Update

Hi Bloggies

This is mostly to let you know that I haven’t yet done much this year.  I am mostly thankful that the things I managed to set up last year are taking care of themselves. I also had a very sick child these past 10 days, she picked up a flu on steroids (the flu, not the kid) from a forn place, being a town called Dublin.  At least I think most of it is done now.

The 19th came and went and so did the 20th.  We went through the dip and are (hopefully) out the other end again for now.  It was not an easy week last week.  And yes, it’s weird how these freak waves come at predictable and at unpredictable times.  And how each of us responds differently.  The kids were quiet and tearful in a withdrawn sort-of way.  The whole week on and off really.  And then I made my son invite his friends on Saturday so that they could sit and play cards the whole evening.  At least that was good.  Great energy, those teens.

I’ll be back when there’s something to tell.  In the interim have a sweet time.

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Have a good 2018.

 

This, to inspire for the New Year.

Our author Carmen Capuano is raking in review after review for her book “Split Decision” – on average four to five stars.  That’s a pretty sweet trend I’d love to see happening for all our authors.  Well done, Carmen!

I invite you to take a gander over to her Amazon site to have a look at the reviews.

Enjoy!

 

On the more esoteric side, there is a movement that encourages people to pick a single word as a guideline for the year.  (Yes I realize this sounds strange, how can a single word guide you through a year?  Worth exploring, don’t you think?)

There are reports of a person picking “love”.  And boy did she have her hands full.  Maybe she didn’t remember for a split second that love is a verb!  😀  According to the concept that you draw to you what you attune yourself to, you will encounter a lot of the stuff connected to the word you pick.  So pick wisely!

If you want, you can jump on the bandwagon and post your word in the comments.  🙂  Have fun.

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be
Out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yule-tide gay
Next year all our troubles will be
Miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

 

Advent, gifting and Christmas stories

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We as a family have been celebrating the tradition of Advent every year as part of the run-up to Christmas.  It’s because of my having had a childhood.  With pretty idyllic memories. And wanting to pass that on.

(I suspect the haloes around the candles are due to a sadly neglected lens of an overused phone.)

Advent starts 4 Sundays before Christmas, and is commemorated with 1 added candle per Sunday on the Advent Wreath.  We lit the second one tonight.  The time is also marked by preparation for Christmas.  This included baking (usually with my sister who is now in a country far far away), family get-togethers (ditto), some chocolate-munching, finding new songs to sing for Christmas or preparing other musical pieces (a family tradition that goes back to my sister & brother and me being children, and actually to my mother’s childhood in Austria).  The “pre-Christmas time” involves making hand-made gifts and crafting decorations for the tree and the house.  It involves remembering previous Christmases.  It entails planning what we will be doing for Christmas eve (we let Christmas morning take care of itself, for us Christmas eve is when the magic happens).

In more recent years, the time of Advent included “Secret Santas”, gift-giving games that have everyone buy something for a pot-luck, then sitting together (friends and fam) and playing the game and “winning” the presents.  These have to be small, they can even be “mathoms” (Tolkien fans will know those are presents that make the rounds, being re-gifted at every opportunity) or edibles.  At a Secret Santa last year, Hubbs won a garden gnome.  I won a Loo-Blue.  And refused to give it to anyone else when the “second round” entailed randomly switching presents, lovingly or piratically.  (An innovation by my highly inventive mom.  😀 )

I tried writing about Christmas a few times in my fiction.  “Fanta Claus” is a norty little disrespectful short-story that happened out of trying to explain to my kids the reality of the kind, generous 3rd century bishop St Nicholas, and the commercial (Coca Cola) connection of Santa Claus; the tradition of St Nicholas and Krampus in Germany (6th of December); and how it all relates to Christmas, Baby Jesus and all that.  (Obviously the bishop was a Christian!)  So no, Santa has not hijacked Christmas from Jesus; he went around icy Europe leaving gifts of apples and nuts for the poor families and quite possibly saving a few lives that way.  Santa is indeed intricately connected to the Christmas gifting tradition.  And Christians do not need to feel ashamed to give gifts on Christmas, as it ties in perfectly fine with Jesus bringing love (gifts are actually a recognized love language).

