The other day, upon entering our garage, a bee zoomed towards me. It circled, flying towards me again and again. I thought, what odd behaviour. Two days later, we caught three bees inside the house. Odd. Then, I was weeding when I heard buzzing and looked up. There were hundreds of bees flying in and out of our chimney!
It turns out, I learned later, that the first oddly-acting bee was the “scout,” sent to find a new location for the swarm.
The bees’ new home was in our chimney stack.

Cue the frantic Google search. The first beekeeper I spoke to expressed dismay. “Chimneys are particularly difficult,” she said. “We may not be able to remove the bees from there. You may have to call the exterminator.” I said, “I don’t want to harm the bees.” She asked, in all seriousness, “Could you live with them?” I didn’t have to think about it. I quickly replied, “NO.”
I love bees. But if there is such a thing as too many, then this was that situation.
The beekeeper recommended The Bee Club. I contacted their website. The next day, a nice older gentleman arrived. It was like seeing the cavalry coming in. I was so pleased to see him, let’s call him Don.

Don walked in armed with a bee suit, handheld smoker, a ladder, and believe it or not, a vacuum cleaner which he had attached to a clear plastic box.
I told him about the lady asking if we could live with the swarm. Don said, “That’s not a good idea. The honey and the wax attract vermin. The hive will grow until it’s too big for the chimney. After the swarm departs the hive will die, attracting more vermin. And once you’ve had wax in your chimney, it attracts more scouts because the bees smell the wax.”
Happy days. Not.
Don took one look up and said, “I don’t know if I can do it. That’s a tall chimney, and I have to be able to see down into it.”
Oh boy! I was “thinking the right thoughts” over that one.

Don looked up again. He said if I had a ladder, he could climb onto the roof then put his ladder against the upper stack. I brought ours out of the garage. Gamely, he went up to our rickety old ladder. From the roof, Don set up his collapsible one against the stack and was able to get high enough to look inside. Lifting the metal plate that sealed the stack, he peeked underneath. “Okay, this might be possible.”
Thank you!
We handed him all his equipment under strict instructions to only hold the smoker by the bellows as it is hot. Then we stood back to watch the show.
First, Don used his smoker, burning a mixture of humus material and pine needles. He puffed under the lid and around the chimney top. He lifted the lid slowly. “This hasn’t been here long. Maybe two days at most. They haven’t made any wax.”
Whew. What a relief.

Don lifted the lid, and hanging beneath it was a cluster of bees, somehow hanging together. I imagine they were surrounding the queen, keeping her safe. We onlookers gasped. By holding the plate above his plastic box, Don gave it a sudden bang on the side of the box, and all the bees fell in as one. He put the lid over the top, and he had bagged the queen and most of the workers. It was amazing.
Then Don switched on his magic vacuum and started vacuuming bees out of our chimney to join the others in the plastic box. After five or so minutes, he said, “I could keep on vacuuming two hundred more bees, but if I do, the ones in the box will asphyxiate.” So he sprayed fly spray inside to kill the bees remaining and laid a concrete block over the hole.

Don had rescued most of the swarm, even the queen. He had rid our chimney of bees. Thank goodness. And all of this is voluntary work for a man in his golden years. Wow.
What was he going to do with our bees? Don told me he was taking them to a new beekeeper who lived nearby.
I got an email from him yesterday, and he said our bee swarm is settling in nicely to their warm hive. We should expect a jar of honey in our mailbox soon. Happy days.
When I put this story on Facebook, I got quite a few responses from friends who had had similar dramas happen with bees and wasps on their properties. Have you ever had trouble with beehives or wasp nests? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~ Aesop


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I have finished reading my eighteenth novel for 2021, Fifteen Postcards by Kirsten McKenzie. When I attended an author event for self-published authors last year, I met several authors. Drawn by Kirsten’s display, we started talking. She had her bestselling trilogy, The Old Curiosity Shop series, on display. But there was a line of books at the front which had the same titles on plain blue covers. Squabbling Sparrows Press, she told me, was a small imprint through which she and a few friends could produce their titles in a smaller, plain format that made them more affordable for readers. What a great idea, I thought, and promptly bought a blue version of her first book, Fifteen Postcards.

