, for the lonely woman.
  • Lap pillow: For the lonely man, a pillow shaped like a woman’s kneeling lap.
  • Capsule hotels: Literally a box, similar to a morgue slab, for sleeping in; an economical way to crash overnight.
  • Themed food for films (see hamburger below, made for the Ghost Busters film)
  • Zentai – De-stressing and escaping social pressures by dressing in full-body lycra suits
  • Commuter’s Aids: Either a construction helmet with a suction cup on the back to hold your head upright while sitting in the U-Tube (subway), or a stick with a padded “U” to hold your chin while you stand.
  • Face Gadgets: Everything from face irons, eyebrow wrinkle stretchers, smile exercisers, lipstick application masks (because every woman has the same size and shape mouth, right?), round-eye enhancers, eyelid trainers, face slimmer mouth exercisers, face lift chin-belts… the list goes on and on, with the Japanese fixation on Western standards of “beauty” reaching maniac proportions.
  • Cat costumes:  The Japanese are cat-crazy, from the lucky cat waving everywhere, to cat restaurants (as well as any other kind of animal you can think of), and the weird (and animal-unfriendly, if you asked the animals) custom of dressing cats and dogs in bizarre mini outfits.

The slide show below illustrates a few of these gadgets or concepts, plus a few others.  Enjoy!

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Gibberish, Urban Legends & Life Hacks

Crypto NerdsAs I was surfing recently, I thought – as I frequently have – that most of the phrases and idioms used today would be incomprehensible 100 years ago.  Surfing, as related to the internet, came into use in 1993; Google (verb or noun form) would make no sense, nor would anything larger than a byte (bite), or (proxy) server, software, bandwidth, broadband, wireless, W-Lan, binary, bit, blog, blogosphere, browser, cookie (within the virtual context), cyberspace, domain, download, Email, Ethernet, intranet, extranet or internet, FAQ, firewall, network, GIF, hit, home page, host, and the list goes on!  I’m sure people at IT meetings could carry on entire conversations that would be utter gibberish to someone from the Roaring Twenties.

There are also phenomena that have arisen with the dawning of cyberspace and virtual reality; while the internet has opened up the world to those who know how to use it wisely, it’s also given room for things like nonsense gone viral or video tutorials by everyone and their cats and dogs.  Another consequence of the internet is the rapid dissemination of (mis)information; this is how urban legends arise:  Before verifying authenticity, people pass on the gossip, fake news or report; soon it’s been seen so often (and refined along the way, like any good fish tale) that people begin to believe it as proven fact.

Urban Legend Big FootExamples of urban legends are:  Alligators in the sewers of New York; Facebook privacy notice (that by posting a legal notice on your Facebook wall, it will protect your copyright and privacy rights); Giveaway hoaxes (usually someone wealthy, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg), and that Facebook will start charging for use.

handkerchief-aomAnother thing that has arisen is actually an old habit gone virtual:  Life Hacks.  Before the dawn of the Cyber Age, such tips and tricks were passed down through generations, or from one neighbour to the other.  Now in the global village in which we live, life hacks are taught to us by people in Moscow, Sierra Leon, American, Japan, Argentina, and everywhere in between.  You can learn how to peel an entire head of garlic in 1 minute (it works, too!); how to turn a tin can into a camper stove; 50 ways to use a plastic drink bottle besides holding liquid; how to turn drinking straws into mini sealed containers for travelling; how to use pop tabs for anything from keychain loops to picture frame hangers to jewellery, and a thousand other hacks for the kitchen, household, wardrobe and travels.

If you’d like to learn a thing or two, below are a few links to life hack videos on YouTube; I’ve watched each one, and found interesting tips myself:

48 Must-Watch Life Hacks” (23:00)

12 Brilliant Things You Can Do With Your Devices” (9:50)

40 Smart Repair Tips to Make Your Life Easier” (15:00)

There are hundreds more where those came from!

