When Bilingualism Creates Confusion

Raising a child bilingually is not easy—especially when only one of the parents speaks the other language. I have tried and so far, when it comes to producing bilingual offspring, I’ve not been as successful as I’d like. The older two understand the basics, but speaking it is a whole different story. So now, I’m trying to be a better Dutch parent for the third one.

Being able to use two languages is a wonderful gift. I find it stimulates me to think more about words: their meaning, their etymology, and how I use them. Sometimes the way I express myself in one language is not appropriate in the other. Other times, I say something—unintentionally—very funny (according to my husband). On and off I find there simply is no accurate translation for a specific word, and no matter how hard I try, everything I come up with falls short.

I speak mostly Dutch to my youngest, and she seems to switch between English and Dutch almost seamlessly. It’s amazing how the brain of a child works. She has already figured out that speaking Dutch to other people besides me is not particularly useful. And for the most part she is able to name the things she knows in two languages—but it can get confusing.

For instance, the Dutch word for “squirrel” is “eekhoorn,” which sounds very similar to “acorn”. But an acorn falls from the oak tree and is something the squirrel eats.  In the Netherlands however, the “eekhoorn” eats an “eikel” from the “eikenboom.” Anyway, my point is that keeping the acorns and eekhoorns apart is tricky business.

And not just for my daughter. There are pages of discussion on the internet dedicated to the etymology of these words. I am no etymologist, but I’ll try to break it down. “Squirrel” comes from French through a Latinisation of the Greek word “skíouros”, meaning “shadow-tailed.” How appropriate! However, there used to be an Old English word for squirrel, “ácweorna,” which resembles the Dutch “eekhoorn” much better. “Acorn” stems from Old English as well (æcern), and for some reason the English decided to keep that one but do away with “ácweorna.”  Why? Was the French word for acorn not appealing enough? Because it would have been a lot more convenient if they’d kept the ácweorna and dropped the acorn. Just saying, my two-year-old would love to have a word with whomever was responsible for this linguistic inconvenience.

Besides squirrels, we also see a lot of deer in our yard. The Dutch word “dier” is pronounced very similarly, but it means animal. So when I mentioned the word “dieren” to my two-year-old, she immediately ran to the window. After not finding what she was looking for, she asked me, a little offended, where the deer were—like I duped her in some way. Also, in the “dierentuin” (zoo, literally: animal-garden), you will find many animals, but where I live, no deer.

When she needs to go to her chair at the table, I tell her to go sit on her “stoel,” which is not the same as a stool, but it definitely sounds the same. In this case, it’s usually the context that clarifies what I mean—as it often is in language. But again, it’s confusing.

There are a few Dutch words I don’t use when I talk to my kids. The word for “cat” in Dutch is poes, which, not surprisingly, sounds quite a bit like “puss.” Dutch also has the word “kat” but it’s used less frequently. Still, I’m sticking to “kat.” Having my two-year-old enthusiastically screaming “POES!” through the neighborhood when she spots the neighbor’s cat, would probably raise a few eyebrows. Especially since she is prone to add a “-y” to her nouns, like doggy…

The word that always cracks my daughter up is the Dutch word for skunk. The Netherlands doesn’t have skunks. A skunk is a North-American animal, and the word “skunk” has Native American roots (from “to urinate” and “fox”…in case you were wondering). In Dutch, the skunk is aptly named a “stinkdier,” which basically means…Stink animal! And if there’s anything a two-year-old can relate to, it’s being stinky.

So far, the skunk has only made an appearance in our bedtime books and not in our yard. I like wildlife, but I hope it stays that way. After all, a skunk is a cute, furry animal. Throw an inquisitive two-year-old in the mix, and she may just find out why a skunk is called a stinkdier.

 

 

 

Elementary, my dear Watson

Even though I love reading—I do watch my fair share of television. One of my favorite shows is Elementary. What’s not to like: Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu and murder mystery all in one neat package. But what I like most about it is that at least once per episode I have to look up a word Sherlock uses. The man is British you see, with a vast vocabulary. But then, it’s a TV show, so it’s possible the screen-writers are assisting.