Kirsten is a terrific writer, and as many others have said before me, I was surprised that this was her debut novel.
What grabbed me first was the solid premise. I should be fair and say this was my first foray into reading time travel. Perhaps others have handled the subject matter just as seamlessly, but for me, I felt swept away into the world instantly, and that is just the way good fantasy fiction should be. We should forget everything except what happens next in the story – that’s called ‘suspension of disbelief,’ a goal every author strives for the holy grail, you might say – and absolutely critical in the fantasy genre.
In Fifteen Postcards, our heroine, Sarah, is running the family antique shop, The Old Curiosity Shop, as her parents are missing. When she discovers a set of postcards belonging to a recently deceased widow, Sarah finds herself transported back in time in the guise of female figures connected to the widow’s family every time she touches the cards. Woo. Cool.

To travel effortlessly between the modern-day and yesteryear several times in a story it would be easy to lose the reader. But somehow, McKenzie steers us through this epic journey through space and time like a professional. It was smoothly done. Impressed, I was.
The story takes Sarah back to her modern life in the shop between bouts of time travel to Victorian London, the goldrush in early New Zealand, and into the India of the Raj. As a deeper mystery starts to unfold through each journey, we watch and empathize with Sarah who struggles believably to fit her twenty-first-century mind to the manners and mores of the time. It is the story idea that keeps on giving because the conflict created by this ‘girl out of time’ scenario creates tension and drama aplenty. Add the mystery element, and it makes a wonderful cocktail.

The years the author, Kirsten McKenzie, spent working behind the counter in her parents’ antique shop have served her well in this book. The flavour of authenticity permeates every scene inside The Old Curiosity Shop and sets Sarah up as an intelligent, informed, likable protagonist. I loved all the insider details, which gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of antique shops.
When Sarah starts to make classic blunders, like falling in love and bringing objects from the past back to the present, I worried about the repercussions. I was involved! That’s a good sign. Unfortunately, I never got to find out about the repercussions. My beef with Fifteen Postcards is the ending. At a dramatic part of the novel, it just stops. It is more than a cliffhanger. It is a cliff. You topple over the edge into the ditch, going, wait a minute, what happened?
The sudden pitch to a stop felt like a cheap shot after such a quality ride.

I’ve banged on about this before. But every book should have its arc and closure, even when the novel is couched within a series.

That aside, Fifteen Postcards is a thrill ride through history. I love the title. It is an accomplished, mystery drama that can hold its own against others in the genre. Author, Kirsten McKenzie, is a former Customs Officer in both England and New Zealand, who took up work famously in the family antique store. Now a full-time author of time travel trilogies and thrillers, she lives in New Zealand with her husband, her daughters, and two rescue cats.
Fifteen Postcards won five-star reviews and a lot of nice noise after release. The standard of writing is world-class, and the premise kicks butt. I especially enjoyed the sequences set in the gold rush era in New Zealand. It felt like being transported back in time. Kirsten, pat yourself on the back. If it were not for the cliff at the end, this debut novel would have earned a coveted four stars.
My rating: Three stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

Change your thoughts and you change the world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s optional question: What’s harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb?
For me, for sure, it’s writing the blurb. A title is short and pithy, a soundbite. It can fly in on the wind and be dropped into your lap as the muse wings by. I like to use the wind metaphor. It’s one I borrowed from Elizabeth Gilbert. In speaking about writing during one of her TED talks, Elizabeth mentioned a friend who said ‘the muse came by on the wind.’ Whenever this author was out on her farm and ‘heard the wind coming,’ she would run for the house to get a pen and paper so she would not miss the words or lose the fleeting grace of the inspired thoughts. I liked that idea. Though I heard it years ago, I still use it frequently.

As for the title of a story, I never worry about it. Because I know that sooner or later, the muse will blow through and gift me something. If I’m paying attention and act quickly enough to catch the inspiration I can jot it down. Simple, huh? Not.
The blurb, on the other hand, is more complex. It is a short passage of text on the book cover, a teaser that invokes the entire story. It’s like the precis of the precis, and it has to be dynamic. For many readers, the blurb is the deciding factor on whether to open the book or not.