But sometimes gifts get abused for power play.  The anthropologist Eibl Eibisfeld described in his books how gifting is a tradition that goes straight through all human cultures (he specifically studied cultures of groups that had not yet encountered  civilization at the time).  He explains that gifting is rooted in the mother-child connection, and in offering food to each other as a form of bonding.  He mentions food traditions in human “rituals” (I’m thinking here of Thanksgiving dinners for instance), and how closely they are often connected with gift giving.

However he points out that gifting can be turned into an act of affront – if the giver gives so extravagantly that the receiver is shamed because there is no way he can reciprocate.  Reciprocating is implicit in the gifting tradition.  So if someone gives you something that you could not afford yourself, the natural response is often a reluctance to accept it.  Also, interestingly, if a person is offered a gift by someone they don’t like, the same reluctance to accept comes to the fore.  And it would be insincere to allow someone you hate to give you a gift, knowing you will not bother reciprocating.  This is probably a topic that will trigger memories for you – uncomfortable memories.

A sad state is, too, if a family has gone to the trouble of hand-crafting gifts and these are then “downrated” as inferior to some or other shop-bought stuff.  Even if it’s bath salts, thought, time and effort goes into handcrafting a gift, not to forget that the materials cost money – generally more money than going to a jumble shop and picking out some items.  And that is where Christmas gets really frustrating.  If you have a clan of ten or twelve strong, giving an expensive, hand-“picked” (from the shops), inventive gift to each can set you back more than you can afford.  Going for less expensive gifts can be perceived as cheap-skating.  Handcrafting gifts may work out a little cheaper than the boutique type but can also get an upturned nose reaction, especially if you are not a professional artisan and your hands are out of practice, so the gift looks handmade.

Authors, don’t think you can simply give everyone a copy of your latest book.  Friends and especially family are likely to spurn your work or be disinterested until they can clearly see that you have interested readers they haven’t met before.  It looks like shameless self-promotion, and while shameless is fine towards strangers, it doesn’t achieve much in the family.

I raised my children to appreciate a gift, no matter how humble, at least for the intent of the giver.  The day they turn up their noses at a gift is the day they will encounter a true-blue South African klap from Mama Bear. Because then there are people who are impossible to please, no matter what you give them…

As for the rest of you:  Remember Christmas gifts are about the intent.  If you are a lavish giver, just make sure you’re not making the receiver uncomfortable.  If you want to give handmade stuff, go ahead and do it.  Personally I adore the “mathom” idea.  A mathom picks up history with every regifting.  And it is so blatantly embarrassing in a way that it stops being embarrassing. I feel at least a third to half of all Christmas gifts ought to be mathoms, just to remind people that it’s about the ritual of giving and receiving, not the actual content.

Authors:

If you have written a Christmas story, please consider listing it in the comments below, and linking to it.  If you want to give a free copy in exchange for a reader reviewing it, please also say so and let them know where they can get their copy.

Epidemiology

(My comment about last post:  You notice I’m pretty cantankerous by now.) 

It’s our first winter in Europe, and of course we expect to catch every bug going around, because we’re not acclimatized. I had to consider this when I noticed that this is the umpteenth Friday my Wildest One missed school because of diverse sicknesses.

Why Friday?  I presume she picks up these bugs at school on Monday and Tuesday, her immune system fights them Wednesday and she drags herself through Thursday, and on Friday she’s on her nose.  I spend the weekend getting her well, and the cycle restarts.

There are two approaches to contagious diseases, like flus, stomach bugs, polio and tuberculosis.

The Quarantine & Hygiene Route – old, traditional and proven

The first one is to be responsible and stay at home, get well, convalesce and then return to school or work only when you are well.

This approach works well in limiting the spread of diseases.  It takes a fairly mature person (or a strict mom) who thinks not only of herself but of the community and other mothers’ children, to implement this.

