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Sunday 31 March 2013

A quick look at Oestre/Easter/Happy Chocolate Day

Okay, technically speaking, the pagan celebration of Oestre (also known as Ostara/Eostre) happened a little over a week ago, on the spring equinox. If you're in the Northern hemisphere, the whole spring thing was probably easy to miss, since it may have happened according to our calendars, but the weather is sulking. I'm pretty sure I got snowed on that day, as well.

It's already pretty well known that most of the Christian calendar was linked early onto Pagan festivals and celebrations. This was pretty smart marketing by the early Church, who found that people might listen to the teachings (especially if the alternative was becoming a crispy critter or repeated cold water dunkings) but, they were still pretty much into the celebratory side of paganism. It was a lot easier to declare certain days Christian, since banning them just led to the early version of illegal street parties, and have people sitting in church instead of being out in the fields and streets having a good time.

When it came to Oestre, or Easter, it really was a pretty good time. There's a reason for all the bunnies and eggs floating around right now; the festival is a celebration of life and fertility, and both rabbits (which are also linked to the moon traditionally, and therefore a symbol of the goddess) and eggs are pretty blatant symbols of both. There were a lot of new babies pitching up nine months down the line after this festival.

Pagan Oestre rituals celebrate life, the renewal of the earth, and a general love of games and benign mischief - like Easter egg hunts. Very early rituals included leaving painted eggs on graves as a symbol of renewal and the cycle of life.

Where did the chocolate come in? According to the Cadbury's site these were first made in Europe in the early 19th century. (Just so you know, that link tortures chocolate lovers by stating the first eggs were solid chocolate. Any one who remembers the horror of discovering those shells were hollow as a child will be shaking their fist at their PC screen.) In the 17th and 18th century, kids were getting egg shaped toys. Personally, I'm pretty happy with the chocolate replacement.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Moments of Aargh (part 782) or How to Kill a Mouse (PC, go away PETA))

I haven't had a serious "tech hates me" moment for a while. This week has made up for it in a serious of short, sharp electro-static shocks on everything. 

And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

It's a standing joke on our team that I can't touch my manager's desk (laminate; no metal surfaces) without having my fingertips fried, but this week stepped it up a notch.

So far, the tally is:

Elevator door x 1
iphone x 1
PC Monitor x 2
Kitchen sink tap x 5 (I now tap the counter before I touch the nozzle of doom in the office kitchen)
Lavatory flush handle x 1 (Seriously, universe? That one wasn't funny)
Desk surface x 2
Colleagues x 2
Mouse x 1. But that was the really impressive one.

I came back from lunch, sat down, and grabbed my mouse - and promptly yelped loud enough to have heads turning from across the office. The team mate standing next to me had wide eyes, she'd heard the discharge. And my mouse was dead.

I unplugged it. Plugged it in again. No little red light. No movement on screen.

Me: *Assorted naughty words*
Team mate: Are you serious? You just electrocuted your mouse? (Technically, the mouse tried to electrocute me. Karma hurts like that.)

Eventually I found an unused port and tried the mouse on that side, and it worked. The port it was plugged into initially appears to have gone the way of the dodo. 

I'm not sure if it's more or less impressive that a static shock fried the port itself, and left the mouse working. Judging by the looks on the IT guys faces, (weary resignation from the ones that know my effect on tech, stunned horror on the new boy who hasn't had to deal with any Janet-caused issues yet) I'm going for more.**

Twenty minutes later, my team mate had his PC freeze on him. I wiggled my fingers at his screen and said: "Work. Or I'll touch you." 
At which point it promptly started the page scrolling once more. Since I was kidding around, and didn't actually expect the Voice Of Doom to work, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. (Team mate laughed so hard he nearly choked.)
This does, however, bear out my theory that yes, tech is sentient. And it bloody hates me.

**I've also been banned from touching anything expensive and electrical, and threatened with Dire Consequences if I touch personal electronics. At this point, I can't blame them. 