The author needs to get the tone right. There are parameters to keep in mind: the blurb needs to tell the reader about the book; it must give insight without spoiling the surprise; the blurb must elicit interest without making false promises. It must cajole, persuade and entice. Some blurbs I edited more times than the stories. It’s not the sort of paragraph that wings in with the breeze. Nah. A blurb is the sort of copy that gets worked to within an inch of its life. And then changed again two years later.

There is an expectation that the blurb is in line with the style of the story. If the book is a horror, the word choice and imagery need to chill. A cozy mystery needs to elicit knowing smiles and whet the curiosity. Comedy should make us titter. Blurbs should match the content.
However, some folks try to cheat by simply setting out a string of questions. Whenever I read a book cover like this, it feels like a cheap marketing ploy. *Note: do not piss off your potential readers. An author needs to be careful about posing a list of questions. A little more finesse is required. A blurb must lure the reader in without sounding like a bald advertisement.
If the blurb doesn’t say enough, the reader may walk away, but on the other hand, if it says too much, the reader may also be turned off. There is a fine line to walk between the two.

What to do?

Copy the greats. That’s what I do. I always look to my role models in children’s literature for tricky jobs like writing blurbs. Look at this excellent example, for Martin the Warrior, by Brian Jacques. The blurb reads: Badrang the Stoat dreams of becoming Lord of the East Coast. After two long seasons of killing and conquering with his ferocious army of weasels, ferrets, foxes, and rats, it seems as if nothing will stop him. But Badrang hasn’t bargained for the bravery and fighting spirit of a young mouse called Martin – a mouse who refuses to bow to the deadly tyrant and who will stand up for his right to freedom at any cost. This blurb does it all in three sentences, does nothing wrong, and manages to elicit reader engagement without asking a single question. It’s perfection.
Only the greats can make it look easy. The rest of us continue sweating.

If you’re a writer, what do you find harder, the title or the blurb? Or, if you are a reader, which do you respond to the most when it comes to choosing books, the title or the blurb?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. ~ Milton Berle


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Do you have a garden bed that is in a difficult spot in your garden? Our rockery in the backyard is in a challenging position. Located behind the house, it offers drought and flood and full shadow for most of the day. Previously, we had had a dragon tree in the rockery and a young native tree that was already much too large. The job of transforming the rockery became my “lockdown project.” Change it. I would. And, here’s what I did.
The first casualty was the young tree. With the potential to grow into a grand chieftain, I removed it from the rockery, leaving a long oval-shaped dry bed featuring a lone dragon tree at one end and a spindly sapling at the other. The proposition of making this awkward bed into ‘something’ was daunting. With gardening, you have to attempt to forecast into the future how plants will grow and envisage the potential outcome. In the end, you throw the dice and leave it up to nature. Who dares, wins, right?

I started by simply clearing the weeds and scraping off years of detritus to reduce the bed to a blank canvas. The old bricks which had formed the edging had sunk into the ground over time, nearly disappearing in the mud. I dug these out, cleaning them as I went. Then I packed soil around the edges of the bed, putting the bricks back on top, thereby lifting the edging clear.
There are a few ways to go about laying the foundations of a garden bed. You can plant intensely and not worry about weeds. Or you can set down weed matting, adding bark. Or you can do what the landscapers do, lay a layer of bark at least 400 mm deep so the weeds can not grow.

In the case of the rockery, when I tried to lift the top layer of weed matting, I discovered another, even older layer of matting much farther down. So rather than excavating, I opted to leave the matting in place. If you use a weed mat, you will need to add blood and bone to the soil to correct the PH balance of the soil before adding the mat and the bark on top. So I treated every plant with a good dose of blood and bone mixed in with the potting mix.
My father built the rockery wall out of bluestone in the early 1960s. He needed a retaining wall to create a flatter area in our sloping back garden. The wall was higher than it is now, but over the years, the top tier of bluestone had been robbed out and used elsewhere.

