Powered by Blogger.

Cousin Love

The Hub and I took advantage of the recent long Easter weekend in the U.K. to meet up with my cousin and his wife in Vienna. Although they live in the U.S., they were on a visit to Europe and stopped by Vienna because her brother and his family live there.

At one of Vienna's Easter markets
Not only is Vienna a beautiful and interesting city to visit, we had a really amazing time catching up with my cousins and meeting her family too. And it reminded me how happy it has made me to get to know all my cousins again as an adult.

I have a relatively big extended family, as my mom is one of seven kids and my dad one of four. Taking into account that my parents' generation had considerably smaller families than their parents', this resulted in nine cousins on one side and eight on the other.

Keeping in touch is never easy as we're spread all over the place, from Bali to London to New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Georgia and California. The technological revolution has made it just that bit easier to at least keep tabs on what we're all up to. This has made me even more keen to see everyone in person -- one of the reasons I really wanted to make a trip to Wisconsin last summer, which resulted in a big cousin reunion on my mom's side of the family. And we had a blast.

There's something about a cousin. You've usually got some fun shared childhood memories (and hopefully not too much shared family angst), and at least in my case I never got to see them enough as we were always either a long car trip or a flight away. So getting to know them again as adults is just really fun and full of surprises. I recently found out one of my cousins is a really good writer and I didn't even know we shared that interest until now.

Also, we're usually surrounded in life by people who are very similar to ourselves due to location and lifestyle. The Hub and I live in a big city. A lot of our friends work in journalism or finance, because those are the industries we work in. My cousins, who we saw in Vienna, live in a town in the mountains with a population of 500. And they work in entirely different industries. It was so interesting hearing their perspectives on things.

Strolling through the vineyards at the Heuringer
I came back from Vienna delighted to have seen the Schoenberg palace, gone to the Spanish Riding School and eaten some strudel. It was also great to do some local things, like eating and drinking at a Heuriger in the suburbs of Vienna -- a family-style restaurant located in the winery itself. But what really made me happy was the people I got to spend time with.

If you don't have any cousins, see if you can borrow some. I've loved getting to know the Hub's as well since we got married -- he's got a whole set of really nice cousins doing really interesting things, who have welcomed me into the family.

But if you have cousins you haven't seen or spoken to in a while, or don't really even know at all, don't hesitate to reach out. You might just be surprised that you gain a new interesting friend.

P.S. In honor of my cousin, a link to his favorite Mind, Body & Scroll blog post on the Hub's reaction to my childhood dolls.

From Beta Reader to Book Launch

I had the pleasure of attending a very special book launch a few weeks ago. My friend Claire Buss is officially an independent author with a published book!

I’ve known Claire for years now – we met through our book group – and she is my hero of the moment.

Claire entered a competition at Barking Library, called the Pen to Print Book Challenge and wrote her debut novel The Gaia Effect in only five months after being selected as one of the eight finalists. She won second place in the competition, and her prize was a self-published book deal using New Generation Publishing.

The book is about a group of friends living in a post-apocalyptic society where everything is controlled by a corporation -- including the continuation of the human race. But when women start falling pregnant naturally it raises questions about the corporation and the interaction between the characters and the natural world.


Here is Claire answering probing questions about her book and her life as a writer at the launch:


She asked me to be a beta reader, so I read her novel twice – once in the summer of 2015 when I was floating down the Nile on our cruise ship and again this past summer after she had made significant revisions. It was a great experience to give her feedback and see how her writing and the book had evolved.

Claire’s a full-time Mum to son Leo and now she’s also a full-time author, killing it on marketing her book and herself as an indie author. Oh, she’s also an amazing baker, and made a tea loaf-cake thing that was super delicious for our last book group meeting. I don’t know how she does it.

I learned her secret at the book launch: she absolutely loves her new author life. It’s been her dream and you could hear the excitement in her voice as she talked about all the ideas she has for new books, including the one she just finished drafting called The Rose Thief. How much do you love that title? I can’t wait to read it. Hopefully I did a good job as beta reader and will be asked again…

For more information and to buy her book, click here.

Claire is really inspiring me at the moment. I had the day off Friday, straight after the launch, and I got up and wrote first thing. The fact that she’s done the hard graft and is selling books – to people she doesn’t even know – is incredibly inspiring.