Sunday 24 March 2013

Once upon a Time (Rant Alert - on rape)

Once upon a time, a man wearing an expensive watch, drove his fancy car into town and bought himself a fine meal. In the restaurant, his expensive watch and tailored clothing caught the attention of another man, who followed him back to his home. The other man was jealous, and angry, and hated the man for having money and wealth and showing it off, and resolved to teach the rich man a lesson. So he broke into the rich man's home while he slept, stole his watch and clothes, beat him, and drove off in his car.

When the rich man went to the police, they asked him why he'd worn the clothes and the watch, and why he'd driven his car, and eaten his meal in front of his attacker.

In court, the attacker wept. 

"I couldn't help it," he said. "He was dressed like he wanted me to do it. He's rich. Everyone knows they want it, no matter what they say."

And the judge and the jury looked at the rich man, who now walked with a cane because of his beating, and hardly slept at all because the sound of the wind scuttling over his window made him fearful,  and shook their heads in disapproval. 
The media made much of the fact that he'd worn a fancy suit, and a fancy watch, and that the man who attacked him was now in trouble because the rich man had provoked him.

When the not guilty verdict came in, the attacker turned triumphantly in court and smiled at the rich man, and he limped alone out of the court room, knowing that the next time he heard scuttling over his window, his attacker would be in his home again.

He was right.

That little story doesn't make much sense, does it? In our world, if you beat and steal from someone and say you did because they were rich, because you couldn't help it, the judge and jury will probably slam you into prison so fast you'll bounce. At the very least, you'll end up with court mandated psych sessions along with your sentence.

How about this one:

Once upon a time, a woman got dressed up and went into town and went dancing. She felt pretty, and her dress was nice, and she had a lovely time. In the club, her laughter and dancing and pretty blue dress  caught the attention of a man, who followed her back to her home. The man was jealous, and angry, and hated the woman for having the confidence to go out by herself, to look pretty and show it off, and resolved to teach the woman a lesson. So he broke into the woman's home while she slept, ripped up the pretty blue dress, beat her, raped her, and left.

When the woman went to the police, they asked her why she'd worn those clothes and how much make-up she'd had on, and why she'd danced and laughed front of her attacker.

In court, the attacker wept. 

"I couldn't help it," he said. "She was dressed like she wanted me to do it. She's a woman. Everyone knows they want it, no matter what they say."

And the judge and the jury looked at the woman, who now walked with a cane because of her beating, and hardly slept at all because the sound of the wind scuttling over her window made her fearful,  and shook their heads in disapproval. 
The media made much of the fact that she'd worn a pretty dress and make-up, and danced alone, and that the man who attacked her was now in trouble because the woman had provoked him.

When the not guilty verdict came in, the attacker turned triumphantly in court and smiled at the woman, and she limped alone out of the court room, knowing that the next time she heard scuttling over her window, her attacker would be in her home again.

She was right.

Think I'm exaggerating? Have a look at the media coverage of the Steubenville rape. A lot of the mainstream media made much of the fact that two "promising young men had their lives destroyed," a phrase which hopefully made a number of people throw up. 

Have a look at the media coverage on almost any rape case. Unless the victim is left fighting for his or her life, the victim is inevitably put on trial. (yes, male rape victims happen. This isn't about sex, something the media and defence lawyers choose to ignore.)

I've never heard of burglary victims having to defend against character assassination on the witness stand. 

I've never seen coverage of a vehicle hi-jacking explaining just why the owner chose to drive that oh-so-sexy mint-green BMW.

"I couldn't help myself" and "They asked for it" is not an excuse in any other crime.

Teaching women that they are responsible for attacks on them is a double-insult; it implies that women are stupid and irresponsible, the ultimate evil that renders "good men" insane - and it reduces men to the level of rabid jackals. 

Bull shit.

Rape is about power. The only thing it has in common with sex and sexual attraction are the body parts involved. I(t's been used as a weapon both domestically and in war for centuries, and if anyone thinks a male soldier is saved from rape because of his gender, I've got a lovely little palace in London I could sell you.)

