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Can Feng Shui Improve Creativity?

A conversation over lunch with a friend recently turned to the subject of Feng Shui and creativity in the workroom. Although I’ve heard of this Chinese pseudoscience, it’s not something I’ve ever delved into other than to understand it is all about the placement of things in the home to create good vibes, the ying and yang of life, complementary forces that flow between everything. When one considers the “art” has been around for centuries, I have to admit there must be something to it. And possessing an inquisitive mind, I’m always open to suggestions.

Apparently, to create the correct atmosphere in which to keep the creative juices flowing, be it art, writing, pastry making or building model aeroplanes, the idea is that your workstation should ideally face the door. If you sit with your back to it the energy spilling in through the doorway (whether it needs to be open or closed for it to work, is a matter for further investigation!), hits your back and bounces straight back out of the room.

This hypothesis resonated with me as my writing desk is in a corner of the room against a wall opposite the door, so when I sit there my back is to the door. Since making this move, I’ve never felt truly comfortable and my writing has taken a huge plummet: an observation I have mentioned to friends and fellow writers on numerous occasions. Before this necessary rearrangement of furniture, my desk faced the window, the door to my left and I was prolific in my writing and business there. Since the relocation, I’ve always maintained it was because I faced the wall and couldn’t see out of the window, invariably working with a lamp on that caused my problem. Such was my concern at the drop in my output, last year I purchased another computer which sits on my art table in front of the window. When working there, be it painting or writing, I am more relaxed and my work flows.

“So why don’t I move my desk back where it was?” I hear you ask. My office is also my art studio, which has to serve as my spare bedroom. Whenever I had guests, it was an absolute pain in the proverbial to reshuffle and rearrange the furniture every time, particularly when needing access to the tuck-under bed stored beneath the spare bed. My worktable had to be moved to the landing, cupboards and bedside table humped about the room in order for my guests to be comfortable, and items stashed away in boxes. All to be unpacked and restored after guests had left.  Moving the desk to the corner where the spare beds used to be was a much better option. So I thought.

It transpires in Feng Shui, if a mirror is placed on the wall or desk facing the door, this can elevate the negative energy by reflecting the positive back onto you. But it has to be a round mirror, it mustn’t have any corners. I remembered I had such a mirror stored away, so decided to put it use and see if this would work, such is my desperation to get back into the productive writing mode I used to have.

So the mirror is now in place. If it works, I shall buy a larger one and hang it on the wall in front of me.

Meanwhile, I shall be researching further into the world of Feng Shui to see what else I can achieve. After all, I’ve nothing to lose by giving it a try, and if the practice is to be believed, it could also bring me good fortune. I could certainly do with some of that!

Watch this space.

Cool As A Cucumber

Some interesting facts and uses for cucumber you may not know which I have recently come across and wanted to share.

And of course there are numerous ways to enjoy eating them so why not pop over to Kit’s Kitchen after for some delicious, simple recipes.