One of my first jobs was to hunt out the rogue bluestones from every corner of the property. Then I lay the stones across the bed to create a stepping stone path, imagining my grandchildren hopping from stone to stone one day.
The rockery is a raised bed. Therefore, it’s helpful to use drought-tolerant plants. Cacti and succulents are ideal. Being situated in the lee of the house, I also needed plants that could handle shade. Ask at your local garden centre for suitable plants for the conditions in your bed. In our case, I planted a line of Buxus hedge trees, which are hardy. Along the front of the rockery bed, I dug in yellow grasses for colour and contrast.
To square off with the lone dragon tree in one corner, I moved my ponytail palm from the front bed into the rockery. Being at the other end of the bed to the lone dragon tree, it makes sense. Huzzah!

Then I planted a dwarf apricot tree. My sister donated a hydrangea, and I planted a few of my mother’s orchids. If you choose to plant an orchid, use the proper potting mix (similar to bark). They do well in the shade.
I still had a gnarly stump in the rockery and an unwieldy section of the tree trunk that was too big to cut with a chainsaw. In the case of immovable obstacles, why not turn them into features? Beneath the dragon tree, I set the section of the trunk upright. Then I turned both the stump and the trunk into wood sculptures by decorating them with my father’s aerophytes (air plants) and rocks.

The last stage of the transformation was to spread bark in between the plants and the stones. I think it looks great. Yesterday, my three-year-old granddaughter came over to visit. When we took a walk in “Nana’s garden,” she automatically dashed over and hopped from stone to stone across the rockery bed. It was a wonderful moment.
I hope you have gained some inspiration for your difficult garden beds. Let me know your stories.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt


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I have finished reading my seventeenth novel for 2021, Fire and Ice by Shannon Hale. Book four in the Spirit Animals series, which Scholastic has marketed as an ‘epic multiplatform fantasy series.’ It is a book and a game. Readers only need to use the code at the end of each book to play the online game. The series of novels follows four young heroes, the Greencloaks, Conor, Meilin, Abeke, and Rollan. Thankfully, they receive the help of legendary spirit animals in their mission to save Erdas from the Conquerors.
In the beginning, Gerathon, the menacing Great Beast, is at large, massacring people. Our four young protagonists are off to the land of icy tundra in search of the Crystal Polar Bear talisman. They must do what others fear to do, seek out the polar bear Great Beast, imprisoned in an ice cave for the safety of all. Despite receiving little help, the Greencloaks find their way to the polar bear and then deal with the repercussions. They escape and eventually fight for their lives against the Conquerors.

If you ever wanted to read a book where the odds are twenty to one against the heroes, this is the book for you. The situation starts dire and gets steadily worse until the final act. Fire and Ice is book four, after Blood Ties, Hunted, and Wild Born. I’ve read book two, Hunted and reviewed it, and I enjoyed that book far more than this one. I thought Maggie Stiefvater helped us feel closer to the characters and led us through a real adventure to the outcome. Whereas Shannon Hale seems focused on building tension and conflict points, and the character development and the story suffers in consequence. I felt apprised of the odds stacked against them and very little else. The experience is akin to becoming wired, as the tension mounts and with hardly a spot to sit and rest.

Many folks preferred this book to book 3 in the series, calling it an improvement. What I liked about Fire and Ice was the absence of any notable adults. All decisions, actions, and even the fall-out of the bad decisions are the responsibility of the child protagonists. You feel for them in horrendous situations. In this book, we meet a new child character, Maya. Maya’s spirit animal is a salamander which is unusual. A salamander does not seem helpful, then its element of warmth and fire comes in mighty handy when the team starts to suffer from the cold in the frozen wastes. The addition of Maya to our group begins to make sense. The five learn to work together and rely on one another, which is an appropriate moral in these times.

Shannon Hale is a fine writer. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the United States, she is the New York Times best-selling author of six young adult novels. Shannon won the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, is a multiple award winner Book of A Thousand Days, and the highly acclaimed Books of Bayern series. She co-wrote the hit graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack, with her husband, Dean Hale. They live near Salt Lake City with their four children.