In other news, one of my other friends, Thomas Mogford, who’s traditionally published, has a new book out too. It’s the fifth in the Spike Sanguinetti crime series, called A Thousand Cuts. You don’t have to read the other four first though – this one works as a standalone – so buy it and if you like it, you can go back and read the earlier ones. What I like about Tom's work is that his characterization is brilliant - I am really attached to Spike and his clan. And this novel has a fascinating historical fiction element to it as well.


Don't you love the cover? You can judge a book by its cover in this case. I was reading it on the tube and this man across from me kept looking at it, trying to see what it was. I hope he buys it. Check out Tom and his work here.

What clever friends I have. Thanks for the inspiration Claire and Tom!

Less Cava, More Whisky

Is it possible to be addicted to a place?

The Hub and I have been to the Canary Islands a lot recently.

We just got back on Friday from a brief jaunt there where we did crazy luxurious things like sit by the pool reading and play late-afternoon golf as lizards scuttled along beside us hiding in the shelter of enormous succulent plants.


A four-hour plane ride from London, I am in love with the ease, luxury and heat we have been enjoying on these small warm islands which jut out of the Atlantic and provide Europeans with year-round sun and temperatures ranging from about 20 to 29 degrees Celsius (that's 68 to 84 Fahrenheit for you Americans).

I can't remember if I had even heard of the Canaries before I lived in the U.K. And when I mention them to fellow Americans there's always a pause, and sometimes a question of, "And those are... where exactly?" Some people I know in the U.K. have been going to Tenerife or Lanzarote since they were kids, which makes me think that for Brits and Europeans they are equivalent to a cross between Florida and the Caribbean.

But for me, they are incredibly exotic, as rising volcanic outcroppings in the middle of the expansive Atlantic Ocean (although not too far from Africa). The sand traps are black with volcanic ash and the landscape looks to me a little like the moon might if it was hot and dusty. We once sat on a rooftop in Fuertaventura staring at the inky sky covered in stars and a bright shiny moon and I couldn't have felt further away from civilization.

I guess exotic is always relative.

But the saying is true: you can have too much of a good thing.

One night at dinner we decided that this summer we must go to Scotland on that trip we've been planning to do for ages. We know it will be beautiful and haunting, with summer evenings that stretch on forever. It will also be culturally dense, and require proper walks up hills and of course, much warmer clothes.

I suppose we've enjoyed our recent passionate fling with the Canaries, but we're on a break now. For the rest of the summer, it will be the spotty sun of England and then eventually the slightly bracing, invigorating summer of Scotland. Less cava, more whisky.

The Filter


I don't know about you, but I feel constantly bombarded with information these days. My email inbox is full of marketing emails and newsletters and I have a whole separate inbox for the alerts from blogs I read. Then there are my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. And of course the podcasts I subscribe to. My stomach churns at the idea of using Snapchat or Pinterest (more than I do) because how could I possibly keep up?


I keep hearing about people taking tech vacations and getting rid of their social media accounts. That's fine for some, but I am more of a moderation person -- I don't like giving anything up completely because I feel like it's just throwing the baby out with the bath water. I like to at least see what's going on, even if I don't have to get fully involved. The truth is that a big part of life is separating the noise from the important information.

So I am getting better at filtering.

And choosing. One way that I'm making more of an effort on this front is to make sure that I actively choose longer articles I want to read, as well as books and podcasts that provide deeper analysis on topics. There's a real danger these days of knowing what's going on, without actually understanding anything.

That's why I'm happy to see some newspapers embracing the subscription model again as a way to help pay their journalists to do deeper investigation and write commentary, as well as report the news. (For full disclosure, I certainly have a personal stake in it. My living -- and the Hub's for that matter -- has always come from subscription news and information services, relying on people paying to have access to news, data and analysis.)

Many creatives provide some content for free, but it's marketing for how they really make their money, so I always make it a point to buy their books when they appeal and have even taken a course or two. And although I didn't like it at first, as I thought it was a bit of a cop out (why not just charge?), I'm growing much more interested in the concept of patronage. I listen to a podcast that is mostly funded through Patreon and the Guardian's constant plea for monetary support has not fallen on deaf ears.

In all aspects of life, there's always going to be a lot of noise, and these days I have to keep reminding myself that it's important to try to turn down the volume and make sure I also seek out what I want to read and listen to.
Back to Top