We need to educate both men and women. Men to understand that when someone says "She asked for it," they've just been insulted on every level. They've been told that because they are male they are unable to control themselves, they are unable to say no, and they are easily manipulated. They've just been reduced to walking, talking life-support systems for an erect penis with no conscience.

Women need to understand that they are not responsible for someone else's actions. They need to be told that the automatic response to penetration is lubrication, and that this is something they have no control over, because it's a bodily function, kinda like breathing. They need to know they have a right to exist and live side by side with the males of the species without being blamed for have ovaries and a pair of breasts. They need to know that most men are not rape-happy cavemen, waiting for the chance to pounce. 

Both men and women need to learn that neither gender is dirty, or shameful, or looking to hurt you, but when someone is raped it hurts all of us. It reduces us to throwing stones at a victim, or picking sides when there is no side to be picked.

A crime was committed. Making the victim pay is senseless.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

The Great Pigeon Coffee Enema Moment - London Pigeon War update

I was at Euston station bright and early (7:30 a.m) for a trip up to Liverpool today. Usually, the Pigeon Wars are fought in cities large and small across the UK. They involve pigeons either defecating, regurgitating or dive bombing me, while I shake my fist and fantasise about growing my own pair of wings some fine day. Payback, honey. With bells. (Although with my luck, I'd end up flying into the side of a building.)

And then things like this morning happen. I'm going to call this one a draw.

I reached Euston with about a half hour to spare before the train left, so I went outside to the little coffee area. If you don't know it, it's set up with a row of assorted booths (pies, donuts, sausages, sushi) opposite a chain coffee shop and a diner. In the middle are poured cement benches and bolted-down tables, since in this part of London NOT bolting down tables would result in a sudden and abrupt lack of them. Everywhere sells coffee, from the little pie place to the donut counter. Since I love my coffee, this makes me happy.

It was pretty quiet; the main rush at Euston starts around 8 a.m. I love these little moments of quiet in the middle of London; I get to sit down with my steaming cup of liquid bliss and people watch.  This morning there was one drunk draped over a bench in the far corner, snoring happily, one large lady with an impressive set of dreadlocks and a bright pink and orange tracksuit, and two middle-aged businessmen, all scattered around the tables and watching the world rev up it's engines.

And then I heard that give-away flutter behind me. I ducked as first one, then two, then three pigeons swooped past my ear, brushing over my shoulder and the table-top before bouncing triumphantly on their toes as they landed. We eyed each other. I checked my coat for calling cards.

The pigeons took flight again, and I ducked my head, hoping this wasn't a strafing run.

I'd been in the process of adding sugar to my coffee, so the lid was off. (It was 7:30. I needed sweetening up, trust me on this.)

The first pigeon blew past my cheek again, closely followed by the second. The third had what I can only call the ultimate birdy moment of oops, and landed with its feathered butt in my coffee.

I drink my coffee black, and it hadn't had time to cool off yet.

You know when you see footage of an animal's face, and you know just what they were thinking?

Pigeon : That's... that's not right. Something went wron-HothothothotOHGAWDMYNADS!!!!!!!

Me: *Speechless*


Me: There's a certain justice to this...

At which point the pigeon ascended majestically, and at roughly the speed of a pigeon with a very, very toasty rear end, and flew up over the top of the station building.

Physics being what it is, there was a certain displacement of coffee in the process. There were also feathers, some fragments of which I was still picking out of my eyebrows when I got to Liverpool just after 11 a.m. Judging by what was left in the cup, that bird puckered. Hard.

By the time I'd cleaned off both the coffee and the larger feathers in the train station (apparently some things can still make Londoners raise an eyebrow. Looking like you've just motor-boated a pigeon being one of them) my train was boarding, and there was no time to grab a refill.

So, while I'm still kinda sulking over losing my coffee, being a witness to self-administered coffee enema by one of my feathered nemesis did balance it out, hence me calling this a draw.