  1. Cucumbers originate from South East Asia.
  2. Cucumbers are fruits, not vegetables, as are tomatoes.
  3. There are several types of cucumbers, some of which can grow over 2 foot long.
  4. China produces 76% of cucumber and gherkin production in the world.
  5. Cucumbers can be grown in soil or by hydroponic cultivation.
  6. The large leaves on a cucumber plant provide shading for the developing fruits.
  7. It takes just 12 weeks from sowing cucumber seed to harvesting the fruits.
  8. Some supermarket-bought cucumbers can be at least 2 weeks’ old.
  9. A raw cucumber is 95% water.
  10. A whole cucumber is just 16 calories, depending on length.
  11. They contain most of the vitamins you need every day. Each one has vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6, as well as vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
  12. Because they are a good source of B vitamins and carbohydrates they can provide that quick pick-me-up that can last for hours and even curb that mid-afternoon food craving.
  13. Cucumbers have been used for centuries by European trappers, traders and explores for quick meals to thwart off starvation.
  14. Cucumbers were first pickled as way to preserve their shelf life.
  15. Small cucumbers are often referred to as gherkins.
  16. In Northern England, pickled cucumbers are sometimes called “wallies”.
  17. In Roman times, Emperor Tiberius had cucumber on his table daily all year round.
  18. Christopher Columbus is said to have taken cucumbers to Haiti in 1494.
  19. During the 17th century, hygiene prejudices meant uncooked foods, such as cucumber, fell out of favour.
  20. Cucumbers can cool the body and the blood, which gave rise to the phrase “as cool as a cucumber”.
  21. A slice of cucumber on the eyes can ease puffiness.
  22. The cooling effects of cucumber can soothe sunburn. Mix up a puree and apply it to affected areas.
  23. A slice of cucumber pressed to the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds can kill bacteria and freshen the breath.
  24. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going out or to the pool? Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumber along your problem area for a few minutes. The phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite. Works great on wrinkles too.
  25. Want to avoid a hangover or terrible headache? Eat a few cucumber slices before going to bed and wake up refreshed and headache free. Cucumbers contain enough sugar, B vitamins and electrolytes to replenish essential nutrients the body lost, keeping everything in equilibrium, avoiding both a hangover and headache.
  26. Stressed out and don’t have time for massage, facial or visit to the spa? Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water. The chemicals and nutrients from the cucumber will react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown the reduce stress in new mothers and college students during final exams.
  27. Just finished a business lunch and realize you don’t have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath, the phytochemicals will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath. (Hopefully there are a few sandwiches left that have a slice or two of cucumber in the filling, as one isn’t inclined to carry a cucumber in one’s briefcase!)
  28. Have an important meeting or job interview and you realize that you don’t have enough time to polish your shoes? Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe – its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.
  29. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror, it will eliminate the fog and provide a soothing, spa-like fragrance.
  30. Out of WD40 or oil, and no olive oil either to fix a squeaky hinge? Rub a cucumber slice along the problematic hinge, and the squeak is gone.
  31. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds? Place a few slices in an aluminium tin or plate and place in your garden. The chemicals in cucumber react with the aluminium to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drives garden pests crazy, making them flee the area.
  32. Looking for a “green” way to clean your taps, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean, not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won’t leave streaks and won’t harm you fingers or fingernails while you clean.
  33. Using a pen and made a mistake? Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the pen writing, also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls.

And of course there are numerous ways to enjoy eating them. Why not pop over to Kit’s Kitchen for some delicious, simple cucumber recipes.

A Touch of Nostalgia Part 3

Recently, my husband and I have gone in for some 1970s’ retro culture. Well, why not. The 1970s were fun times, colourful times, although I drew the line at flared trousers, fringed jackets and jumpsuits (which, according to the fashion slot on Lorraine this week, are all back in fashion). We’ve bought a lava lamp! And we love it. I had one years ago, back in the 1970s when they were all the rage, only to have it broken some years later when someone picked it up, not realising the lamp was in two parts. The glass fell to the floor and broke. I was sad at the time and couldn’t afford to replace it, nor could the culprit find another to take its place, so I hadn’t really thought much more about it in the ensuing years.

100_6773So here sits our new lamp. Slightly different from the original I owned; that had a copper base and cap, and red glass. The new one has a multi-coloured base and a red, blue and green glass, creating bubbles and bits in all colours. As hypnotic as watching flames in a fire, we spend ages watching it work, the shapes and movement reminding me of the background images that used to be played behind performers at all the concerts I went to during the early 1970s – Quo and Queen, Fat Mattress, Renaissance, Fleetwood Mac – the list is endless and full of happy memories.