The other day (I confess I’m a bit behind with watching) Sherlock used the word “quisling.” The guy he was talking to didn’t blink—obviously, he belonged the quisling-is-part-of-my-vocabulary cohort of the population. I guess it’s just me and my husband who have been under-educated.

Every time this happens I am a little annoyed. It’s nothing but envy really; I’d love to be able to string sentences together like Sherlock. Still, the question remained: what on earth is a quisling? Turns out, it’s not something you want to be called.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian politician, who founded the fascist party in Norway in 1933. He was the prime minister of a pro-Nazi government from 1942-1945. After the war, he was sentenced to death for high treason, amongst other charges. A quisling therefore, is a traitor—a collaborator with the enemy.

“Quisling” is an eponym: a person, thing or place after whom/which something is named. Our language has many of them. If you’re lucky, and you invented something cool, your name may live on forever. Like the Diesel engine, the Jacuzzi, a leotard, or pasteurization.

Back in the day, a physician could describe some terrible affliction and lend his/her name to it. Like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Even though these people did important work, it’s not the most pleasant way to be remembered. When you’re suffering from a bout of salmonella, you won’t be interested in knowing it was named after a vet called Dr. Salmon. Actually, according to Wikipedia it was his assistant who discovered the bacteria, but Smithella doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

I couldn’t find many examples of words like “quisling” – where the name itself becomes the type of person you’re referring to. (And to answer your question, yes, I actually waste time thinking about stuff like this…). One can be a Don Juan, or a Casanova—or a Sherlock for that matter. It must be pretty awesome to have written a book that’s so well-known, one of your characters becomes the eponym. Like Jekyll and Hyde, or a Scrooge. We refer to an Odyssey, a Faustian bargain, or Big Brother, and even though we may not have read the books in question, the meaning of the words is ingrained in our language.

Not many writers will accomplish this, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Your next literary work could provide us with a new addition to our language—and as a writer, I think there are very few things as cool as that!

 

 

 

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

One question I get regularly, as a writer of stories with a paranormal slant, is whether I believe in ghosts. My children are particularly obsessed with this. Even though I think having a sixth sense would be tremendously interesting—or immensely terrifying, depending how the experience would turn out—I can’t say I have ever actually seen a ghost.

That said, I think many of us have had, at some point in time, an experience that defied a rational explanation. I don’t necessarily always need a rational explanation; sometimes things just happen. Maybe it’s just intuition kicking in at the right moment. A gut-feeling. Or maybe we do all have a sixth sense, somewhere deep down, only to stir and warn us when “something” triggers it.  I like to keep an open mind—the brain is after all a fabulous thing. Then again, it’s also very much capable of deluding us.

Many years ago, I visited a friend in Edinburgh, Scotland, and we went on a ghost-tour. Edinburgh is a really good place for things like that; Scotland is riddled with ghosts apparently, if you believe the rumors.  My friend and I signed up for a tour that went underground, through Mary King’s Close. It’s an area that used to have very narrow streets, called closes, lined by high buildings. Back in the day the poorest people would live on ground level (where all the sewage and waste was piled up), and the richest people would live on the top floor, as far away from the stench as possible.

In 1753 this area was covered up for the construction of the Royal Exchange.  The ground level of the buildings was used as foundation, and the closes were covered up. But they are still there.  It’s eery alright, being down there in the near-darkness, with a guide whispering spooky stories.

One of stories we were told was about when the plague visited Mary King’s Close in 1644. To quarantine the people living there, the close was completely sealed off, essentially leaving the people within to perish without food or water. For days the people screamed, begging to be let out, until finally the screaming subsided. It is said that a little girl, named Annie, who died of the plague, still roams the place, looking for her doll.

A story like this is enough to curdle your blood, morphing any shadow into a little girl searching for her doll. Or worse.

Did I see a ghost? No. And neither did my friend. But we were certainly creeped out.