I do wish I'd had my phone out, though. I've never seen an expression quite like that on a London pigeon before.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Arr, Me Hearties - Let's talk about book pirates

The whole book piracy think blew up on my face-book feed last night. It's one of those things that swirls up every few months; it swims around a bit, taking chunks out of both sides, then disappears temporarily. It's the book-world equivalent of a shark attack, and it leaves people bleeding.
In a further demonstration of my sometimes stunning naivety, I'd been self-published for a couple of months before I realised that book piracy was a thing. (Before this post goes any further, I should probably make it clear that as far as I know, I've never been pirated. I think I need a few more years and a lot more name recognition before that happens.)

There are sites out there where people go to download PDF's of books. I've never quite got the logic of this - for the time and effort it takes to scan in each page and upload it, it would be a lot faster to either push the button on Amazon, or go to the local library and check it out, or just, I dunno, buy the book from a physical bookstore? Unless there's some magical ninja tech happening that I don't know about, it seems like a lot more time and effort to go to in order to make someone else's work available for other people to steal, which is probably why I'll never make master criminal status.

Perhaps surprisingly, not all authors are against this - J A Konrath has stated he believes his sales increase every time one of his books is posted on a pirate site. I've seen posts by the folks that actively do this stating that if they like the book they'll then go and buy a copy. I don't mind saying that made me twitch, because that's kind of like shop-lifting a chocolate, enjoying the taste, and then going and buying another bar because you decided it was worth your money. You still stole the first bar. (Although if Konrath is right, part of me is tempted to quietly upload one of my own books and see what the results are. Since tech and I are not friends, this likely to remain speculation.)

Another interesting thing is that the same folks downloading from these sites would react with horror and indignation if you suggested walking into a brick and mortar store and stealing a book of the shelf. I'm not sure when we came to the conclusion that writers don't deserve to get paid for entertaining us for a couple of hours, but that's the end result.

 I totally understand the frustration of not having the book you want to download available in your country. Been there, got that, wept hot salty tears over having to buy the tree-book version and wait nearly a week for it to arrive. Or not being able to read across devices. It's one of the reasons I don't have DRM active on any of my ebooks, because as far as I'm concerned if you bought my book, I want you to read it.

See the thing is, writers want readers. We want you to read our stuff, fall into our world, and hopefully come back for more. If you're an indie writer, odds are you've enrolled in the Kindle KDP programme at least once, where you get five days to give away your book for free and hopefully increase readership that way.
Most of us give away a lot of ebooks (I say ebooks because although there are plenty who give away hardcopy, I'm not one of then. To put it bluntly, I can't afford the printing and shipping costs, but it doesn't cost me a penny to push the send button on my p.c.) and those go out to bloggers, reviewers, and readers who'd like a copy.

I don't like the idea of pirating, because I know the work that goes into writing a book. When you download a PDF from a pirate site, you aren't screwing over The Man, or sticking it to the publisher; you hurt the writer, because if that writer is attached to a publishing house they are only earning a percentage of the cover price of that book any way, and that's after they've earned their advance out. Which if they're lucky, came to around $10 000 dollars. If you figure it takes about a year minimum between signing a contract and seeing your book in print, that ten grand starts seeming pretty damn small. Every single book that isn't sold officially is money that the author doesn't see, and if you don't sell enough books, your publisher will drop you so fast you get wind burn. Self-published authors have it a little better - we get 30% to 70% of the cover price - but again, only through the authorised channels. 

I work a day job, and sell hand-made cosmetics on the side as well as writing to try and make ends meet each month, so every book I don't sell means I'm that little bit further from my dream of writing full time. 
Most writers never get there, whether self-publishing or traditionally published, so every time you download from a pirate site, you make the odds of that writer publishing something else a little bit higher on the negative side. It's a high price to pay to save a couple of bucks.