It got me thinking of other things from the 1970s I loved, and miss. I remembered I used to have a kinetic ball and wire table decoration. It was black wire with golden balls, the base filled with sand. A simple ornament that swayed and moved in the slightest of breezes as you walked past. I can’t remember what happened to mine; probably got broken at some stage and thrown away without a second thought.

ball ornament

Then there was the dark green pottery vase, almost 3 feet high, from which sprouted a mass of tissue paper flowers, the size of dinner plates. Mine were made by a friend. Big, blousy blooms standing nearly as tall as me that matched my red, orange and yellow geometric lounge curtains and similarly coloured psychedelic rug. The “in thing” to decorate the home at that time, along with tall feathery stems of white pampas grass, which eventually dropped their fine dandelion-like hairy seed heads; a right pain to keep clearing up.paperflowers2

There were real houseplants as well – pink busy lizzies with pale green leaves and stems that grew to humongous proportions – every home seemed to have one. And not forgetting the spider plants, and a cactus or two – cuttings from my mother’s lanky monster called Fred. Whilst you can still get spider plants and cacti, the indoor busy lizzie is no more, thanks to being killed off by a virus or mildew, rather like our outdoor ones have been.

cactus

No doubt, I shall suddenly think of other homey things I had around the house, long forgotten or lost. It’s good to remember these things now and again; they bring a sense of continuance and comfort, spark happy, and sometimes sad, memories and who knows, if I search hard enough I might find them again. Thank goodness for the Internet!

What, if anything, do you miss around the home from that era? I’d love to know.

Tip of the Day:  When boiling potatoes, a few drops of olive oil or a small knob of butter will help prevent the saucepan from boiling over.

An Amazing Lady

Many may recall how last year, I set about losing weight in a sponsored slim to help send my little great-nephew, George, to America for a life-changing operation to help him cope with cerebral palsy. The operation was a major success and I will bring you an update on his progress very soon. I managed to lose 2 stones. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, particularly as there are many food groups I cannot eat a lot of, and some I have to avoid altogether. I’m still very much overweight. I never used to be, I was a skinny child, as my family can testify; I only had issues with my weight following the birth of my daughter some 40+ years ago. But this post isn’t about me; it’s about someone I wish I had met twelve months ago, if not before.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Four years ago she was morbidly obese, barely able to walk a few yards, and experienced many indignities only us big people can. She’s happily married with three lovely children, two of whom have serious medical conditions. It was her love and concern about them that finally persuaded her to do something about her weight once and for all, otherwise she wouldn’t be about much longer to care for them.

So she devised an eating plan, something that was easy to follow, didn’t cost a fortune in expensive or special foods, with recipes which provided nourishing home-cooked meals that all the family can enjoy. And the weight started to fall away. It was only after having lost a considerable amount of weight that Justine could start to exercise, mainly walking the family dog regularly. But what a difference now – Justine now does regular exercise and with her husband runs marathons, fundraising to support the two charities that have helped her in the care of her children, and are running in the London Marathon this April. I certainly will be supporting and sponsoring them.

Justine loves to cook and bake cakes, something that doesn’t help when trying to lose weight. As the weigh fell, her confidence and courage grew, so much so she applied to appear on one of the reality cookery shows on TV, taking part in and going on to win Michael Winner’s Dining Stars in 2010, culminating in cooking a dinner party in Michael Winner’s home for guests Sir Roger Moore and Lady Moore, Andrew Neil, Giorgio Locatelli, Christine Bleakley and Kym Marsh. Wow! This led to several further TV appearances on Harry Hill’s TV Burp and on GMTV.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Spurred on by this and praise for her chocolate brownies, Justine set up her own bakery business online (Brownies by Justine Forrest)and supplying outlets and restaurants in her region. Having tasted these brownies, I can assure you they are heaven. My husband’s comment after eating one was, “Tell her she should sell them online, they’re fantastic. Best I’ve ever eaten!”  They are. You simply must try them! Justine now gives regular talks at food shows and on radio and demonstrates regularly – just this week appearing at the Ideal Home Show in London. She also appears regularly at the Wellbeing Farm in her home region.

Justine is so full of enthusiasum for what she does, it rubs off; it certainly has on me, with a JJ Final Cover Smallzest for life she wants to help others in the position she was in. In her own words (no ghost writer for Justine!) she has written an honest, moving and heart-warming account – Justine’s Journey – of how and why she achieved such a weight loss, as well as telling what goes on behind the scenes of a reality TV show. She tells of the many heartbreaking moments in her life, told with such open passion and raw emotion, it made me cry in places, along with many ups and the downs along the way. In the book shares her “Plan”.