If you dig around on the internet, there are several websites stating that this story is not true. The people were provided with food and water, even a doctor. Healthy people may have been sequestered elsewhere. I truly hope so, cause otherwise they were imprisoned in a plague-infested area. And the flees didn’t stop biting.

Whether the story is true or not, the tour was well done. And very memorable. If you like to be spooked, I would highly recommend doing a ghost tour in Edinburgh; there are plenty to choose from!

Funny thing is, I did have a “strange” experience in Edinburgh. My friend and I stayed at a large house that was completely empty, aside from the two of us. She mentioned that some people, who had stayed in this house, had eerie, frightening experiences while sleeping in one of the guest rooms. She did not tell me which room, but instead dared me to walk around the house—on my own—and see if I could identify the room. I did (highly skeptically), but to my surprise there was one room that stood out. It was identical to any of the other rooms I’d seen thus far. However, when I entered, the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. The room felt “different,” for a lack of a better word. It wasn’t like there was something evil present, or like I suddenly had unwanted company. But I remember feeling so uncomfortable that I wanted to leave the room. I didn’t finish my tour of the house. I knew this was THE ROOM, and it was.

But of course, I had been looking for this room, with heightened perception. The question is, if I had been assigned this room for the night, unaware of the stories, would I have noticed the same discomfort?

I firmly believe in science—I’d like to think everything has an explanation. It’s just that we haven’t figured out everything quite yet. And for some things, maybe we’re not supposed to either. Because when it comes down to it, we all need a little bit of mystery every now and then.

How big is your TBR pile?

Apparently, the Japanese language has a word for the TBR pile: Tsundoku—buying books and not reading them. I love the word, but what I don’t know is if “tsundoku” also implies the intent to read those books. After all, the idea of  a to-be-read pile is that the books will be read at some point, so just having them sit there is not that useful. Besides, I don’t have enough space for a tsundoku.

I am always looking for new books, but the trick is to remember which books I wanted to read. Before I had children, I would spend hours just browsing the bookstore and return with a bag full of new treasures. I would write down the names of books I still wanted to read—a list that invariably would get lost somewhere in a pile of other lists. These days, if I have an afternoon to spare—but seriously, who am I kidding. I really do not have any afternoons to spare.

Fortunately, there’s technology. I find the Goodreads site is an excellent resource to keep track of which books I still want to read, and a great way to discover new books. Reviews are right there, which makes the choice a lot easier. With one click I can add those books to my TBR list: a most efficient way to never forget a good book (and it takes up a lot less physical space in my house). Compared to some other people on Goodreads my TBR pile is a light-weight. Right now I have about 130 books on there. I sometimes run across people who have over 30,000.

I have always wondered about TBR lists that big—I would never get through a list comprised of so many books. Even if I would read a book a day (which I don’t) it would be impossible. A list that huge would give me stress and reading is supposed to be fun. My TBR list is meant for books I actually intend to read (someday). I can see the appeal though; I suppose it’s like having a virtual, pre-selected bookstore at your fingertips and any book you’d choose would be one you’re interested in. I just don’t think it would work for me. But, even though I strive to cross off at least ten books a year from my TBR list, it’s growing faster than I chip away at it. Still, I try to keep it manageable.

The thing is, my choice of books is not solely based on my TBR list and plenty books I read never make it on there. Goodreads is a site where popular books will create a buzz and therefor become more even more popular. It also depends on how many contacts you have or how many people you follow, since this determines part of the exposure; you see which books they read and whether they liked it or not. If I would just stick to Goodreads to find new books, I think it would restrict my reading experience; I’d miss out on a lot of other good reads that way.

Sometimes I wander (it’s really not wandering, more like a quick stroll) through the library and will just randomly select a book, which can lead to an interesting evening—or not so much—but I like the potential of surprise it holds. There’s something sentimental about it—it’s how I picked books when I was a child. Our library was small, but for me the children’s section was a gift that kept on giving; it always promised something unexpected and exciting: an escape from dreary, rainy afternoons, new adventures in uncharted lands, and a vast supply of imaginary friends. Nowadays, I still dig through my son’s stack of library books for the occasional read, since I have never quite lost my inner middle grade reader.  His books are less complicated, yet have plenty of excitement. What’s not to like?