I enjoyed this book for the most part, although I prefer books set in warmer climes.
My rating: Two and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”–Winston Churchill


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When traumatic events happen, you deal with them as best you can. Times goes on. You assume the event is safely in the past. Then, you enter a situation that is similar to the traumatic event and have a panic attack. This is what happened to me this week, and it took me by surprise.
In some cases, life-changing experiences can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental illness triggered by peak levels of distress. It can be treated and brought under control with help from a doctor, therapy, and professional guidance. A good friend lived through the big earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011. Diagnosed with PTSD, she suffers recurrent nightmares and over-reacts when she hears loud noises.

In my case, what I went through this week was not PTSD but a flashback. A flashback is when you feel drawn back into the traumatic experience as if it is happening all over again.
This week, the youngest son was scheduled for an adenectomy and to have grommets inserted. Surgery is a last resort in my book. But in my son’s case, the specialist believed that his oversized adenoids were causing the loss of hearing in his left ear and inability to breathe through his nose. So it had to be done.
We sat in the hospital waiting room and worked on our crossword, chatting and laughing.
A nurse said, “We’re ready for you now. Follow me.” We followed her along the winding corridors through a pair of heavy blue doors. As the nurse and my son stepped aside, I got my first sight of the room. I took in the surgeons, the anesthetists, the nurses, all in masks and gowns, the skinny operating table, the machines, and the lights. My stomach immediately dropped sickeningly. My skin prickled with goosebumps, and my heart was pounding. I was freaking out. But I couldn’t show it. My son needed me, and I had to be strong for him.

It was scarily like that other time, in August 2010, when he was five years old, and we followed a nurse into a stark white operating theatre. I was straight back there. No time had elapsed in between. In 2010, I looked at my little boy, and I looked at that operating table and felt as if I would throw up with fear, knowing my baby was about to undergo a heart bypass and open-heart surgery.

However, as a parent, you are the captain of the ship. Captains don’t get to freak out. Your job is to stay at the helm until the bitter end.

I had to be calm that day in 2010 and smile for my son. I murmured, “You’re okay, mama loves you,” when he fought the gas mask, and the doctors made me lie on him until the anesthetic took effect and he went limp beneath me.

On Tuesday morning this week, I walked into that operating room, took one glimpse, and stepped back ten years to the scariest time of my life. On Tuesday, my son was only undergoing a minor medical procedure. Yet, I was staring into the white light and hearing angels as if his life was on the line.

As a mature adult today, I have lots of tools to help me weather the storms of life. Whenever something stressful happens, I calm down with meditation, affirmations, yoga, and breathing techniques. But for the private panic attack, I suffered in that hospital room this week, none of my tools helped. I was physically reliving the helpless terror I felt in that other theatre room. According to Rothschild, ‘A flashback can mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time.’

That describes my panic attack perfectly. I stayed with my son until he had fallen unconscious. In the waiting room, I did the only thing I could do. I rang my family and talked to people who cared, and it helped so much.

*According to the site, Trauma Recovery, here are some ideas for managing the situation if you get stuck in a flashback:
NAME the experience as a flashback (example- this is a memory, NOT a recurrence of the actual event)
Use LANGUAGE that categorizes the flashbacks as a “memory” (example- I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked)
Use the SENSES to GROUND self in your CURRENT environment:
Name what you see, feel, hear, smell, etc.
Rub hands together
Touch, feel the chair that is supporting you
Wiggle your toes
Favourite colour- find three things in the room that are “blue”
Name the date, month, year, season
Count backward from 100
Use an object as a grounding tool
I’ve kept a note of these points in case any of my loved ones need escorting into theatre in the future.
Have you ever suffered a private panic attack or a flashback? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating
Yvette Carol

“I have laid my son on an OR table and kissed him as he fell asleep. I have handed him to a surgeon knowing they would stop his heart and prayed it would beat again. I am a Heart mum.” ~ Suzanne White


It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
LOL! I draw the line in so many places there is hardly anything left on the table! One of the keys to writing for children is figuring out how to look at the world from a child’s point of view. When I started, that was one thing my critique partners would always say. ‘This sounds like an adult thinking/talking.’ ‘Your child protagonist seems to be an adult.’ I have worked on it for years to figure out the child-friendly view. One of the things Beverly Cleary attributed her success to was that she ‘had never grown up.’ Cleary maintained a powerful connection to the child view and what they’re interested in that made her able to connect with a vast audience of appreciative readers.
Along with writing at the this age level for a children’s author comes the responsibility to keep the language clean and the topics suitable.