My point?  Appreciate the fact that you understand most (if not all) Cyber Age gibberish; check your facts and avoid passing on or believing urban legends, and enjoy the benefits offered by such modern teaching tools as life hacks, instruction videos and tutorials online!

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Asunder’s Here!

ASU - Kindle, Optimal Pixel

Hi everyone!  I’ve been a bit anti-social lately, cyberworld-speaking, as I’ve been polishing up the final stages of my latest novel.  I can now say, “It’s here!!”  Woohoo!  Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy, tells the story of Timothy and Anne Northing – how they meet and come together despite the opposition and dissimilarities of their backgrounds:  Anne comes from a wealthy family, never having known personal hardships, while Timothy’s life has been anything but easy; he’s worked his way up through the toils of the Royal Navy, and is a newly-minted lieutenant when he meets Anne.

The writing process of this novel has been an adventure!  I’ve read dozens of history books, keeping in mind as I wrote that I wasn’t writing a history book – the information I gleaned had to serve the plot and character development or it would land on the cutting room floor, so to speak.    I had certain things that needed to take place in this book, as they were already “history” as far as the other two books in the trilogy were concerned (though this is clearly the third book, chronologically it is the first, which means that the trilogy can be read circularly):  Someone has to go insane; another has to become a captain before he loses half of his leg; another loses wife and child in childbirth; Adriana and Mary have to be born, and the characters have to end up in the place where The Price of Freedom begins.  These milestones take place within the complexities of the relationship between Anne and Timothy as it unfolds, and within the daily duties and dynamics of Timothy’s life at sea aboard the HMS Lulworth.

I can’t describe the feelings yet of holding this book in my hot little hands!  It’s been a long labour of love, and I’ve sometimes been a spectator of my own characters as they’ve developed and ripened over the years that I’ve lived with them in my head.  Even though they’re fictional, I know them well – better than I know some real people!

If you or someone you know loves to read, just click on the image above or in the side panel to the right!  The books are all available in both Kindle and paperback formats.  Please pass the word to your friends and family!  And once you’ve read one of my books and enjoyed it, please put a positive review on Amazon; Indie publishers rely on good reviews to pass the word.  Let your (Facebook) friends know, too!  Thank you!

I’ll be taking a breather at Christmas; in the meantime, I’ve got a lot of bits to do, including adding x-ray to my Kindle versions, updating blurbs and information around cyberspace, and letting folks know.

Have a great weekend, and keep writing!

 

PS:  Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

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Face it

I’ve been thinking about faces recently; a friend of mine will be having reconstructive surgery on her face to restore the tissue and structure that was eaten away by a rare condition, and we were talking about the psychological effects of such a procedure, and the influence it could have on one’s own sense of identity.

After that talk, I did a bit of research online about the psychology of the face, and I found a series of photo montages called “Facial Expressions Reference Project” (just search that phrase on google images to see what I mean).  What I found interesting about that series is that, though they used the basic range of emotions such as sad, or amused, confident or embarrassed, nearly every person’s interpretation was different.  It highlights not only the differences of opinions when it comes to labelling particular facial expressions, but also potential misunderstandings that can arise from the varying interpretations of this key form of nonverbal communication – especially when in a cross-cultural situation.  For example, when I lived in the Philippines, I had to get used to the fact that shaking their head side to side meant “yes”, and wiggling their head up and down meant “no” – the wiggle was to make “no” less direct, so as not to lose face or cause the other person to lose face.

This train of thought led me to wonder what kinds of English idioms refer to the face; there are dozens of them:  You can have a long-, poker-, fresh-, or a straight face, or a face that would stop a clock, or conversely, traffic, or have a face that only a mother could love; you can be (not) just another pretty face, put on a brave face or be blue/red in the face, have egg on your face, or be two-faced.  You can face the facts, consequences, the music, time, or, let’s face it, you can be in someone’s face, lose or save face, show your face (or not), stuff it, fall flat on it both physically and metaphorically, and – well, the list goes on and on.