Then there are books from other indie authors, which I’d never find on my own on Goodreads because they often don’t have that many reviews and don’t create the same amount of buzz—yet can be as enjoyable as the more conventional published novels. I always try to read a fair number of these every year.

Do you keep a tsundoku? How do you manage your TBR list? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences!

 

 

Book Release: The Secrets of Sinclair Lodge

The third book in the Dunnhill Mystery Series is available for pre-order!!

Can you tell I am excited?

SecretsSinclair

Release date: December 17!!!

Click here to order!

In Sinclair Lodge, you are never alone…

Sara Eriksson has moved to Dunnhill, a charming, small mountain village tucked in the Northern Cascades, to be closer to her boyfriend David. The start of the winter season has transformed the town into a snow-lover’s paradise—but perhaps not the paradise Sara had in mind.

Sara’s bank account is a disaster. Work is hard to come by. David, who is mourning the loss of his grandfather, has withdrawn into an obsession for skiing—an obsession he desperately wants to share with Sara. She doesn’t know how to ski, but David is determined to teach her. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, she stumbles upon a dead body.

When an unexpected job offer comes her way—tutoring a young girl in the famed Sinclair Lodge—her problems seem to be solved. However, she quickly finds out they are only getting started. As she mingles with the rich, powerful and disturbing members of the Sinclair household, she becomes entangled in a web of secrets, lies and intrigue. Before long, her haunting dreams and visions return, slowly exposing the terrifying truth.

But what is the truth? Whom can she trust? And who might be coming for her? The journey ahead is a treacherous one. She soon realizes she has to watch her step, for there is danger hiding in every corner…

 

 

A Hundred Years to Never Forget…(Let’s read some books about the Great War)

It’s been a hundred years since the end of World War I—an appropriate time to highlight some books I read this year on this subject. The books are all different—the main characters have different nationalities and the books are set in different locations—providing an interesting perspective.

World War I has always appeared as a messy affair to me. First, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and based on alliances, other countries joined in; with Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the US on one side and Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Eight and half million soldiers and seven million civilians lost their lives in the span of four years.

But a book usually focuses on one region. Let’s start with The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s set in France during World War I (and World War II) and embraces the role women played in it. The book has two closely connected storylines. In 1947, we get to know Charlie, an American girl trying to locate her French cousin, who is presumed dead. In 1915, we follow Eve, who works as a spy for the Alice Network in France during World War I.

I liked the story set in 1915 the best. The danger of Eve’s job, the double standards she had to deal with as a woman in her profession, her resourcefulness and bravery, all made it impossible for me to put the book down. I don’t know as much about World War I as I would like, and I certainly didn’t know about the Alice Network. The afterword by Kate Quinn is a wonderful addition; much of the book is based on true events.

It’s so easy to ignore women in history who did amazing things. Because, let’s face it, back in the beginning of the 20th century women weren’t supposed to do “amazing things.” The women who were part of The Alice Network, lived in a time in which they were still not allowed to vote, yet they showed themselves capable enough to spy on the enemy and put their lives at risk. For me, Eve’s story alone made this book an excellent read.

As Kate Quinn explains in the afterword, the Alice Network and Alice Dubois, or Louise de Bettingies, really existed. She organized a vast and highly effective network of informants in the area of Lille. Louise was captured by the Germans in 1915, and died in prison in 1918, before the end of the war.

My interest wsparked by reading The Alice Network, led me to pick up a classic describing life in the trenches: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (written in 1927). Mr. Remarque himself was a soldier on the German side. Instead of glorifying the war, his descriptions of the carnage and total despair these men faced, paint a vivid picture of the utter madness of war. In a few passages, he flat-out taunts the people in power, questioning why the common men always end up fighting a war that was not theirs to begin with. Not surprisingly, the book was forbidden by the Nazi regime. Mr. Remarque had to flee Germany soon after publishing it and in 1938 his German citizenship was revoked.