Here's another reason why I don't like book piracy: I don't know what the figures are. I have no issues giving my books away, but doing it through Smashwords or Amazon means that I can track the downloads. I have at least a vague idea of potential sales; if 20 people download a book this month, and ten of those read it in the next six weeks, and of those ten three people like it enough to move onto the next one, I have an idea of where I'll be in three months to two years time. 
I'll have an idea of which series is working and which isn't because although reviews are lovely and appreciated, sales figures and downloads speak a lot more. They mean the difference between eating well and stocking up on vienna sausages and cheap bread, and logging on gloomily to my bank account to watch it drop towards the minus column. It means the difference between getting medication when you get sick or trying to wait out the lovely flu-viral infection-glandular fever combo I seem to specialise in every year. 

If, on the other hand, you cannot afford or get hold of one of my books, let me know. Reading is one life's few genuine pleasures, and I'd hate to think that someone who desperately wants to read my stuff, can't. For any reason. Leave your contact details in the comments (be smart about email addresses though, let's not feed the spam bots here) and I will personally email you a copy. No review required, no quid pro quo. But when you get the chance, pay it forward, and buy an author's book (doesn't have to be mine), and make someone's day a little bit brighter. And try not to feed the sharks. Blood in the water is never pretty.

Sunday 10 March 2013

An Interview with Jeff Hollar

I've got the fantastic Mr. Hollar visiting today, with his new book, Keldane the Cursed out to buy now.

I was lucky enough to get my grubby little paws on a copy for this interview, and it's a joy. It's a collection of short stories involving Keldane, who can't stay out of trouble no matter what he does, (and it makes the very valid point that power of any sort can cause as many issues as it fixes), and I finished this with a smile on my face. It reminds me a lot of the old style fairy tales, with a lot less gore and mutilation - this is the story, this is what happens - told in a very direct and simple fashion that simply works. There is no epic horror or drama involved, but just reaches in and pokes at the right spots, and I may be in love with a vampire bat called Barnabas.
I'd recommend this especially for folks who want to introduce younger readers to fantasy, and speaking as someone who has fairly epic moments of oops, I could definitely relate.

The links to the book and Jeff's blog are here:

Jeff’s Blog: The Latinum Valult

Check out the interview below, and carry on for a sneak peek at the first story:


ME: Who or what inspired Keldane, and the pretty bizarre situations he ends up in? 
JEFF: Keldane began as a character in a flash fiction story of, I believe, 150 words. Lisa Stull, briefly, sponsored a flash fiction challenge wherein the winner from the previous week got to provide the prompt for the next week. My wife, Lisa, came up with a prompt of "frogs, cats & vampire bats" and from that came the first appearance of Keldane. Like so much of my flash fiction, humble beginnings have often had the potential to be much more involved works and Keldane proved to be the first. I mentioned playing with writing in different genres and so further installments of Keldane appeared from time to time. I moved on to other distractions and gave Keldane no further attention until I became a member of the Visionary Press Cooperative. We are a coalition of writers, editors, cover artists, etc all working for the common profit and good. Blaze McRob, one of the founders of the co-op, thought it wise for us to diversify our book offerings and I brought up that I had a YA fantasy serial on tap. The rest, as they say, is history.

 ME: Who is your ideal reader for these stories?
JEFF: My ideal reader for these stories is anyone, because I believe, on some level, we can all identify with Keldane. He is sort of the Everyman character in a shorter, younger & slightly more fantastic setting. While some of the word usage makes it less-suitable for readers much below the age of 10 or so, beyond that it is for anyone who has every really screwed up but found the wherewithal to keep mucking on. These are stories of persistence against all odds and that is a great life lesson or life reminder for anyone.

ME : What is the one story you wish you'd written?
JEFF: Wow. There are so many wonderful stories out there that have captured my favor over the years. I don't think I could ever pick a single one, but whatever it was would be something that far outlived the author but is still attracting and captivating readers. Think of maybe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his Sherlock Holmes or perhaps Edgar Rice Burroughs with Tarzan. Both were hugely popular with me as a boy.

ME: Steak or chocolate?
JEFF : This question is blatantly unfair as I refuse to accept the possibility of the two being mutually exclusive. I am a confirmed carnivore and don't think that liable to every change. I grew up in the corn-fed Midwestern tradition of consuming tasty animals. Now chocolate is no less a valued member of the food community in my opinion. I most definitely have a sweet tooth and sometimes nothing will assuage it quite like chocolate. So, that being said I will have the sirloin steak smothered in onions & mushrooms and...oh...I see you have chocolate lava cake on your dessert offerings.