Below is a series of celebrity photos, in various characters; as a writer, I find it helpful to have visual references when describing physicality in the written word, and this fun montage gives a wide range to choose from.  Enjoy, and keep writing!

 

Actors in Character

Actors in Character.  Original source, unknown:  Pinterest

 

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History Undusted: The 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book

Sea Captians Logfixed(web)

As part of my research for my upcoming novel, Asunder, I came across the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  It’s a massive document, but below is a small gleaning; if you want more, check out my original posts on History Undusted here.  It’s a fascinating insight into life and demands at sea in the 18th & 19th centuries, and gives a glimpse of just how many of our common idioms originated at sea; how dull our language might have been otherwise!  I’ve also included a few odd ones that I think deserve revival!

ACCOMPANY, to. To sail together; to sail in convoy.

AVAST. The order to stop, hold, cease, or stay, in any operation: its derivation from the Italian basta is more plausible than have fast.

BADGER, to. To tease or confound by frivolous orders.

BALLARAG, to. To abuse or bully. Thus Warton of the French king— “You surely thought to ballarag us with your fine squadron off Cape Lagos.”

BAMBOOZLE, to. To decoy the enemy by hoisting false colours.

BEAT TO QUARTERS. The order for the drummer to summon everyone to his respective station.

BLOAT, to. To dry by smoke; a method latterly applied almost exclusively to cure herrings or bloaters.—Bloated is also applied to any half-dried fish.

BONE, to. To seize, take, or apprehend. A ship is said to carry a bone in her mouth and cut a feather, when she makes the water foam before her.

BOTCH, to. To make bungling work.

BULLYRAG, to. To reproach contemptuously, and in a hectoring manner; to bluster, to abuse, and to insult noisily. Shakspeare makes mine host of the Garter dub Falstaff a bully-rook.

BUNGLE, to. To perform a duty in a slovenly manner.

CLINCH A BUSINESS, to. To finish it; to settle it beyond further dispute, as the recruit taking the shilling (those who were impressed into the Royal Navy, if they took the pre-payment of one shilling, were forthwith considered volunteers).

COBBLE, to. To mend or repair hastily. Also, the coggle or cog.—Cobble or coggle stones, pebbly shingle, ballast-stones rounded by attrition, boulders, &c.

CORN, to. A remainder of the Anglo-Saxon ge-cyrned, salted. To preserve meat for a time by salting it slightly.

CUT AND RUN, to. To cut the cable for an escape. Also, to move off quickly; to quit occupation; to be gone.

EGG, to. To instigate, incite, provoke, to urge on: from the Anglo-Saxon eggion.

FLEATE, to. To skim fresh water off the sea, as practised at the mouths of the Rhone, the Nile, &c. The word is derived from the Dutch vlieten, to skim milk; it also means to float.

GEE, to. To suit or fit; as, “that will just gee.”

GUDDLE, to. To catch fish with the hands by groping along a stream’s bank.

HARASS, to. To torment and fatigue men with needless work.

HOLD-FAST. A rope; also the order to the people aloft, when shaking out reefs, &c., to suspend the operation. In ship-building, it means a bolt going down through the rough tree rail, and the fore or after part of each stanchion.

JIRK, to. To cut or score the flesh of the wild hog on the inner surface, as practised by the Maroons. It is then smoked and otherwise prepared in a manner that gives the meat a fine flavour.

KEEP YOUR LUFF. An order to the helmsman to keep the ship close to the wind, i.e. sailing with a course as near as possible to the direction from which the wind is coming.  LUFF, or Loofe. The order to the helmsman, so as to bring the ship’s head up more to windward. Sometimes called springing a luff. Also, the air or wind. Also, an old familiar term for lieutenant. Also, the fullest or roundest part of a ship’s bows. Also, the weather-leech of a sail.