Some of the areas of fighting in West-Europe, initially nothing but scarred fields of mud and craters, were cordoned off after the war and have since then developed into lush forests, but unfortunately, some are still littered with (unexploded) shells. Other areas apparently are still toxic, containing high levels of arsenic. For reference, check out this article in the Atlantic.

I have never visited any of the battlefields in West-Europe, but this summer we went to Slovenia and Italy, where there was extensive fighting as well. Triglav National Park, in Slovenia, is a beautiful mountainous area—you can hardly imagine its bloody history while enjoying the amazing views of emerald rivers, pristine waterfalls and rocky mountain tops. My daughter decided that if there are fairies, they’d be sure to live in this place.

The fairies may have thought differently a hundred years ago. An estimated 300,000 soldiers died and 700,000 were wounded on the Soča Front. The Italians invaded this part of Slovenia to open up the way to Vienna, but instead faced years of fighting the Austro-Hungarian army uphill.  Then, in 1917, a German offensive blew right through the Italian defenses. The battle of Kobarid (Coparetto) and the following retreat has been well described  in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, who himself was an ambulance driver in this area during the war.

I read A Farewell to Arms during high school, but I will admit it was kind of lost on me at that time, and I discarded it as a depressing love story. Having reread the book after our visit to Slovenia and Italy, I can say I appreciate his writing style and tone a lot more than I did when I was younger. The love story was still very sad, but having a better sense of the places he described deepened the reading experience.

It’s been a hundred years—how easy it would be to stop remembering. But if we let time erase the memories of the horrors of war, who is to stop us from making the same mistakes over and over again? These three books are all poignant tales that will ensure you won’t forget.

The Three Legs of Sicily

I love traveling with my kids. They see the world differently; there is always something to wonder about. It reminds me to keep wondering. There are things I don’t notice anymore because I’ve seen them before. And then there are things I don’t notice because I wasn’t paying attention.

During our travels this summer, we spent two wonderful days in Sicily, Italy, a place I’d never been to before. Two days are not enough. It’s a fascinating island—the references to Sicily in Greek Mythology are numerous, there is a lot of history, good food and of course, the Mediterranean Sea. Besides that, when in Sicily, you can’t fail to notice a few things. One, the number of churches. Two, the references to The Godfather. And three, their flag. The depiction on it is everywhere—T-shirts, bibs, you name it.

The Sicilian flag is not your usual stripe/triangle/star equivalent—instead it has three, dare I say, rather shapely legs, and a winged head in the middle. Which begs the question; why three legs? And who’s the head? I was asked these questions many times by my inquisitive ones, but I had no good answer. And I couldn’t call a friend, as I was overseas and did not have cell service. Google was painfully out of reach.

Curious, I looked it up when we were back in the USA. The three legs are a triskelion, which is an ancient symbol. I am not sure why there are human legs involved in the shape, but it definitely catches the eye. There are Greek coins from Sicily dating back as far as 300 B.C. with this three-legged symbol. The triskelion apparently represents the three “points,” or the triangular shape, of Sicily.

The head—shockingly—is Medusa. I can honestly say it would never have occurred to me. I remember reading about Medusa, and she wasn’t that friendly. Adorned with snakes for hair, a set of boar tusks and wings, she was not considered very “pleasing”. So unpleasing in fact, that beholding her appearance would turn anyone into stone.

I was surprised to find that her image was actually used frequently throughout ancient history. It was used to keep evil away or plainly served as a warning, implying the Goddess Athena’s protection. In Sicily’s case, Athena was the patron goddess of the island.

Even in modern times Medusa continues to fascinate us. For instance, she is displayed on the symbol of Versace, but instead the image shows her from before when she was turned into a snake-haired, evil monster and is still a beautiful young maiden: a symbol of beauty, that everyone falls in love with.