I sometimes get a fatalistic response from people.  But this method has already seen to the die-back of many contagious diseases.  I have to draw the comparison with Ireland’s response to Hurricane Ophelia.  Three people were killed – all three were out in the weather.  The rest of Ireland was in lockdown in their houses, and all were safe.

The “everybody gets it anyway” approach

If you are going to have that attitude, better go for your vaccines.  People go to work sick as dogs, not wanting to lose days of work.  They spread their sickness all round; they end up missing workdays anyway but costing the employer that not one but all employees lose work days.  Or perhaps it’s a gung-ho, self-centered attitude, “I’ve already got it so I don’t care”; which results in infecting everyone from the young mother to the expectant woman to the elderly person who gets a lot sicker than you.

It is because of that attitude that vaccines became necessary in the first place.  I guess it’s a choice a young person must make:  Am I going to get vaccinated?  Or am I going to act responsibly towards my fellow humans while I’m sick?  Vaccines have risks.  (If you don’t believe me, ask your doctor to read you the insert.)

There are of course symptomless carriers.

If you are one of them, you don’t even realize you’re sick.  But most of the symptomless carriers are symptomless because their immune system is coping easily with the disease.  The amount of virus a symptomless carrier can spread is nowhere near the amount a fully sick person can spread.

It is possible to be around a person with flu or stomach flu and not catch it.

But that depends on how closely and how long you have to work next to them; whether you have to use the same bathroom;  and how your and their hygiene levels are respectively.  But if you share a bus or train compartment with someone who is coughing and sneezing, you’re probably out of luck.  It’s practically impossible not to inhale the sneezy air.  It’s the way the virus spreads.

Bump up your immune system.

It took a bit of searching but we now have our Echinaforce, and I even managed to source elderberry capsules.  Elderberry is antiviral; elder flower is better, but the berry also shares those properties to an extent.  Sage is antiseptic, as are ginger and clove.

Wash your hands.

I taught the kids to wash their hands every time we came home from shopping or any trip to where people are.  And use soap.  Soap is actually antibacterial in that it dissolves bacterial membranes.  That is, ordinary soap.  Antiseptic soap will probably kill a few of the more difficult microorganisms too.

Nevertheless I don’t think there is anything much we can do to prevent this onslaught of sickness, it is simply part of acclimatizing.

So let me get back to looking after my sick Wildest one…

Friday… a bit of Website geekiness

A peep behind the scenes, for those of you who are interested in web geeky stuff.

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Big programs like Amazon use databases for their shops.

Little businesses use 5-page websites, just as a little shop window to direct people to a buy- or subscribe-button.

P’kaboo is apparently neither.

Too large for a small 5-page layout.  The 5-page layout suits our studio – it’s a fairly obvious product, i.e. the lessons, and the website is there to offer information and help people decide whether they would feel at home in our studio and at ease with our rules, systems and traditions.  There is nothing the site needs to do, other than showcase us and have a “contact” page.

But the P’kaboo site, though it started smaller than our studio, is larger than that.  It works harder.  It actually is a web shop, and the products are adding up now.  When we started, we had 5 books.  Now though there is a lot more going on there.

They say, set up a small business in such a way that when it grows huge, the systems still accommodate the volume.  This is actually business nonsense because a small business runs differently from a huge one.  But for the web shop, it rings true.  By now, we want a search box, and a database behind the website.  But here’s the catch:  Databases need more than html, css or javascript to be programmed.

The principle of a “flat” html website is that one page (think of a paper page) links to others, by means of links.  Think of a messy desk full of papers, but each page is tied to the others with little strings, (ok, imagine really sturdy paper), and to fetch a page from another you pull the string, fishing the page out of the mess.  The server at least sorts the pages alphabetically.

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You can see the flaw in this one.  It is difficult to find things, and cumbersome to follow from link to link to link until you have what you want.  This is the way the author pages of P’kaboo are currently organized – individual pages that “pull out” by means of their threads.  At least we don’t have hundreds of authors yet or there would be chaos.  But the limitation in this web approach is clearly visible.

So, to make the place easier to use, you need a search function.  A little box that says “Search” and an empty space for you to type your search term into.