MAKE IT SO. The order of a commander to confirm the time, sunrise, noon, or sunset, reported to him by the officer of the watch.

PIPE DOWN! The order to dismiss the men from the deck when a duty has been performed on board ship.

STAND FROM UNDER! A notice given to those below to keep out of the way of anything being lowered down, or let fall from above.

TOE A LINE! The order to stand in a row.

KICK THE BUCKET, to. To expire; an inconsiderate phrase for dying.

KICK UP A DUST, to. To create a row or disturbance.

LET FLY, to. To let go a rope at once, suddenly.

MAN-HANDLE, to. To move by force of men, without levers or tackles.

MARINATE, to. To salt fish, and afterwards preserve it in oil or vinegar.

NAIL, to. Is colloquially used for binding a person to a bargain. In weighing articles of food, a nail is 8 lbs.

OVERSHOOT, to. To give a ship too much way.

PITCH IN, to. To set to work earnestly; to beat a person violently. (A colloquialism.)

RANSACK, to. To pillage; but to ransack the hold is merely to overhaul its contents.

SKEDADDLE, to. To stray wilfully from a watering or a working party. An archaism retained by the Americans.

SPIN A TWIST OR A YARN, to. To tell a long story; much prized in a dreary watch, if not tedious.

SUCK THE MONKEY, to. To rob the grog-can.

TOP THE GLIM, to. To snuff the candle.

TROUNCE, to. To beat or punish. Used as far back as the 1550s.

TURN A TURTLE, to. To take the animal by seizing a flipper, and throwing him on his back, which renders him quite helpless. Also applied to a vessel capsizing; or throwing a person suddenly out of his hammock.

TWIG, to. To pull upon a bowline. Also, in familiar phrase, to understand or observe.

WADE, to. An Anglo-Saxon word, meaning to pass through water without swimming. In the north, the sun was said to wade when covered by a dense atmosphere.

WALK SPANISH, to. To quit duty without leave; to desert.

WEATHER ONE’S DIFFICULTIES, to. A colloquial phrase meaning to contend with and surmount troubles.

WHISTLE FOR THE WIND, to. A superstitious practice among old seamen, who are equally scrupulous to avoid whistling during a heavy gale.—To wet one’s whistle. To take a drink. Thus Chaucer tells us that the miller of Trumpington’s lady had “Hir joly whistle wel ywette.”

WORK DOUBLE-TIDES, to. Implying that the work of three days is done in two, or at least two tides’ work in twenty-four hours.

 

Image Source: Unknown.  Please let me know if it’s yours – I’ll gladly credit the artist!

 

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History Undusted: Eidsborg Stave Church & the Vest-Telemark Museum

Back in August of 2013, my husband and I went on a holiday/research trip (for “The Cardinal“) through parts of Norway, and we came across an amazing site:  Eidsborg Stave Church and the Vest-Telemark Museum.  We went to Eidsborg with the intention of seeing the outside of the Stavskyrkje (stave church) there on our way to the Heddal Stave Church; instead, we spent swift hours there!  It started off with a private guided tour from a local guy (“local” meaning his family has lived in the area since the 1300s), who was both understandably proud of the local history and knowledgeable, as well as enthusiastic.

5 August 2013 - Eidsborg Stavskyrkje Museum 68

Vest-Telemark Museum, Eidsborg

The museum itself is modern, beautiful, excellently staffed and convenient, with free wireless connection, a cafe and a gift shop, but most importantly, an extensive exhibit of the history of Vest-Telemark.  The rural life from the late 1700s to 1900s is colourfully laid out, with printed information sheets at each station in Norwegian, English and German.  There’s a strong sense of pride in local culture, and you can breathe in the history of the place.  Literally.  The buildings on the property, some of which you can enter, live and breathe the lives of those who lived there; the musty smells of old leather, damp earth, mildew in the wooden and thatched walls and roofs, the smell of pine wood, the turfy aroma of the blackened pitch-coated walls of the Stave church itself, and the sight of dusty sunlight streaking in through wallboards into the barn, the smithy, a cottage, storehouse, stable, or the mill.  There was even a sauna, built around 1895 (saunas weren’t used back then as they are now; they were places to dry grains for storage or to steam out fleas and lice from fur rugs and coats).