Of course, now the cat was out of the bag, and my kids wanted to know who Medusa was. Good grief. Greek mythology is a bit brutal, meaning, I always have to tweak stories here and there (a lot). The challenge is censoring enough but not too much—and shielding my iPhone from my son who desperately tries to read over my shoulder as I go along.

I admit I censored—heavily. Apart from the brutality, the last message I want to convey to my (young) kids is how a woman gets molested (by Poseidon), and then gets punished for it by an angry Athena, who turns her into a hideous monster. So much for justice, female solidarity, or just speaking out in general.

Anyway, that’s just the beginning of the story. Perseus (one of Zeus’ sons) is ordered by King Polydectes, who’s a jerk, to cut off Medusa’s head and bring it to him. The Gods help Perseus by giving him a helmet of invisibility (Hades), winged sandals (Hermes), a sword from Hephaestus and a mirrored shield from Athena. The reflection of his shield allows him not to look at Medusa directly, which is how he gets the job done. After Medusa is defeated, the winged horse Pegasus springs from her body—her child with Poseidon.

Medusa’s head, as it turns out, comes in handy. Persues uses it on his travels to change Atlas into a mountain (the Atlas Mountains in northwest Africa) and, when he finally returns home, King Polydectes into a statue. He then gives the head to back-stabbing Athena, who puts it on her shield, so she can turn her own enemies into stone. Which is why the image of Medusa is probably more of a reflection of Athena’s protection than of Medusa herself.

There are different versions of the myth apparently, but this was the one I came across. It’s hard not to feel for the poor woman.

My daughter asked me if Medusa ever lived in Sicily. Good question. I told her I didn’t think so and anyways, I reassured her, she’s dead. I explained that she most likely never existed in the first place, but my daughter believes in fairies and magic (she really liked the Pegasus part, after all, it’s almost like My Little Pony), so I’m not sure I convinced her. I promised her nothing in Sicily would turn her into stone.

My daughter wasn’t so sure. She pointed out how we’d seen Sicily’s volcano, Mt. Etna, and the scars of lava covering the landscape, as evidence of the most recent eruptions.

True enough.

But lava is not all bad. It brings fertile soil. And on the flag, Medusa’s head is surrounded by three ears of wheat—signifying the fertility of the land.

Isn’t it amazing, the stories one flag can tell…

Slaying the Dragon

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. Stuff happened. More accurately: Shingles happened.

Shingles gets its own capital S. Why? Because Shingles sucks. Big time. Are there worse things than getting Shingles? Absolutely. But still, it was a miserable affair.

For those of you who haven’t made their acquaintance with Shingles, let me introduce you. It’s a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. After one recovers from the chickenpox, usually sometime during childhood, the virus does not die as one would expect. Instead, it takes a long, nice, quiet vacation somewhere within nerve tissue near the spinal cord, while we continue life, blissfully unaware of its presence.

That is, until it decides the holidays are over. Pox, apparently, is an old medieval term for curse. Ha! Well put. During a period of poor resilience the lurking virus pops up like an evil jack-in-the box, travels along a nerve to the skin and produces a localized, nasty rash, as well as a tremendous amount of pain.

I never thought about Shingles before it slithered its way in—or rather—out. Why would I? I haven’t reached the age when they start offering vaccination for it. Surely young people don’t get it, right? Wrong, unfortunately.

The chickenpox virus is a member of the Herpes family—the medical term for Shingles is Herpes Zoster.
Zoster is derived from Greek, meaning “girdle” or “belt”. Shingles’ rash looks like a belt when it’s located on the torso, as it wraps around one side. The English word “Shingles” most likely comes from the Latin word  for “girdle,” which is “cingulus.” It has nothing to do with the roof of your house. Even though my six-year old kept asking me why the roof was making me sick.