The drawback of all search boxes I have tried out so far is that the first thing they do, is take you out of my website and into Amazon or Google.  That is because they are programmed to do so, by Amazon and Google.  I have investigated boxes that supposedly stick within one site – none of them does.

Then there are self-built boxes that stick within one page only.  Which means you have to put the entire website onto a single page.  It can be done, it has been done, and with images on photography sites it is in fact common practice.  Visualize this:

If you have a webpage with a single search function, you need to put all the contents (text, images etc) of all the pages onto one huge piece of posterboard (the size of a wall at least), and then put in “jump links”, little beacons all over the posterboard.  The search box is a magnifying glass that moves across this massive single page and goes from one beacon to another to look at a particular cut-out of the whole page.

Now, as long as the end user doesn’t know, you ask, what could be wrong with this approach?

This:

post-it-notes-1284667_1920When the site loads, it has to load everything upfront.  That means, all the images, all the text, one huge enormous page.  Downloading megabytes has two drawbacks:  Most annoyingly it takes a lot of time; and equally annoyingly, for those with a metered connection, it costs internet.  I have been on the sore end of a metered connection long enough to know how much this matters.  But time matters too!  By the time a website hasn’t loaded ten seconds later, you press the refresh button – restarting the whole process.  You, the end user, don’t realize that it isn’t your connection, or generally “the internet being slow” – it’s the actual site.

Iain always took pride in the speed with which his sites would load.  You clicked, and if your internet connection was healthy, his sites would come up immediately.  He kept images slim and trim, larger images tucked away for later loading if people insist on viewing them.

So, really, what one wants for a shop like this is a welcome page that pops up practically immediately, saying in 5 words or less what we do and offering to find your product for you.

And to do that, we need a database.  Clearly, I need to learn how SQL works.  Can I do it?  I managed html, css and a bit of javascript – I started despairing at php but luckily, didn’t need too much… have I still got it to learn another programming language?

Visualize a database as a bookshelf.  The “front page” is the shopkeeper; you ask the 150420121997pretty young lady about a specific book or author, and she’ll pull out the brochure on that book or author out of the bookshelf.

The bookshelf does not load all its 2 million pages onto your device the second you enter the website.  It only loads the little shopkeeper.  She then pulls out the brochures as you need them, one by one (or five by five, whatever you, the customer, want).

Robbi

Of course, this is what I wanted to do for P’kaboo right from the start – except for, also, making it a playful, entertaining site, which I’m glad I did, because it was fun.  It was about showcasing authors at play.  I don’t know if you enjoy watching children play on a jungle gym or in a kiddie area – I do, I also enjoy watching little animals romp and play.  So I thought, readers might enjoy watching authors get up to shenanigans (short story contests etc).  Sure, it’s entertaining.  I think I’ll retain the play area, but I’ll let the shopkeeper direct the customer to it on request, because not everyone walks into a bookshop to attend a book signing.  A lot of us just want a good read (while nicking a few of the edibles).  And that, I’m sorry, is the author’s responsibility.  All P’kaboo can do about that is offer support.

I hear him comment, “whatever you want to do”.  He’s always been there for me.  To paraphrase someone I once met:  “If ghosts are only in your head, that’s the only place they need to be.”  Well, my ghost is in my heart and in my head.  And he’s still keeping up the solid support he’s always given me for everything I did, without fail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocks and reviews

While editing for a friend, I received a sweet review in the mail for one of our authors:  Carmen Capuano.

A reader writes:

“Hi, I have just finished reading your novel. WOW! Had to sit and read the last few chapters in one go, so gripping, such a different story from the usual, well done,
Regards Val Ford”

 

Thank you, Val!

I have to add that I agree with the reader.  It’s a good read!

Capuano’s book, “Split Decision”, deals with a young girl on the eve of her 16th birthday, being asked out by two guys at the same time and having to make a fast decision whom to date and whom to let down.

Starting deceptively like an innocent teenage romance, it soon progresses down sinister paths into danger to her life.