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The Eidsborg Stave Church

The church is typical stave construction:  The staves are corner pillars used to support the edifice, and the interior of the roof uses the same skeletal structure as the Viking longboats – if it works (and those ships worked better than anything on water for centuries), why change it?  The inside of the church is rich in history:  Carvings from the 1200s, intricately painted walls from the 1600s, a statue of the patron saint of travellers (St. Nicholas of Bari) watching from the corner (as an antique replica – the original is in an Oslo museum), and the dusty light of sunlight peering through small holes near the upper beams. The latter mainly served to provide a bit of light as well as fresh air:  Candles could only be afforded for the clergy, so it would have been extremely dark without those holes; sermons went on for hours back in olden days and there were no seats until the middle ages.  Everyone in the parish was required to come, punishment or humiliation being the course of the day if they failed to appear for service, and in the tiny space allowed inside the original church, it would have been standing room only, packed in like sardines.  If someone fainted from lack of fresh air, it probably wouldn’t have been noticed until everyone filed out.  Today there are pews, and it is used weekly as the parish church through the summer and autumn; it is closed for service during the colder months as heating it would cause decay of the paintings and interior woodwork.

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Details in the gallery

Wooden-shingle clad from the ground up, it gives the building the appearance of dragon’s scales, and having been coated with thick pitch for centuries, it looks quite as if it has been charred; it smells wonderfully peaty, like a strong dark whiskey, and on a sunny day you can smell the aroma a good distance away.  The gallery along three sides of the church reveals many interesting details, from the wooden spikes used to nail the shingles to the roof to the outer curve of the stave pillars jutting out into the gallery.  It’s living, breathing history, and a pleasure to have been there.

Originally Posted on

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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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The History of Wedding Rings

Have you ever wondered when the tradition of wedding rings began?  How they developed in various cultures around the world?  To read a fascinating article on the topic, just click on the image below; the article includes images of amazing works of art worn on fingers centuries ago.  The image below, by the way, is of my own wedding ring; it’s a runic ring designed by Sheila Fleet in Orkney, Scotland, and it says, “dreams of everlasting love”.

Runic Wedding Ring

 

 

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History Undusted: Avaldsnes, Norway: A Hidden Gem

In the summer of 2013, I went to Norway on a holiday/research trip for “The Cardinal,” a 2-part fantasy-science fiction novel set in ancient Scotland, ancient Norway, and modern Scotland.  Norway, however, seems to carry its dislike of small-talk into the area of promotion and marketing, and as a result, its museums and attractions are not as well advertised, marketed or signposted as they could be; we only found out about this little gem of a site because we happened to run into a Swiss friend in Haugesund, and he knew of the place!  I promised the curators to get the word out, so here’ goes, and with pleasure:

On the island of Karmøy, along the western coast of Norway, sits Avaldsnes.  With over 50,000 islands in Norway, it wouldn’t seem to our modern minds (as dominated by cars and roads as we are) to be a significant location, but Avaldsnes is rewriting Norse history.  It has long been a place from which to control shipping passages through the narrow neck of the Karmunsundet, also called the Seaway to the North, or in Norwegian Nordvegen, and it is the maritime route that eventually gave its name to the country.

The kings of sagas and lays have become real at Avaldsnes, the rich archaeological finds there making it one of the most important locations in Europe for the study of Viking and Norse history.  Avaldsnes was a royal seat, so it’s not surprising that some of the most important burials in Norway have been found here:  One of its ship burials was dated to the 8th century (making it much older than any other such burials known of thus far).  It was clearly a king’s burial, and the findings there have proven its political importance several hundred years before King Harald Fairhair unified Norway.

