Going Solo

introversion and creativity, Aspasía S. Bissas

According to a BBC article, recent research has confirmed that alone time is good for your concentration, health, and creativity. Is anyone else not remotely surprised? Any introvert can tell you that spending time on your own is a necessity, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I seem to never be able to get any writing done when I do. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, socializing drains me, leaving no energy to think, let alone create. I’m not advocating for isolation (unless that’s your thing), but the more time I spend being social, the more appealing the hermit lifestyle starts to look.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

I’m always a little skeptical of people in creative fields who are extroverts. The extroverts I know are constantly on the run, always social, always busy. When do they find time to create? How do they focus? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s difficult to picture someone coming home from a party and feeling inspired to do anything other than sleep it off.

introversion and creativity, introvert meme Aspasía S. Bissas

I’m still trying to find a balance between spending time with the people I care about and getting the necessary solitude I need to create. Sometimes I wish texting counted as socializing, or that I could carry on a conversation while mentally working on a chapter or two. How about you–are you an introvert or extrovert? What helps or hinders your creativity? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Originally posted on 19 March 2018

Vampire’s Garden: Yarrow

white cluster flowers in bloom
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Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is sixth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Botanical Name: Achillea millefolium

Common Names: Common yarrow, sanguinary, bloodwort, plumajillo (“little feather”). nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf, staunchweed, arrowroot, field hops, woundwort. An old name for Yarrow is herba militaris.

History: Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, yarrow has now spread around the world, growing freely along roadsides and coastal areas and in fields and meadows. It’s been used medicinally since prehistoric times, including by Neanderthals. Ancient Hellenes (Greeks) used it to stop bleeding from wounds (the name Achillea comes from the hero Achilles, who supposedly took yarrow into battle to treat his soldiers). Indigenous tribes throughout North America used the herb medicinally for pain relief, fever reduction, and as a sleep aid, among other things. In the Middle Ages it was used along with other herbs to flavour beer before hops became prevalent (it’s still used in beer-making in Sweden). In the Hebrides it was believed that holding a leaf against the eyes would bestow second sight. In China the dried stalks have been used for centuries in divination.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Healing, protection

Cultivation: Perennial in Zones 2 to 8. Yarrow is ideal for native plant gardens, drought tolerant gardens, and wildlife gardens. Prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but is tolerant of many conditions. Can grow up to 1 metre (approx. 3 feet). Seeds require light, a moist environment, and cool temperatures to germinate, so sow outdoors, barely covered by soil, after the last frost date; or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date and keep moist but not wet (it might be easier simply to buy plants or propagate by division). Spreads via rhizomes and can become invasive. Plant (or thin seedlings to) 30 to 46 cm (12 to 18″) apart. Once plants are established they need little watering and no fertilizing, although they can be prone to powdery mildew (giving plants adequate space around them for good air circulation will help prevent this). Flowers from May to July, and sometimes into autumn. Divide plants every other year in spring. Yarrow is considered an excellent companion plant, repelling pest insects while attracting beneficial insects, like predatory wasps, lacewings, and hoverflies.

Uses:

Medicinal: Astringent, anti-microbial, and anodyne. Drink tea made from the flowers to stop bleeding, for muscle aches and cramps, to reduce fever, for an upset stomach, or to help you sleep. Cooled tea makes an astringent facial wash (good for oily skin and skin infections/irritations). A salve or balm made from yarrow is useful on wounds, bruises, swelling, and various skin problems.

Fresh leaves can be crushed or bruised and applied directly to wounds. For nosebleeds, pick a few leaves, rub between your hands to bruise slightly, roll into a plug, and insert gently into the bleeding nostril. Leave in place until bleeding stops.

Culinary: Yarrow leaves and flowers have a flavour reminiscent of anise or licorice, and are somewhat bitter. Use fresh or dried as a herbal seasoning for food, or mix with other culinary herbs like tarragon and parsley. Can eat the greens fresh (use like sprouts or baby salad greens). Steam or blanch leaves and enjoy like other cooked greens. Don’t cook yarrow for long or at a high heat, as cooking destroys its delicate flavour and brings out the bitterness (especially when boiled). Yarrow is a nice addition to desserts, in sorbet and ice cream, or sprinkled over fresh fruit. Yarrow is also used to make some liquors and bitters.

Environmental: Can be planted to combat soil erosion.

Caution: Yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Do not let them consume the plant in any form. In humans, yarrow can cause allergic skin reactions and photosensitivity (avoid sun exposure when using yarrow). Avoid if you’re pregnant or breast feeding.

Wildlife: Many insects feed on yarrow, including nearly 50 species of moths. Several species of cavity-nesting birds use yarrow to line their nests (possibly because it inhibits the growth of parasites).

Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Yarrow as a potential ingredient for her theoretical blood substitute: “Bloodwort, Sanguinary–that’s Achillea…” (Love Lies Bleeding, p. 156). Yarrow would also be included in the remedies she sells via her apothecary business.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Further Reading:

Wikipedia

Growing Yarrow

Language of Flowers

Yarrow: 60,000 Years of Awesome

Everyday Yarrow Uses for Natural Healing

HGTV: Yarrow Uses

Cooking with Yarrow

Yarrow, a delicious and nutritious panacea

Medicinal Yarrow First-Aid Salve (how to make)

 

 

Writers and Dogs

white and black english bulldog stands in front of crackers on bowl at daytime
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Last year I posted about Writers and Cats, a combination that seems as natural as pen and paper. But just because cats and writers are inextricably linked in most people’s minds, doesn’t mean that dogs aren’t equally ideal writing partners. Judging from all the books about dogs out there, they’re just as inspiring as cats. Poems have also been written about dogs, including this one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And no one can dispute that dogs are excellent companions, keeping writers company in their lonely work and getting them out of the house once in a while.

“When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”

Kristan Higgins

Here are a few dog-loving writers and their pups…

eb white
E.B. White
dorothy parker
Dorothy Parker
stephen king
Stephen King (who also made it into my Writers and Cats post)
virginia and vita
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West
harlan coben
Harlan Coben
amy tan
Amy Tan
anton chekov
Anton Chekov
elizabeth barrett browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her muse, Flush (see link above for Browning’s poem about Flush). Art by James E. McConnell.

 

What do you think? Are you a cat person or a dog person? Or do you like both (or neither)? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Read More:

12 Famous Authors at Work With Their Dogs

Top 10 Author-Dog Relationships of All Time

Literary Pets

10 Famous Authors and the Pets that Inspired Their Work

9 Adorable Images of Authors and Their Dogs

How to Get Books Cheap (or Free)

books school stacked closed
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You might remember a few months back when a certain minimalism peddler debuted her show on Netflix and then went ahead and called books clutter, telling people they should get rid of all but a laughably small number in their homes.

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed, either. And neither was writer Anakana Schofield, who tweeted that “every human needs a v extensive library.” You’d think people would rally around that kind of noble sentiment, but before Ms Schofield had finished hitting send on the tweet, people were calling her out as “elitist” for suggesting people needed their own home library.

man in white shirt using macbook pro
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Allow me to gently point out that “needs” an extensive library does not mean “must have” or even “should get.” But whatever your stance on the issue, if you agree that books clutter up your empty space, please feel free to forward them to me (seriously, though, please give them to someone–don’t feed landfills for the sake of a minimalist aesthetic).

For those of us who do know the value of books and a home library, we also know that building a collection can get pricey. But it really doesn’t have to. Here’s how you can get “a v extensive library” for next to nothing.

Before I get to that, though, just a quick note to say that if you can afford to buy books at full price, please do so. Authors (other than a lucky few) make hardly anything from the months and years of hard, gut-wrenching work they put into a book. Authors also make nothing from most of the suggestions I’m about to share. Give the author a reason to keep writing by buying their book(s). If you like an author’s work but really can’t afford it, you can still support them by posting reviews, sharing on social media, and telling your friends about the latest great book you just read. There’s many ways to support authors and we appreciate every bit of it ❤

Now, how can you get books cheap (or free)?

 

yard sale books

Yard/Garage/Rummage Sales

I’ve never stopped by one of these sales and haven’t found books. The selection varies and you won’t always find something good, but if you stop by toward the end of the day, you’ll get great deals (or stop by early for the best selection). You can (usually) haggle too.

Best Bets: Kids books, older bestsellers, books on obscure topics that were clearly unwanted gifts

 

Aspasia S. Bissas website

Estate Sales

These aren’t as common as other sales, but they’re well worth seeking out. Although they sound like something exclusively for the wealthy, that’s not the case, and sales can take place in any neighbourhood with items available at all price points. Not all estate sales will include books, but the ones that do can be like hitting the jackpot. As with yard/garage/rummage sales, go early for selection and late for deals (you can luck into entire boxes full of books for only a few dollars). Tip: Consider moving sales too.

Best Bets: Entire collections, vintage books

 

books file on shelf
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Library Sales

My personal favourite, these happen when libraries need to cull older/less popular books to make room for new additions. My local one also accepts donations from the public and donates the proceeds to an adult literacy program. Tip: bring small bills/change and your own bag(s). Also, look into specialist organizations that have their own libraries. Our local botanical garden has a book sale a couple of times a year featuring gardening books and magazines. If a group specializes in a topic you’re interested in, you can score some fantastic finds, cheap.

Best Bets: Fiction in all genres, large-print books, kids books, a bit of everything the library carries

 

thrift shop books

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores always seem to have more books than they can handle, and prices tend to reflect that. If you’re willing to look through disorganized shelves/piles, you can find some sweet deals.

Best Bets: Obscure older cookbooks, vintage craft books, loads of interesting books donated by people getting rid of “clutter”

 

Munich 24.06.2017 Lisar (reading at Isar) book flea market, just for one summer day in June

Flea Markets/Swap Meets

Flea markets aren’t my favourite places to shop, but you can find some bargains (haggling is also expected). It’s easy to get distracted, so focus on finding books before looking at anything else. Going at the end of the day will also result in the best deals. Swap meets are apparently very similar to flea markets, although some of them actually involve trading items instead of buying and selling–a great idea if you can find one that includes books.