The author pursues two alternative versions, following where each choice would lead Natalie.  From a writing style, the chapters alternate between the two possible realities, sometimes throwing the reader a little but giving a lot of necessary contrast and perspective.

At the time of publishing I found the book a hard, realistic read of crime fiction.  Now more than ever will I recommend it to those who have not been exposed to the darkness of the criminal world.  It is gripping, and glaringly vivid.  The emotions are sharp-edged.  World, wake up.  I don’t know where Carmen Capuano got her clear vision of the stark fear and hopelessness of those places, but she captures them.  If this read doesn’t leave you rattled, shaken and with an urgent sense of doing something to change life in the modern dungeons, then few things will.

The book is available on Amazon; also as an ebook from P’kaboo.  Here are the links:

On P’kaboo:

http://pkaboo.net/bookshop.html#splitdecision

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 On Amazon:

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On Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27192597-split-decision

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As for our “rocks” here in Ireland, I’ve been asked what’s happening with P’kaboo.

Well, to begin with, I plan to register it here, locally, and retain the South African branch as a branch.  There are competent people manning the South African side of it…

I am cautiously scouting out the “lay of the land” here, putting out feelers to shops, libraries, music shops.  And print shops.  Sorely missing Hubbs’ fire and initiative.  But I have a few ideas…

Signing off for now.

gipsika

That thing with the mojo

My mojo is still not back.

Well, mojo, to paraphrase Irish Rail:  “Tag off!” (*) If it doesn’t want to come along, I’ll just have to carry on without it.  It will either catch up with me along the way, or I’ll have to go on mojo-less.  Whatever.  I’m sure a lot of people do what they need to do and never check if they even had a mojo, ever.

In the interim I’m staggering around in my own mind and finding all sorts of forgotten treasures.

PNI is one of them.  We did a PNI session today, to clear out some “stuff” (**).  It’s as powerful as ever.  You don’t have to be a mage to work PNI.  It’s a therapy method, based on psychology and meditation techniques.

I’ve discovered what’s wrong with the Shooting Star series.  It’s the fun.  Solar Wind starts off being tons of fun.  There are ups and downs through the series, but the fun element remains.  I wrote Solar Wind in close collaboration with Hubbs, and a lot of funny ideas in there were comments he made. I wrote a lot of the fun stuff so I could hear him laugh out loud.  He was my primary audience and my best writing partner.

Got Wildest One to pick up her violin today and hold it for 1 minute.  Tomorrow it will be 2 minutes.  She isn’t allowed to focus on anything else in that time.  Baby steps.  I wanted to see if her emotional reaction (a violent “I don’t want to play”) is to the violin itself, the physical sensation of holding it, the sound… what triggers the reaction?  Apparently, not to the instrument or the sensation of holding it.  The 60 seconds were uneventful.  —  I’ve also put myself on a program of practising every day, and it’s beginning to make a difference – the technique in my hands is coming back.  As I said:  If it has to be, we’ll just carry on without the darned mojo.  If I have to wait for my mojo, I may have to wait forever.

My friend Eloise sent me a fantastic link on how to handle grief and trauma.  There’s a lot of sense in there.  Here it is:

http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2017/07/recover-from-tragedy/

He makes a lot of sense.

Sometimes it may seem to you, my blogpals, as though I have nothing but grief and trauma in my life at the moment.  This is not so.  There’s a lot going on, and I have to add that I feel I’m definitely in the right place.  Especially since Hurricane Ophelia, when my eyes were opened to the Irish spirit and the Irish sense of humour – both of which remind me so vibrantly of Hubbs, that is how he was!  Making light of a dire situation while sensibly doing all the right things.  Yes, I’m definitely in the right place.

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I’m reminded of Bilbo’s song:  “The road goes ever on and on…”

 


(* “Tag off” is what they remind you to do with your leap card.  The leap card is a card that one can charge up with money and use for travel – bus and train – and get a bit of discount.  When getting on the train, you tag on; when getting off, you tag off.  To me it always sounds a bit like swearing.  “Oh, tag off!”)

(** “Stuff”: PNI jargon for unresolved issues)