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Today there are three main points of interest at Avaldsnes, all within walking distance from each other:  St. Olav’s church, built on the site of the oldest church in Norway, was commissioned by King Håkon Håkonson around 1250 AD as part of the royal manor complex.  On the north side of the church stands the Virgin Mary’s Sewing Needle, one of Norway’s tallest standing stones, measuring in at 7.2 metres today (though it was originally much taller; it can be seen in the picture above):  Local legend says that when the obelisk touches the wall of the church, Doomsday will come; over the years, priests have climbed the stone in the dead of night to chip away any threatening pieces from the top, thus saving the world from annihilation.  This church was an important site for pilgrims on their way to Nidaros (the medieval name for Trondheim, the capital of the land’s first Christian kings and the centre of Norwegian spiritual life up until the Protestant Reformation); on the north side of the church is a sealed door which was originally the entrance for those pilgrims, as it is said that they had to enter any church with their backs to the north.

The next site is the Nordvegen Historic Centre; at first glance, it’s merely a circular stone monument, but it is actually a stairway leading down into the underground museum, built so as to not interfere with the landscape.  The exhibitions guide you (with a bit of modern technology) through 3,500 years of history through Avaldsnes, focusing on daily life, international contacts and cultural influences from those contacts.  Foreign trade and communication were major factors at Avaldsnes, and archaeological evidence shows it to be a barometer to the prosperity and decline of European commerce as a whole.  The museum has a hands-on section, as well as a gift shop that’s well-stocked with books covering various aspects of Viking history.

The third site is a hidden gem, located about 20 minutes’ walk from St. Olav’s:  The Viking farm.  The gravel path takes you along the shore, over two bridges and through a forest to a small island.  It’s well worth the hike, as you come through the forest to find a Viking village tucked behind a typical Telemark-style fence (pictured above).  A 25-metre longhouse is the centrepiece, a reconstruction of a 950 AD house, and built of pine and oak, with windows of mica sheets.  The aroma of tar wafts from the house as you approach, as it is painted with pitch to weatherproof it; the smell reminds me of a dark peat-whiskey, and also of Stave churches, which are also painted with the tar.  [The photo of the longhouse has one element missing to the trained eye:  The low stone wall which should surround the house, as insulation, is missing at the moment while boards are being repaired.]  Other buildings on the farm include pit houses (both woven twig walls as well as wattle and daub) used for activities such as weaving, cooking or food preparation, and other crafts necessary to daily life; a round house, a reconstruction of archaeological finds in Stavanger (which may be a missing link between temples and stave churches in their construction); various buildings of a smaller size; and at the shore is a 32-metre leidang boat house, representing a part of the naval defence system developed in the Viking Age:  A settlement with a leidang was expected to man the ship with warriors and weapons when the king called upon them for aid.  When the boat house was vacant of its ship it was used as a feasting hall, and the modern replica follows that example as it is often hired out for celebrations or festivals.

Both the museum and the Viking farm have friendly and knowledgeable staff; the farm staff are all in hand-made period clothing and shoes; as a matter of fact, one of the women was working on her dress while we were there, and she said it was linen; the total hours to make such a dress from start to finish would be around 600 hours (including shearing, spinning, weaving, then cutting and sewing).  Had it been made of or included leather, it would have taken much, much longer.  That is why clothing was very valuable, and most people only had the clothes on their back; you were considered fortunate, and even wealthy, if you had a change of clothing – even into the mid-eighteenth century in countries such as England.

If you are interested in Viking history, Avaldsnes is well worth the journey.  Take your time; we stayed overnight in the area to spread the visit out over two days, and we could have spent much more time there.  If you’re a natural introvert like me, you’ll need time to process the multitude of impressions, but that’s what we like – quality time, and quality input.  And then get the word out about these points of interest!

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, 14 September 2013

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