Yes, why indeed? Not the roof, but why did I get Shingles? I did not feel like I was overly stressed. Yes, I was possibly chronically sleep deprived and I had just recovered from a cold, but that was not anything I hadn’t handled before. Be that as it may, the Shingles hit me hard. Sitting in the doctor’s office, my rash solicited the empathetic “Oh my, I haven’t seen it this bad in quite some time!” which no patient wants to hear ever, although I appreciated the frankness of it. It sure validated my intense discomfort. Shingles, as I discovered, can be extremely painful.

I had some time on my hands to think about this pain—that is, after I slept for a week. It’s quite amazing how many different qualities pain can have. As it turns out, Shingles is an absolute treasure trove for descriptive writing. It felt like a dragon had lodged itself in my liver, where it strangled me with its tail, while simultaneously breathing fire and stabbing me with its nails.

Shingles’ pain is relentless and exhausting, even after the skin has healed, and because it’s nerve pain, it doesn’t respond well to normal pain medication. There is something about chronic pain and having to grit your teeth the whole day. Let’s just say I was not easy to be around with. At some point the healed skin started to itch terribly as well, and upon scratching it would erupt in flames, so it was either pain, itch, or burn, or all of the above. Next time I am contemplating killing off an unlikable character in one of my books, I may just consider giving him/her Shingles instead.

So, what did I do? There’s not much you can do unfortunately. I took my anti-virals. I rested and wallowed in my misery. And I hoped it would go away—which is not a given. For some people the post-herpetic nerve pain can last a long time. I was reluctant to take any medication other than Tylenol or Ibuprofen, so I finally opted for some acupuncture. Whether it was this or just the natural course of the illness, I’ll never know, but after weeks, the pain did slowly improve. Now, three moths later, it’s more like background noise: annoying at times, but ignorable.

During all this, my website languished, as did my Facebook page. I worked on my work-in-progress, but only when I felt up to it. In the summer we took a long vacation and I focused mainly on family time, resting and maintaining a healthy life-style.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am the dragon is on its way out.  Slowly withering away, it still softly claws at me every now and then, but hopefully soon it will take its last breath.  And I pray it has not created any offspring to come back and find me; one visit was more than enough.

Think Spring

Think Spring

That’s what I told myself as my kids had a snow day earlier this week. But it’s not easy when you look outside, and everything is white.

“Think spring,” I said, when I took the trash can down the driveway two nights ago and had to lug it through inches of icy slush. And why not? Obviously, my plowing service is thinking it’s spring as well.

“Think spring,” I tell my children, when they complain of still having to bring their snow pants to school mid-April. They are sick of winter. And frankly, so am I.

I have relatives in the Netherlands raving about their beautiful tulips and their magnolia trees bursting with blossom. Instead, my daffodils still have to find their way up. I don’t blame the poor flowers; if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t want to come out either.

The birds in my yard have been out of sorts. Most have now returned for—yes, spring—but building a nest in this weather must be an uncomfortable task. My dog is miserable. She freezes her paws off, as well as her you-know-what, every time she has to go pee. We are all done with winter, yet it keeps lingering, like that unwanted guest you so desperately want to leave your house but can’t get rid of.

But yesterday, the most amazing thing happened. The sun came out, the temperature hit a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, snow started melting, and despite the unfortunate hailstorm shortly after that, I am pretty certain that finally, spring is starting. Why? Because I looked at the calendar (it is mid-April…) and at the weather forecast. It’s coming. And those few sunny hours reminded me that soon, my children will want to go outside again.

There’s only one problem; I am writing the next book in The Dunnhill Series, and it’s set in…right, winter. And even though I am so done with the cold and snow, I still have to write about it.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided that winter would be the right season for book 3. Maybe because when I started writing, it was winter, and I wasn’t yet sick of it. Besides, Dunnhill is in the mountains, and winter in the mountains is much better than winter in Michigan. And maybe I imagined I would write faster and be done by now, but with three antsy children—let’s just say it’s not going as fast as I hoped.