(ASIDE: Yep. No argument here.)

ME: What monster would you like to be, and why?
JEFF: There are so many really sweet monsters out there that picking just one might be an impossibility for me. Can I combine monsters? I would love to some hybrid critter that possesses all of the absolutely coolest aspects of a vampire AND a were-creature but that somehow transcends either of their potential weaknesses. I'll let you know when I figure out what to call such a thing.

 ME: Country or metal?
JEFF : That is a slippery slope. I grew up with country as THE music my father and his side of the family listened to. My mom was mostly caught in her late 50's-early 60's faves (Bobby Vee, Dion, Elvis) I was a child of the 70's who went into the 80's before I got to choose my listening choices. Now, i almost exclusively, listen to "classic rock that really rocks" as the radio bills it. If I pick a channel on my android for I Heart Radio, I favor mom's music.

ME : And finally, tell us something that would surprise people who think they know you.
JEFF: I was hoping somebody would ask me this! I am a mildly-rabid fan of Star Trek and often wondered what species/niche I would fill in that fictional setting. I decided, after much deliberation, to be a Klingorengi. (That is one half Klingon & one half Ferengi. If I have to explain these species to you it kind of ruins the impact here) I reasoned I had all of the conniving sneakiness of a Ferengi but the martial code & sense of honor of a Klingon. In any event, I have always mentioned in any space requiring a bio that I am a Klingon/Ferengi hybrid. As I have built my platform and become less obscure, I have achieved the honor that if you do a Google search of "Klingon Ferengi hybrid" I am the first four (or more depending on the week) image responses it returns. Go ahead & try it. You'll see. 

(ASIDE : Bowing. Repeated and enthusiastic bowing, and very happy geek fangirl moment.)

Thanks for the great interview Jeff!

Check out the excerpt below; from Keldane the Cursed.


The boy rose from the stool he’d been sitting on and bowed his back as he stretched. His spine cracked loudly with the relief of stiffness the stretch provided. He thought, for not the first time ever or even the first time today, ‘My father is going to kill me!’

His gaze returned to the pages of the enormous book on the workbench before him. The runes all seemed to flow together in a jumbled mess. With a sigh of frustration, he slammed shut the cover of the grimoire. A plume of dust billowed from the ancient book causing him to sneeze violently and repeatedly.
“It’s no use guys. I can’t find what I need in this stupid book! I’ve been through it over and over and it’s just not here!”
He spoke to the two animals sitting on the table in front of him. The large greenish frog, Desmond, looked at him with a mournful gaze and croaked softly. The ginger cat, Lydia, looked at Keldane with a malevolent gaze, her tail swishing angrily from side to side.
“You guys KNOW transmogrification isn’t my best subject. I’d change you back in a second if I could only remember the bloody spell.”
The frog croaked more loudly and the cat hissed menacingly as if to say nothing was Keldane’s “best subject”. Although he was the son of THE most powerful wizard in history, Keldane was, unfortunately, so inept even his wizarding instructors openly referred to him as Keldane the Cursed.
*While it’s unlikely your father would actually kill you, I doubt he’ll be pleased with this latest in a long series of disappointments.*
The boy glanced up to the rafters at the immense vampire bat hanging there.
“Barnabas, you HAVE to help me!” the boy moaned, “You’ve served our family for over 20 years. There has to have been a problem like this happen before.”
*No, I don’t think any of your siblings quite managed an embarrassment of this caliber. Although I’m not especially hungry, I suppose it’d be easiest to just suck them dry and you can toss the remnants into the rubbish bin. No one need be the wiser.*
Neither the frog nor the cat was privy to the exchange between the boy and his bat, but they WERE both a bit on edge. Thusly, neither was as surprised as one might expect when the bat swooped down to feed.
Before Keldane could intervene, his friends took matters into their own hands, so to speak. Barnabas learned firsthand why they called them “catlike reflexes” as Lydia ignominiously slapped him out of the air. Desmond jumped on to the chest of the dazed bat and held him down while Lydia, daintily, tore his head from his leathery shoulders.
Both animals settled back on to the bench with expressions simply daring Keldane to protest.
“Yes indeed. My father IS going to kill me.” The boy mused as he plopped back down on the stool.


