Inspire Me! blog

On hiatus – finishing my novel

Just a quick post to mention that I’m on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I complete the second book in my urban fantasy trilogy. Very exciting, building to the big climax, so very intense writing. I should have finished it last week but was suffering from a dreadful cold. I should be cracking open the bottle of champagne in a few days! Stay tuned for updates 😀

Giving our brains a much needed rest

How often do you take a break from daily life? If you’re like most North Americans, probably not very often. And yet studies were showing, long before the pandemic, that not only our bodies, but especially our brains, need some down time. How much more do we need it now, bombarded by successive waves of the pandemic and political instability around the world?

Breaks throughout the day refresh our brains. When I was working in the counselling department of a college, lunch times were sacrosanct for all the staff, and knocking on an office door when it was closed had to be backed up with a damned good reason.

In the mid 1990s, studies demonstrated that our brains demand a lot of energy – 20 percent to make our bodies run, and even more when we’re doing mental work. Is it any wonder that we so often ‘hit a wall’ before the end of the work day?

The interesting thing, though, was that even when we’re at rest, perhaps just daydreaming, there was still considerable communication going on between certain regions of the brain, which the researchers called the default mode network. That’s an interesting name, including the word ‘default’. It turns out that letting our minds to drift into this basic state allows our brain to process all kinds of information that’s been accumulated but not dealt with. When our brains aren’t occupied with external pressures, they have time to make sense of everything, order it, imagine solutions and connect all the dots.

Some of our most creative moments occur when we’re not trying to find them. As a writer, I’ve found many times over that if I’ve reached a place in my novel’s plot where I’m not sure how to address a problem or move the story from one point to the next, the answer occurs to me when I’m lying in bed, essentially day-dreaming before I fall asleep, or first thing in the morning as I’m awakening but haven’t felt like getting out of bed yet. First thing in the morning is better; last thing at night requires me to tap a quick note into my phone lest I forget, unless it’s something so brilliant that the idea carries through to the next day.

And indeed studies have shown that the default mode network is more active in more creative people, not necessarily because those people have different brains but perhaps devote more time to getting out of the way of their own minds.

Try it out the next time you feel overwhelmed, like your brain is ‘fried’. Take a break and go for a walk, without your phone. It should preferably be in nature, whether it’s a park or even a path through a garden, and un-occupy your mind. Be alone with your own thoughts, and let them flow like the breezes around you. Notice the things going on all around you, from the butterflies flitting from flower to flower to the texture of the path beneath your feet and the colour of the sky. You’ll be amazed both by how refreshed you feel afterward, and by what interesting things your mind will come up with.

When I need to decompress, I love to take walks around our extensive local botanical garden. There’s always something interesting to see in every season, and the peace and quiet are soothing within the first few minutes.

For even better breaks, go on as long a vacation as you can, and make it a complete getaway. The modern penchant for managing your entire trip through a series of apps totally defeats the purpose of getting away from it all. You can check the day’s weather, or find a restaurant, but apart from that it’s important that you put away your electronic devices and just be in the moment. Take some photos if you like to do that, but only a few of yourself. What you should be noticing is the place you’re in and all its wonders, not worrying about how good you look for a series of selfies.

One of the best vacations my hubby and I ever had was our first safari in Africa. Deep in the wilds of Botswana, we spent days bouncing along sandy roads, feeling the wind ruffle our hair and keeping our eyes peeled for the next herd of zebras or elephants, gazing into the golden eyes of a lioness lying under a bush near the road, having morning tea while we watched antelopes graze by the river while hippos snorted in the water. We’d left all our problems at home and immersed ourselves in the hot African sun and the stillness of a place without the noise of other humans. At night we fell asleep to the chirping of tree frogs, woke up to the chatter of francolin birds. It rejuvenated us after a very challenging year, made us feel alive and whole again.