You could argue that as a writer the season within a book shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Just “think winter” right? Normally I would agree, but here in Michigan, when spring finally arrives, something strange happens. Suddenly there’s flowers everywhere, as spring rushes like mad into summer—lush, green and warm—it truly is glorious. And during that time, the idea of winter becomes like a whiff of smoke, elusive and fleeting. The moment the weather warms up, most of us Michiganders seem to get hit with collective amnesia and forget about winter. If we’d remembered, we’d all leave this state for good.

This is why I need winter. You know—to hold on to what winter really feels like. My lawn is turning green and I am already starting to forget. The truth is, I have no desire to remember. I am ready for spring. Book or not.

Over the next few months, I’ll try my best to think winter while sitting on my deck, enjoying the sun and the only thing cold will be my drink. But if spring in my book happens to arrive a little early, I hope you will understand.

Asmat Bis Poles and Rituals of the Dead

This time, a guest blog from my good friend and AWESOME writer Jennifer S. Alderson, who has a new book coming out! Read all about Zelda Richardson’s new adventure in Rituals of the Dead, a book filled with mystery, art and anthropology. This time Jennifer takes us back to historic Papua New Guinea, where headhunters once roamed…

JenniferSAldersonAuthorPhoto_Twitter

I am so excited to announce the impending release of my third novel, Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery. Set in Amsterdam and Papua New Guinea, it combines anthropology, art, and history into one thrilling adventure. It’s been a joy to write because the subject matter is near and dear to my heart.

The exhibition central to my artifact mystery is based on an actual exhibition of bis poles entitled Bis poles: Sculptures of the Rainforest. They are ancestor objects akin to Native American totem poles. They were created to honor dead ancestors during a six-week long ‘bis’ or headhunting ceremony.

Those featured in this exhibition were primarily collected from Asmat, a region of Papua New Guinea whose villagers (also called ‘Asmat’) are famous for their exquisite wood carvings. Bis poles are considered to be the highpoint of Asmat art. Since Westerners discovered them in the 1930s, they have been a much desired cultural artifact, purchased by private collectors and museums. Though most were acquired through barter and long negotiations, too many of the Asmat objects in public museum collections worldwide were stolen by opportunistic Westerners.

 

 

I worked on this exhibition in 2008, as a collection researcher for the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam’s anthropological museum. I was tasked with conducting archival and photographic research into the poles, as well as a number of legendary Dutch missionaries and anthropologists active in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s through the 1960s. During my research, I came across so many bizarre stories about headhunting raids, brave missionaries, crazy explorers and daring anthropologists. It felt like I had the basis for a great mystery in my hands.

My hope in writing this book is not only to entertain readers, but also inspire them to learn more about the Asmat and their fascinating culture. I can’t wait to share Rituals of the Dead with mystery and thriller fans!

Thanks Jennifer! I can’t wait to read it. Learn more about Rituals of the Dead below, and find out how to order it!

RitualsoftheDead_500wRituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery

Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Alderson’s upcoming art mystery thriller, Rituals of the Dead, Book Three of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series.

This time she’s working at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam on an exhibition of bis poles from the Asmat region of Papua New Guinea – the same area where a famous American anthropologist disappeared in 1962. When his journals are found inside one of the bis poles, Zelda is tasked with finding out about the man’s last days and his connection to these ritual objects.

Zelda is pulled into a world of shady anthropologists, missionaries, art collectors, gallery owners, and smugglers, where the only certainty is that sins of the past are never fully erased.

Join Zelda on her next quest as she grapples with the anthropologist’s mysterious disappearance fifty years earlier, and a present-day murderer who will do everything to prevent her from discovering the truth.

Expected release date March 2018.

Pre-order Rituals of the Dead now via Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble NOOK and Smashwords. 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Rituals-Dead-Artifact-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B0795Z3HRX/

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/rituals-of-the-dead-an-artifact-mystery/id1332496345?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/nl/en/ebook/rituals-of-the-dead-an-artifact-mystery

NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rituals-of-the-dead-jennifer-s-alderson/1127732017?ean=2940155064152

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/771033

About the Author: Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

You can find Jennifer on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, or her website.