If You Can’t Stand the Heat, You Can Still Cope with Summer

how to beat summer heat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:

Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)

So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?

  • stay inside as much as possible during the day
  • when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
  • if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
  • movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
  • look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
  • reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.

Thank you, not you meme

 

Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:

Ebook sale on books by Aspasia S. Bissas

Get Love Lies Bleeding for only $1.50 (seriously!) until the end of July–and don’t forget your FREE copy of Blood Magic.

How do you feel about summer? Share your thoughts in the comments…

Cheers,
Aspasía S. Bissas

beating the heat
Photo by asim alnamat on Pexels.com

Vampire’s Garden: Yarrow

white cluster flowers in bloom
Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

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)

 

 

How to Get Books Cheap (or Free)

books school stacked closed
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels.com

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
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

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

Is Blogging Dead?

blog icon information internet
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Short answer: not really.

But it also depends on what you want out of it.

If you spend any time around the internet, you’re bound to come across at least one headline declaring that blogging is dead (those headlines have been around for years at this point). As a writer and long-time blogger (you may have seen my other blogs, Blood Lines and Whimsy Bower), this causes me some anxiety. But is there any truth to the rumours?

dead end road sign
Photo by Dustin Tray on Pexels.com

From my research on the topic, if your aim is to earn a living solely from traditional blogging (that is, written articles on specific topics), you might want to hang on to your day job.

On the other hand, if you’re a writer who wants to share your work (and maybe market your books while you’re at it), carry on. Although traditional blogging might be less popular than it once was, there are still people who prefer to read a post than watch a video (which, ironically, most people watch without sound, so end up reading captions anyway). And while social media is a form of blogging, it doesn’t replace traditional blogs (but it is an excellent companion to them). The fact that most of the material debating the future of blogging is written on blogs should tell you something about their so-called demise.

reach for the and blue moon neon signages
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

If you’re concerned your blog isn’t getting as much of an audience as it should, you can do a few things to help:

  • Promote it on social media. Make sure you’re active on at least a couple of different sites and always let your followers know that you have a new post up (don’t forget to include the link). Use hashtags to help a wider audience find you.
  • Be part of the community. If your blog is on a site like WordPress, find other blogs on that site and make sure to follow, like, and comment. That will help bring fellow community members to your blog too.
  • Post regularly. It can be once a day or once a month, but keep your blog active. Posting on a regular schedule gives readers something to look forward to.
  • Try a new type of post. Don’t feel you have to switch over entirely (especially if you’re a writer), but if you can manage the occasional voice or video post, it keeps things interesting. Or switch up the type of posts you do (if you’re usually word heavy, try a photo post).
  • Don’t write just what you want–think about what your audience might be interested in and give them a reason to engage with your blog.
  • Don’t try too hard. Imitating other successful bloggers or trying to follow a formula are both great ways to fail. The idea of “being authentic” is clichéd, but it’s also valid. Not everyone will like you as you are, but no one will like you if you try to be someone else (and you won’t be happy with what you produce, either).

Humans love variety–that’s why we don’t eat the same meal three times a day or read a single book repeatedly. And that’s why blogging won’t die. Even as blogs take on new forms, traditional blogs will always have an audience.

What do you think–does blogging have a future? What do you do to make your blog stand out? Let me know in the comments (and don’t forget to like and share)…

Further Reading:

Blogging Isn’t Dead but Old-School Blogging Is Definitely Dying

Is Blogging Finally Dead?

Are Blogs Dead? 5 Reasons Why the Internet Says Yes and We Say No

Are Blogs Dead in 2018?

Blogging Is Dead (Again)

 

 

 

Vampire’s Garden: Lavender

close up photo of lavender growing on field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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 third 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.

Latin Name: Lavandula (Species include angustifolia, stoechas, latifolia, and dentata)

Common Names: Lavender, English Lavender, French Lavender, Spanish Lavender, nard

History: Part of the mint family, Lavender is native to Europe, northern and eastern Africa, and large parts of Asia. Its use goes back at least to Ancient Egypt, where the oil was used in mummification. The Greeks and Romans used the plant in their public baths. In the Middle Ages lavender was used as a strewing herb, where it was sprinkled on floors to repel insects and sweeten the air with its scent. The word lavender comes from the French, “lavendre” meaning “to wash,” which itself comes from the Latin name Lavandula, from the verb lavare, “to wash.”