When you’re standing in the magnificent ruins of ancient Machu Picchu in Peru, dazzled by the remarkable stonework somehow built on the top of a mountain surrounded by other blue-green peaks as far as the eye can see, your mind imagines what life must have been like all those hundreds of years ago, waking up with the dawn, walking along paths that overlooked the silvery Urubamba River far below, gathering food from the steep terraces just below the city and feeling the spirituality of the many sacred huaca stones all around you. You’re far, far away from the daily grind, breathing in the crisp, fresh mountain air, watching a lizard skitter across the intricately laid stones right next to you.

Taking down time is essential to our well-being. Make sure you use it well.

All photos are by me, and all rights are reserved.

On hiatus — laptop issues

Sorry, folks, having some issues with the illuminated keyboard on my laptop, and I will say that Acer Support was of very little help. I’ve had more issues with my Aspire in less than 19 months than I’ve had with any other laptop I’ve owned. If you were to ask me right now if I’d be willing to buy another one, the answer would be a hard NO.

Windsor – more than just salt

I have a special fondness for Windsor, Ontario, having been born in the area. The Windsor of today is very different from the one I remember as a child, as happens to all cities, especially those that sit at crossroads. Windsor straddles the edge of the Detroit River, directly across from the city of Detroit, Michigan. The Ambassador Bridge that joins the two cities across the expanse of the river is the busiest commercial crossing along the border between Canada and the U.S., and a popular crossing for general citizens. I remember regular trips to visit the Detroit Zoo with my dad, and excursions to the water’s edge to watch fireworks displays.

View from the Riverfront Park

The river is a defining feature that dominates my memories of living there, and created a lifelong love of being near water.

Windsor is a very old community, dating far back beyond the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s. Several Indigenous tribes already inhabited the area along the river, which was part part of the Three Fires Confederacy between the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi. European settlements began to grow because of the abundance of beavers, whose soft and waterproof pelts doomed the poor creatures.

Various pelt distinctions displayed in the Chimczuk Museum

In between trapping beavers, the early Europeans seemed to have a very confused idea of how the animals lived and built their homes. The painting below from the time period shows them walking around on their hind legs like people in an assembly line of construction.

In 1749 a French agricultural settlement was established where the city of Windsor is now, becoming the oldest continually-inhabited European settlement in Canada west of the city of Montreal. French place names all over the Windsor area come directly from the early settlers, even while the name of the eventual city and many surrounding towns and cities were taken from England itself. Indigenous names are also in the mix, such as the satellite town of Tecumseh, named for a Shawnee chief who tried to unite fellow tribes into a resistance movement against American expansion. A compelling carved-wood statue of Tecumseh himself bathes in the sunlight at the Chimczuk Museum, a great spot to learn all about the history of the city that would eventually become very well-known for table salt, Prohibition-era booze smuggling and automobile manufacture.

Today the liquor production is all legal (to the best of my knowledge, and you can tour the fantastic Hiram Walker museum), and car manufacture, although no longer in its heyday, continues to be an important industry.

Windsor has a thriving downtown with a great food scene, lovely gardens lining the river, a big casino, and plenty of interesting rural communities surrounding it to explore for a day out. There are several wineries and golf courses in the vicinity, as well as Point Pelee National Park, sitting at the southernmost tip of Canada’s mainland.

One of the things I have yet to do is visit Windsor’s salt mines. In 1891 (there are two), William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), sunk a test well on CPR land in Windsor, and found what he suspected was there. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sample of salt crystal at the Chimczuk Museum

In the early part of the 20th century, the proximity of Windsor and Detroit created a superb opportunity for liquor-producers to smuggle their products to the Americans in the throes of Prohibition, and the Detroit River became very busy starting in 1916 after the State of Michigan banned the sale of alcohol three years before it was banned nationally. I’ll blog more about this in the future, but for now, Wikipedia gives a good overview.

The Chimczuk Museum is a worthy beginning for your exploration of Windsor, and the docents are excellent, as is the gift shop. It’s a nice spot to cool off on a hot summer day, and a great place to learn about all the layers of history where so many cultures came together and continue to make a home.