In the first draft of my debut novel, The Or’in of Tane, I had written a romance between the characters of Henny and Dr. Milo Mahiora. My friend and then editor, Maria Cisneros-Toth, pulled me up on the romance and kissing scene. She said, “No, no, no. Not in middle-grade fiction.” I cut the scene out, removing the whole romance. To my surprise, I discovered the story was the better for it and I understood Maria was right. I have not crossed that line since.

In the last few years, I have read the occasional middle-grade novel that has included romance, and it has struck me afresh why Maria told me no. The effect is a shock. It’s not appropriate for kids whose lives still involve bouncy balls, bikes, and games of Go Fish. Yes, okay, kids are exposed to all kinds of things via social media these days. But that doesn’t give license to authors to introduce elements to 8-12-year-old readers that we would be uncomfortable with our children reading. That gave me a gauge for the level of what should be off-limits. What would I want my children of similar age reading? Age-appropriate fiction.

I draw the line at romance in my genre, either reading it or writing it.

As for topics, there are so many contentious subjects these days. The list is endless. Writers fear they might say one wrong thing and attract a backlash. There is a strong sense of staying within the confines of what is deemed politically correct. I have a friend who writes urban romantic fantasy. She included one of the mythical gods from religion in her book and received death threats. This sort of thing naturally scares authors.

At the same time as wanting to stick within the limits, I also feel strongly that the ultimate choice about topics and language should remain in the hands of the individual. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to our society would be for the artists to lose their freedom of expression or creative license. I’m mindful of that sublime quote by Jane Yolen, ‘Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions.’
What about you. What sort of language or topics are off-limits in fiction?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol

“No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. You never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.” —Joe Bunting


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Long before positive thinking or affirmations became a thing, my grandmother led by example. She had a way of framing things and people in the best light. I’ll never forget what Gran said one day after my eldest son was scolded by my father for doing something naughty. The family, exasperated with him, had decided my son had Attention Deficit Disorder. Gran said, “He’s not naughty. He doesn’t have ADD or anything like that. What he has is spirit. Mark my words, he will go far in life.” (Turned out she was right, but that’s another story). With those words, my beloved grandmother turned a bad situation around to good and changed my outlook for the better.
Gran called it ‘thinking the right thoughts.’

We love that phrase in our family. Whenever any of us had something important happening that we were hoping would go well, Gran would always say, “I’ll think the right thoughts.” Which meant she would only envisage and only speak about the best possible outcome. That was how she lived. She walked her talk. These days I use the technique constantly. In keeping with the theme of resilience in various posts lately, I thought it would be the ideal time to share some of my grandmother’s outlook on life.

You’re welcome.

Whenever Gran had an event or outing coming up, she would say, “I’m looking forward to it with a confident sense of anticipation.” It was so simple. She demonstrated positive thinking as a way of life. That little gem has become a family saying, a special something we say to one another on occasion with fond knowingness.
I used to visit my grandmother on Thursdays. She lived around the corner from our house. I’d walk into her neat, elegant little unit at the start of the day and leave again around five in the evening. Thursdays were our day to hang out together. We always started our soiree with morning tea, which Gran would have set out on a tray. There would be tea in fine china cups with saucers, served with an array of sweet treats. Gran was a legendary baker and baked every day. She’d serve a plate of fresh scones, or sponge cake, or muffins, whatever treats she had made that morning. After eating, we’d sit in the lazy-boy chairs in the living room and talk. Then I would help her put out and bring in the laundry. We sometimes looked at photos or her embroidery. Sometimes we baked together. Then Gran would serve a big lunch with meat, vegetables, and homemade dessert like her apple pie or blackberry crumble. We would talk until it was time to say goodbye.