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Loyalty, love, devotion

Cultivation: Perennial (although in less ideal conditions, it should be considered an annual). Cold hardiness depends on variety–English lavender (L. angustifolia) tolerates zones 5 to 8; French lavender (L. dentata and L. stoechas) is suited to zones 8 to 11. Lavender likes full sun and dry sandy or rocky soil. If you live in an area with heavy clay soils, try growing lavender in containers or raised beds. The plants need good air circulation, so don’t crowd them. Lavender generally doesn’t need to be fertilized. Avoid organic mulches in areas with high humidity (gravel or rock mulches should be okay). Plants generally bloom from June until August, and you can extend blooming time by planting a variety of types. Flowers range in colour from white to pink, light purple to deep blue-purple, and yellow, depending on variety. Lavender is difficult to start from seed–it’s best to purchase plants. Water seedlings consistently until they’re established. Prune plants in spring. Deadhead spent flowers throughout the season to encourage more blooms. Harvest just before the flowers are fully open.

Lavender has become invasive and/or weedy in parts of Australia and Spain. Check with your local authorities before growing it in those areas.

Bonus: Bees and butterflies love lavender.

Uses:

Medicinal: Lavender may help calm anxiety and ease insomnia. It’s also been traditionally used to treat intestinal disorders and cardiovascular diseases, and has been found effective in fighting fungal infections.

Essential Oil: Lavender essential oil is distilled from the flowers and is used in perfumes, soaps, bath products, and in aromatherapy. The oil is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, making it useful for treating minor burns (including sunburn), wounds, and stings. It also repels mosquitoes. Generally a drop or two of the oil can go directly onto skin, but if you have sensitive or allergy-prone skin you might want to dilute the lavender oil in a carrier oil (like sweet almond or olive) before applying to skin. Lavender oil, when combined with essential oils of rosemary, thyme, and cedarwood, has been found to be effective in combatting hair loss.

Cautions: While lavender is generally safe, the NIH recommends that boys avoid lavender essential oil as it may cause hormonal effects leading to gynecomastia. Lavender oil can irritate the skin in some people (use with a carrier oil–see above) and can cause photo-sensitivity, so avoid sun exposure if you’ve used lavender essential oil on your skin. The NIH also says people who take sleep medication or blood pressure-lowering medication should use caution when combining lavender with these drugs. Lavender oil can be poisonous if taken internally.

In addition, Essential oils are toxic to pets: never use to treat pets. Do not diffuse essential oils in an enclosed space when pets are present. Do not apply oils externally to pets. Never let pets or children ingest essential oils.

Crafts: Add dried flowers to pot pourri mixtures, or sew them into sachets and dream pillows. The stems with flowers attached can be made into lavender wands or bottles. Dried flowers can be added to homemade soap. Make a lavender wreath or linen spray. Use fresh or dried in flower arrangements and centrepieces.

Culinary: English lavender is the most commonly used kind in cooking. Lavender is usually included in “Herbes de Provence” mixes. Lavender flowers can be incorporated into baking, drinks, stews, and salads. Lavender pairs well with berries, sheep’s milk- and goat’s milk-cheeses, “spring mix” type salad greens, beef, honey, lemons, and custard. Lavender leaves can replace (or be used with) rosemary in savoury foods and breads. The dried mature stems can be used as skewers. Remember to use the dried flowers sparingly to avoid a soapy or perfumey taste

Place about a teaspoon of dried flowers into a cup of superfine sugar and let the mixture sit for 2 weeks. Use the lavender-flavoured sugar in place of regular sugar in desserts and drinks. It’s particularly good sprinkled on berries or in lemonade.

Flower buds and lavender leaves are infused to make tea.

Lavender syrup (homemade or commercial) can be used in drinks, desserts, ice creams, or candy making.

Lavender honey can be used like regular honey and has a subtle lavender scent and flavour.

Other: Tie a bundle of lavender and eucalyptus to your shower for a relaxing, spa-like bathing experience.

Mara’s Uses: Mara uses lavender to soothe herself by brushing her hand over the plant and inhaling the scent. Lavender is also part of her apothecary business, in teas, tinctures, and salves.

Further Reading:

Flower Meanings

Health Benefits and Risks of Lavender

The Fundamentals of Growing Lavender

How to Use Lavender

30 Ways to Use Lavender

WebMD

Wikipedia