Tuesday 5 March 2013

A short note from your plague bearer...

So I got gently, but firmly, advised to go to a doctor by a few people - my glands are still up (all of them), and I'm more photosensitive than the average gremlin, and the NHS lady I spoke to had A Moment of Excitement and raised the probability of glandular fever or meningitis.

I had glandular fever a long, long time ago, but I also had tick-bite fever & german measles at the same time, so I wasn't 100% sure which symptoms belonged to which little package of misery. The last time I had one hell of a dose of the flu and I still felt rotten the following week, I ended up making my second ever ambulance journey, so I got hold of a GP.

The good news is, I think I'm keeping this one (GP, that is). The bad news is that I've been gifted with a new dose of glandular fever as well as a minor respiratory infection. I've been given meds for the infection (glandular fever is a virus; same as the flu - no cure; no meds),  and I've just bought a whole bunch of yoghurt since being a girl and having to take certain meds almost guarantees a moment in the near future where you will shake your fist miserably at the universe and take an ice-water bath.  (Seriously - there is no way in this or any alternative time-line that thrush can be considered fair play. Just not.)

Then I had the fun of watching the doc's eyebrows raise a lot when I told him I wanted to go back to work. The flu is pretty much done - the cough I have left is from the infection; and the glandular fever isn't severe enough to keep me in bed. I know I'll be tired, but the thought of being house-bound any longer makes this little plague bearer want to cry.  I heal faster when I'm not lying bed doing the woe is me thing, anyway.
So I have a letter saying I can work, since I know what the reaction to that cough is going to be, and I get to go back to the office tomorrow.

Happy days!

Sunday 3 March 2013

Salt Inhalers & other funky stuff

So, currently on day 4 of the flu - also known as the just-shoot-me-now stage, or often the I-want-my-mom phase. Skype is a blessing; it means I can whine at my mother long distance and still get the love. 

There's a big, big difference between the flu and a cold. Colds make you feel miserable, and they aren't much fun. You sneeze a bit, and make disgusting noises on public transport, and everyone avoids you.

The flu is to the common cold what a siberian wolf is to a chihuahua. Trust me, I'll take the cold over the flu anytime. 

The problem is that there is no cure. Over the counter meds help to a point; my theory is that most of the time they knock you out so you don't notice how miserable you are. For all the claims of alleviating coughs and headaches, the short term relief you get is minimal. The only thing to do is ride it out, and if you're like me, the fact that you're off work due to illness is frustrating, painful, and guilt-inducing. 

I've yet to find a cough medicine I can really tolerate the taste of in the UK. My cousin swears by the evil green stuff that looks and tastes like it was hocked up by a demented alien. Blocking my nose when taking that stuff had no effect; the gag reflex was instantaneous. I'm not a fan of meds working because I'm too scared to hiccup right after taking it, and to be honest, it didn't do much for the cough. It's pointless knocking me out if I'm still coughing in my sleep, to the point that my ribs are sore.

A little bit of research yesterday pointed me toward the salt inhalers. It's pretty much rock salt in a tube, that you suck, and is supposed to help with all sorts of breathing issues. It couldn't be less effective that the cough mixture so far, so I gave it a shot.
I got a few little bottles into make facial serums with, so yesterday I grabbed one and poured a mixture of rock salt and Himalayan salt in. I doubt there's much difference in the effectiveness between the two, despite all the hoorah over regional salt on the official inhalers.  I grabbed the Himalayan stuff because it's bigger, I didn't need to fiddle with it for much longer, and I could shuffle back to bed faster. I added three drops of essential oil (I used lemon balm), shook it up, and inhaled from the bottle for the next ten minutes. 