Best Bets: Vintage and collectible books

 

recycling depot

Recycling Depots

I don’t know how other recycling depots work, but there’s one about an hour and a half from where I live that collects not only recyclables like glass and plastic, but also donations of all kinds of items, similar to what you’d find in a thrift store. They’re set up in a warehouse and have an ample collection of really cheap books. I haven’t been in a while but when I lived closer it was a favourite, and I’d almost always find something that was on my wishlist. Tip: bring your own bags or boxes.

Best Bets: Required reading for English classes, general fiction, quality nonfiction, kids books

 

novel books
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Secondhand Bookstores

Although the prices will be higher at a secondhand bookstore than at any of the other places I’ve mentioned, the selection and quality of the books will also be better. Bonus: you’ll be among fellow book lovers who can direct you to awesome books you didn’t even know existed. These stores sometimes have bargain bins (or even free books) to help keep things within budget.

Best Bets: Obscure and quirky books, vintage books, recent bestsellers

 

two people shaking hands
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Trading

At some point you’ll likely end up with books you no longer want. A good way to make room and get new books for nothing is to trade. See if any friends or family members might be interested. Swap meets that still involve swapping are an option. You can even try something like kijiji or craigslist (exercise caution when meeting strangers).

Best Bets: Hit and miss, but anything is possible

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Just Ask

Sometimes it’s as simple as letting people know you’ll take their unwanted books. Because people know I love books, they’ll often offer me the ones they no longer want. When a history teacher I was friendly with was retiring, he couldn’t take his personal collection home (his wife was decluttering before decluttering was cool). I scored boxes of history, geography and Canadian lit books. If you know someone who’s moving, spring cleaning, or who inherited a collection they don’t want, feel free to speak up. In most cases, the other person will feel like you’re doing them a favour.

Best Bets: Bestsellers, older books

 

pile of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Random Sales

You need to keep an eye out for these ones. I know of at least one bank and a hospital that have permanent book sales set up. The money goes to fundraising/charity and the prices are cheap. Other places you visit might have a table or rack of books available too. Tip: have exact change–these sales tend to be based on the honour system and usually don’t have anyone around to make change.

Best Bets: Mostly older fiction, occasional gems

 

reading reader kindle female
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Ebooks

These books won’t look pretty on a shelf, but you can find a lifetime supply of free and cheap ebooks online (and not the illegally downloaded kind, either, which will curse you with terrible karma anyway). I recommend Smashwords, which has an awesome collection of indie books at reasonable prices (or free), and available in all e-reader formats (even pdf and online reader). If you don’t have a Kindle, but want to read Kindle books, Amazon has a free app you can download for any device (they’re not all evil). You can start with my short story Blood Magic (available free everywhere except Amazon–they’re still a little evil) and my novel Love Lies Bleeding (only $2.99).

 

Where do you like to get cheap or free books? And how do you feel about books as “clutter”? Share in the comments…

-Aspasía S. Bissas

My Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2016
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas

By now you’ve likely heard about the devastating fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, collapsing the roof and spire and destroying much of the interior (but thankfully not killing anyone). If you haven’t, you can read about it here, here, or here.

Notre Dame Cathedral devastation
Photograph: François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris, and as some locals described it “the heart of France.” It’s also an international icon, a place many people wished to see in their lifetime, and an unparalleled historic monument. What was lost in that fire is far more than just a building. We can take heart in the fact that the bell towers, the rose window, and even the rooster from the top of the spire were saved; that much of the artwork was removed in time; and that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But it will never be the same.

The first time I saw Notre Dame, I was in a cab heading from Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel. We approached the Cathedral from the back, alongside the Seine, and as I caught my first glimpse I realized I was looking at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame. The next thing that went through my mind was “I thought I knew Gothic architecture. I had no idea what it was until now.” This wasn’t the neo-Gothic Victoriana I was used to seeing at home in Canada– this was a 900-year-old Gothic masterpiece. You know what else? Flying buttresses are awesome.

When I’d booked it, I didn’t realize my hotel was so close to Notre Dame–just around the corner. I ended up spending time in and around the Cathedral every day while I was there. When I left, I expected I would see it again one day (hopefully when the cherry trees were blooming this time). I’m not sure what will be waiting for me the next time I go, but in honour of what has been lost, I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took on the trip when I got to know Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral, front
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Copper statues in front of the base of Notre Dame’s spire. The statues were removed before the fire as part of the restoration that was taking place. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyle
Gargoyle, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyles
Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Side entrace, Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (side facing the Seine). Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
My photos don’t do the windows justice. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass detail, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass rose window, Notre Dame, Paris
Rose window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass and woodwork, Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. The fire extinguisher at the bottom right of the photo takes on new significance now. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Painted column, Notre Dame, Paris
Beautiful painted column inside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Vivid colours, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass window, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral taken from my hotel roof. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Did you get a chance to see Notre Dame? Do you have any special memories of it? Please share in the comments.