The Made with Love Quilt, made by the Windsor-Essex Sewing Force in response to the COVID pandemic
One of the old tile signs at the border crossing, now housed in the museum

As always, all photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Step away from your screen(s)

An African sunset, truly magical

Since March 2022 I’ve been a local explorer. During the autumn preceding the COVID pandemic, my hubby and I had visited Ireland, and over the December holidays we’d spent time with a relative outside Nashville, TN, so at least we had those under our belts to hold us while we waited to see how the global disease was going to play out.

Some of our friends and relatives decided to travel outside the country, bucking the requests and advice of our government; we chose to stay within our province for the greater good. So if you’ve been following this blog during that time, you’ll have seen memories from all the local adventures I’ve been embarking on. On those journeys, there has been so much history and local culture to discover, and plenty of local beauty as well. Most of my, and our, best moments have happened out and about.

We have spectacular ornamental cherry blossoms in our area each spring, but hardly anyone goes out to see them

I was intrigued to see what advice a 100-year old traveller – someone who’s reached a milestone most of us never will – would have to offer, in a recent article posted on AFAR Magazine, and wasn’t really surprised to see that it dovetails with my own philosophy.

Both Deborah Szekely and I (and most of my friends) grew up in the decades before smartphones, tablets or even the internet existed. We had no other option than to really embrace the world around us and be in the moment all the time. It was a great time to travel, sometimes by the seat of our pants, and without the benefit of GPS, online city guides, or any kind of convenient app. That meant that we had to think on our feet, pay attention to our surroundings and form our own opinions.

Now, I see all kinds of travellers with their faces buried in their screens, completely missing what’s going on around them. They base their choices on the opinions of influencers who offer no guarantee that they know what they’re talking about, and often present false fronts on their media sites. People destroy popular tourist sites so they can take a photo of themselves looking cool, thus being a general nuisance and often ruining the site for any visitors that try to come after them.

This beautiful iris in the cloud forest of Peru only blooms one day a year; exploring by myself, I was the only person in our tour group to see it

According to the article about Szekely, her philosophy is “to find our own inner peace by looking away from our screens and immersing ourselves in the beauty of the world. And sometimes, the best antidote to doom scrolling is by going on a walk—not on the treadmill, but in nature—and by focusing our awareness on the birds and other wildlife around us, we’ll find “all kinds of answers.” “ 1

Building on that, if you look through history, political clashes come and go and the human race goes on. Devastating epidemics have occurred over the centuries – the Black Death killed 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, the Spanish Flu anywhere from 17 million to possibly 100 million worldwide – and humanity survived those with far less medical advances than we have today. Many people are working hard to save species and our planet.

Things you see on the side of the road deep in the African bush: an elephant refreshing itself in the hot afternoon sun

It’s important for us to stay informed enough to remain safe, but not to drive ourselves crazy with it. Conspiracy theories count on fear to help them spread, but wouldn’t you rather feel good about life and stop worrying that everyone’s out to get you? Sure, there’s bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good also, and that’s the kind of news I want to look at.

My advice builds on what Szekely has to say: stop living your life through an electronic device. Get out and actually live! The world is still very beautiful and there are plenty of wonderful people in it. But you’ll only experience all of that when you look up. Go someplace, see what it has to offer without any preconceived ideas, and make up your own mind about it. Learn to rely on your own opinions and judgements. Travel locally or travel abroad, safely and with full awareness of where you are. And then let me know what you found 😊

Look up, look down, look all around — you’ll be amazed at what you see

All photos are by me and all rights reserved. E. Jurus

1After Living, Traveling, and Learning Her Way to 100, Deborah Szekely Has Some Advice for You, byChloe Arrojado for AFAR Magazine, May 10, 2022, www.afar.com/magazine/wellness-tips-from-100-year-old-legend-deborah-szekely