Hear why Justine wrote her book

This isn’t just another diet book, it’s a way of life full of tasty, easy to follow recipes, lots of tips and hints, and so full motivation and inspiration it can help anyone achieve a complete change in their life. It’s certainly encouragement enough for me to lose some more weight. If Justine can do it, so can I.

But you know what is even more encouraging in all this, Justine’s Plan allows for cake. Yes, cake! What’s not to like about following her Plan? Give it a try. I’m on it now!
Buy Justine’s Journey (available at all Amazon sites)

Website: www.justineforrest.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/justine.b.forrest

Twitter https://twitter.com/JustineForrest

Top Tips for Book Signings – A Light Hearted Look

Sunday saw me at my first (and only) book signing at my local Waterstones branch. I chose this one for two reasons: it’s in a humongous shopping mall that’s always busy, plenty of free parking and close to an intersection of two major motorways; and at the moment the store is promoting local authors and you don’t get much more local than me at only 10 minutes’ walk away! The staff were wonderful, so friendly and helpful but it took a great deal of courage for me to go in and ask if I could use the store for my debut! I like to learn something new each day and having gone through the experience, thought I would pass on my top tips, the do’s and the don’ts for book signings.

1) Don’t pick a day when major sporting events are on television. In my case, the Wimbledon final and the British Grand Prix. The first couple of hours were busy, time flew by and books sold. Come 2 o’clock, the store was pretty much deserted.

2) Although very much out of our hands, try to pick a day that you know will be wet. The shopping malls and stores are always much busier at weekends when it’s raining. Or in my case, rain was forecast but they got it wrong again – the afternoon was bright and dry and mild.

3) Wait until all the furore over the latest current best seller has died down or else you won’t get so much as a glance. In my case, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy at discount was flying off the shelves, stacked at the entrance to the store, thus few ventured deeper into the bowels of the shop where my table was in the fiction section. I should have written a sex novel, even badly, and had a husband who was a PR manager. My book, Every Step of the Way, is set in West London in the locations where I grew up. Guess what? The author of Fifty Shades also comes from West London apparently. From my home town! Perhaps we know each other? I will have to find out… I wonder if her husband would be my PR manager too if I ask.

4) Don’t stagger in with extra copies of your book in case the store run out of stock. Be realistic. I didn’t and I was. I left my extra copies in the boot of the car, just in case some miracle might happen. It didn’t.

5) Do rally the troups, cajole, plead, beg and persuade, or in my case bribe with offers of a free lunch, family and friends to come into the store, preferably all at the same time. This creates a queue at your table and a crowd gathered around you. Great stuff – people are always curious and nosey and want to see what is going on, see what they are missing. Worked a treat. Thank you everyone who came in to say hello, take photos, buy the book. I love you dearly. Family – where the hell were you? Oh yes, I forgot. Most of  mine live 80 or more miles away, some even further afield, abroad. So, dear family in Spain. I am in need of a holiday and some sun. Can you arrange a book signing for me there? P…l…e…a…s…e…

6) Do contact your local paper in advance to tell them, particularly if they have previously covered you writing the book. They love a follow on story. … Except in my case. They didn’t and still haven’t returned my calls or emails. Shame on you.

7) Do approach people in the store with your book, it creates more sales and interest. Oh heck! When the manager told me this, I nearly fainted and backed out. You see, I’m a shy, nervous person who finds it exceedingly difficult to strike up a conversation with a stranger. My mum told me never to talk to strangers and it’s sort of inbred in me. The crowd around the table helped to spark interest. One or two did approach me later. The rest, I plucked up the courage and approached. “Hey, I love  your dress, where did you get it from?” “Are you here to buy anything specific or just browsing?” “Do you read historical fiction?” “Interested in the 1950s?” “Have you read this great book set in London and the West Country?” I felt like a shop assistant, particularly when someone approached me (smile, Kit, here comes another sale…) and asked if I worked there and could I tell them where they could find a book about some Russian or other. A teddy bear was thrown at my feet by a child in a pushchair. A friendly smile from me as I gracefully bent to retrieve and hand back the discarded toy, all the while thinking this is a good way to begin talking to the parent about my book. Well, it would have been if it had been a woman. “No sorry, love, I don’t do books. I’m here with the wife. She’s at the till buying Fifty Shades of Sex or whatever it is. I keep telling her she spends too much on books.” Oh well, foiled again.