Every time I reached her door to leave, Gran would give one parting shot to take with me. It was usually one or two favourite sayings, “Remember my dear,” she would say, “Set your sights upon a star, and you will go far,” or “Every cloud has a silver lining, if you look for the silver lining you will find it.
They were the same sayings, time and again, yet I would walk along the street thinking about what she had said and repeating it to myself.
My grandmother inspired me with her natural optimism and right thinking. It shaped how I look at everything. I am a big believer in daily affirmations, in speaking positively to myself and others. I have a whiteboard with life-affirming statements on it, which I read a few times a day.
If we want to keep our spirits up, we need to bear witness to the words coming out of our mouths. People these days tend to be one-track-minded and fatalistic. Conversations have never been more boring.

Chats with friends and neighbours can often be depressing, and I don’t think these people realize the effect they’re having on others. Why not converse with loved ones about the book you’re reading, the movie you’ve seen, or the creative project you’re working on. We don’t always have to talk about Covid, people!
I prefer following my grandmother’s example. The glass-half-full approach means looking at the things that are working in our lives. I use a daily gratitude journal to note what I’m grateful for and make it a practice to say thank you for all the blessings. If you ask how I’m doing, I’ll be thinking the right thoughts and looking forward to what the future brings with a confident sense of anticipation!

I hope you gained a gem or two from this post for yourself.
Do you have grandparents with their little sayings? Have you ever tried keeping a gratitude journal?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

“Emptiness is a symptom that you are not living creatively.” – Maxwell Maltz.


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I have finished reading my sixteenth novel for 2021, Gods and Warriors, by Michelle Paver. Frankly, I was curious. I kept seeing this author’s name every time I was out buying books. Paver featured in every new and secondhand book store as well as gracing our library’s shelves. Who was this new author?
I’m always looking for middle-grade fiction to read my son with special needs as part of our bedtime ritual. Man, I was not ready for Paver. I was unprepared for the shock value in the opening pages of Gods and Warriors. Paver hits the ground running. In the first five paragraphs, our protagonist, Hylas, has an arrowhead buried in his arm. We learn his sister is missing, his dog is dead, and he is running for his life. By the fifth page, the Crows hurl a boy’s body down the slope in front of Hylas, ‘it was now a terrible thing of black blood and burst blue innards like a nest of worms.’

This unexpected element of shock and gore made reading Gods and Warriors to my nineteen-year-old son, who has the equivalent mental age of a twelve-year-old, a bit awkward. I ad-libbed at random to cover the frightening parts, which seemed more suitable for an older audience. For some more sensitive middle-grade readers, I fear they would suffer nightmares for weeks. If you are an actual middle-grade reader, I warn you to read through your fingers.
Our hero, Hylas, is a 12-year-old goatherd. As an Outsider, the Crows are hunting him and his kind. The terrifying Mycenaen warriors are ‘a nightmare of stiff black rawhide armour, a thicket of spears and daggers and bows. Their long black cloaks flew behind them like the wings of crows, and beneath their helmets, their faces were grey with ash.’ While hiding from the Crows in a tomb, Hylas finds a dying man who gives him a bronze dagger (a priceless gift to a simple shepherd) and speaks in verse about his fate. Hylas takes the dagger and carries on to try to find his sister. Along the way, he meets Pirra, the daughter of a High Priestess, who is also on the run, trying to escape a forced marriage.

Hylas befriends Spirit the Dolphin, who has lost his Dolphin pack. And Hylas has a conflict with his best friend Telemon, the son of a Mycenean chieftain, who is torn between wanting to be a good friend as well as a good son.
What I liked about this novel were the Bronze Age setting and the mythological elements. Although I did feel confused at times by the mysterious “higher” powers: the Goddess, the Earthshaker, the Angry Ones, the ghosts. They were referenced, feared, placated with gifts, yet, they were never fully explained or seen. They provided a vague background threat that sometimes sprang forward to scare the pants off us. However, on the plus side, it was cool the way Paver included the different customs around the Greek Islands in the Bronze Age, depicting the unique ways people worshiped and lived. Paver evoked the time and era with ease.