Interesting thing is, it seems to have helped. I'm still coughing, but I no longer sound like I'm tried to choke a yeti. I've found grabbing the bottle and inhaling seems to taper the coughing fit off faster as well. I've also found sprinkling a mixture of lemon grass and peppermint oil over the pillow case seems to help with breathing when I'm lying down. Taking a bath involves those oils, as well as lavender, ginger, and 1 or 2 drops of rosemary. I've been dabbing the balm I made up for my joints on my little red nose, and surprisingly haven't had much flakiness. It's not as red or sore as it was either, so that's a bonus.

I'm posting the recipe for the balm here for anyone who wants to give it a try. Keep in mind I'm not a doctor, so this is not medically cleared. Also keep in mind that essential oils are not always safe if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, and I have no idea how safe this is for very young kids. Essential oils, like anything else, can cause reactions, so if you're unsure or allergic to anything in it, don't use it. Never use essential oils directly on the skin as these are pure oils and can cause painful burns; always use a carrier oil. 

Achy Breaky Balm


1 cup shea butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (you can also use any carrier oil here - cherry kernel or jojoba are both excellent in this balm)
1 teaspoon honey powder (you can use plain honey, but it can get sticky and tacky in the final product - be warned)
7 drops rosemary oil
3 drops lemon grass oil
3 drops ginger oil
3 drops rose otto oil (really good for the skin - I use this in pretty much every balm/body butter I make)
1 tablespoon mango butter (optional, but really softening. This balm gets solid.)
1/2 cup de-ionised water. (Tap water is more likely to contain impurities. If your local water is really hard, it will also impact the quality of the balm. If you use tap water, keep this in the fridge and use in about a week. Also, water is not necessary - you can make the balm without it, but the result will be very hard, and you'll need to literally scrape it out during cold weather. If you don't use the water, add another 1/3 cup of shea butter.)
Preservative - both honey and rosemary are natural preservatives. However, because I've added water I use Optiphen to preserve my balm. It's a ratio of between 1- 3 %, so not much at all. 


Place butters, honey powder (diluted in a little de-ionised water) and carrier oil in a double boiler to melt. I use a glass bowl over a pot. Make sure the butters have melted thoroughly; shea butter can turn grainy otherwise. I usually leave it on the heat for an additional 15 minutes to ensure that doesn't happen.

Remove from heat and add essential oils,  and beat well. I use a small electric hand-beater. You can whip it by hand, but you will feel it - it takes a bit of work that way. Then add the water, while beating further, and the optiphen. If you want to colour it, get some cosmetic safe  mica - these come in a pretty amazing array of colours, and most places that supply shea butter etc will have them. Food colouring is not advised; you'll end up staining your clothing, and possibly the kitchen ceiling if the beater gets excited.

You'll find it whips up into something that looks almost like royal icing. Do not eat the product. (It won't kill you, but it's not going to taste good.) Pour it, or scrape it if it's very thick, into the container you want to use. I sterilise my containers with the tablets used to sterilise baby bottles, but any very mild bleach disinfectant is fine. I've also found that the disposable icing bags are perfect for getting containers filled neatly.

Let it set, and use.

Clean up:

This part is, quite frankly, a bugger. You may have to wash your utensils repeatedly. I wash in soap, dunk in a bucket with mild bleach for a few hours, then rinse off with a mild vinegar solution. Then they get washed with soap again. Repeat as needed; if you left a lot of mix in the bowl, you will be washing for a long, long, looooooong time. So far, it's the only draw-back I've found to making these things.

It's brilliant for aching joints (and red, abused noses). The base butters and oils moisturise the skin. Honey, rosemary and ginger are all natural disinfectants and anti-inflammatories. Rose otto is another excellent skin conditioner, and lemon balm is a powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial.  I have a friend who uses it every time she works in the garden, and swears by it. It makes a fairly mild scented balm that melts on contact with the skin and is easily absorbed.

Have fun and enjoy, and hopefully I'll have shaken this nasty bit of flu off by next week.