8) Don’t drink copious amounts of tea or coffee or gin beforehand to calm the nerves else you’ll need to leave your table at frequent intervals and miss potential sales.  A swift coffee when I arrived and no food passed my lips all morning because I know what my body is like under stress. Too much detail? Okay, I’ll move on.

9) Don’t get your hair stylist to cut your hair a few days before the big day, particularly if they are zealous with the scissors. I looked like Ellie from Ice Age… still, I suppose I am that old. A bit of a relic, or is that wreck?

10) Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. It was a great experience, and as a writer, there was plenty to observe and note mentally. All good research material to use in a book one day. And you never know, I might one day be back there signing another new novel.

Hints and Tips on Proofing and Editing

There has been much discussion between various authors and writing groups concerning the whys, wherefores and benefits of having work proofread and/or edited by a professional. This has been particularly prevalent between Indie writers who, for one reason or another, feel wronged and slighted if someone comments that their book is let down by typos and errors, as if this is the worst thing in the world to happen and makes them less of a professional author. It doesn’t. There is no shame in making a mistake. Even in mainstream publishing one or two typos do slip through. And let’s face it, even with the best will in the world, a good proofreader and copy editor is not infallible and can, and does, miss the odd thing. But what many independent authors fail to appreciate is that it isn’t just the annoying little typo that’s the problem.

Over the past couple of years I have read lots of books published independently; what is the problem in many of these is not spelling errors per se – it’s all the other bits and pieces that make up the whole reading experience that is often sadly lacking. By this, I mean the typesetting and formatting skills of bookmaking and the lack of the necessary writing skills needed to tell, and thus sell, a good story.

Many authors do not know how to format prose and dialogue, do not understand how dialogue should be set down and punctuated, they fail to use consistency in spellings, and many authors fall down completely in the use of capitalisation and paragraphs, apostrophe use, misplaced colons, when words should be italicised or not, when to use ellipses or not … the list goes on. And it is these things that annoy a reader far more than the odd little spelling mistake and typo. These are the things a good editor will highlight, things a good proofreader will correct. They are not the things your granny or best friend would even consider when checking your manuscript for you.

Yes, I know many will say that the odd typo or error doesn’t detract from a story for them, but there are a great deal more that say it does. Hence, the plethora of discussions and comments on Amazon or wherever about them.

Unless dialogue is set out correctly and tags used to good effect, it can be sometimes impossible to follow who is saying what to whom. Often a writer will think using he said/she said is adequate every time. But, used all the time, not only is this boring to read, it is taking so much away from the story when the words, the actual dialogue itself, should be making it clear who is speaking. The odd grammar mistake isn’t a problem for most readers, and I’m certainly no slave to perfect English grammar, after all, most of us don’t worry about correct grammar when speaking in everyday life.

Whilst it is appreciated that what is acceptable in one country is not in another, that there are various differences in acceptable grammar and spellings, I can only speak from a UK standpoint, and from my many years involved in typesetting, writing, proofing and copy editing and reading. I have thus set out at  Proofing Tips a few hints, tips and guidance on how a book should be set out. I’m not talking chapters, fonts and page numbers here, but the physical layout of words and punctuation that should be used, in order for your readers to have a much better experience of your work and lose themselves in your story, instead of being confused and thrown out by poor crafting.

The list will expand over time, in the hope that the standard of independent books is raised and the profile and credibility of Indie authors grows. And well it should, for there are a great many stories out there, huge numbers of excellent writers. Although independent publishing is slowly receiving the accolade it deserves, there is still a great deal of work to be done in. These are exciting times we live in through this changing world of publishing. Together, let’s make it the best it can be for future generations.

Click here to go to Proofing Tips page.