What I didn’t like was the sometimes shallow feeling to the characters. I didn’t like the head-hopping, especially when we were given Spirit, the dolphin’s point of view. Though a fan of anthropomorphism, it has to be done a certain way. I found the sudden switching from Hylas into the mind of a dolphin a step too far. The other three characters showed great promise, especially Telamon, but they weren’t developed enough for my liking. The issues presented were different for each character, Hylas to find his sister, Pirra to escape her marriage, Spirit to find his pack and help Hylas, Telamon to please his father and his friend. Yet, none seemed truly compelling. At the end, none of the characters achieves their goal except for the dolphin, Spirit, who saves the life of his friend Hylas again and again then finds the other dolphins at the end. I thought the writing was competent. The problem was the story had no grand goal to get behind. It felt like eating junk food, you enjoy it for a moment but once you’re finished, you feel unsatisfied.
Michelle Paver was born in 1960 in Malawi, Central Africa, moving to the United Kingdom at the age of three. She earned a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford University and became a partner in a law firm. Paver’s books reflect her lifelong passion for animals, anthropology, and ancient history. She is most well known for her bestselling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.
As for Gods and Warriors, I won’t be seeking out the sequel.
My rating: One and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol

A classic children’s book…superb writing. ~ Anthony Horowitz


Where I live, we are still in lockdown level 4. Many people I know are struggling. Yesterday, the youngest son’s school sent us this “important note.”
Lockdown is tough on everyone.
We all have some days that are better than others.
Look after yourself.

Get exercise each day.
Offer to help others in your bubble.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Do something you enjoy.
Get help when you need it.

I appreciated the encouragement. The schools are aware that we parents are doing the hard yards. On our family chat on Facebook, various members said they didn’t think they could cope with another week of level 4. They needed face-to-face interactions.

“One more week of this and I’ll go crazy,” said the mother with two children under five.

Everyone from all walks of life has talked about feeling blue. At the grocery store, the lovely university student who works there part-time said the universities and adult training institutes had just announced there would be no more lectures on campus the rest of this year. “I’m over it,” she said. “This is seriously getting me down.”

These days such topics as depression are talked about more openly, which is a healthy thing. It’s good to hear family members and friends discussing their feelings. This year, however, I was shocked to discover that more than half the people I know live on anti-depressants as a way of life. In my post a couple of weeks ago, Hold Onto Your Joy, I shared various fun things I do with my kids to keep our spirits up. Hearing people discuss their fears and anxieties since then, it seemed appropriate to add another chapter to the discussion about positive health alternatives.

One of the things we do is a little thing called forest bathing. Have you ever heard of it? In Japan, people practice forest bathing, where they spend quiet time absorbing the wisdom of ancient forests, taking long walks among the trees to stimulate their immune system. There are lots of urban nature reserves where we live, and we walk through the trees daily.

This solution is not at all new. “The tonic of the wilderness” was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods. In Taoism, generations of students have been encouraged to meditate among trees. They believe that the trees will absorb negative energies, replacing them with healthy ones.

Trees are seen as a source of emotional and physical healing and as meditators, absorbing universal energies.

Now there’s scientific evidence supporting eco-therapy. Experiments on forest bathing conducted by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan measured its physiological effects. “The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day spent in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” the study concluded. This is due to various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher. It is better for you!

City dwellers can also benefit from the effects of trees with a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels, and experts have recommended “doses of nature” as part of the treatment for attention disorders in children. The evidence suggests that we don’t need to spend a lot of time in nature to gain the numerous benefits of forest bathing. But regular contact with trees does appear to improve our immune system function and our wellbeing. Our health has never been more vital than it is now. The same goes for our mental health. We have to do everything we can to preserve both.
Let’s face it, while we’re in lockdown, what better time is there to go for a stroll in nature? Do you like forest walks? Have you ever tried forest bathing?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

“Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in strangers’ gardens.” – Douglas Jerrold.


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